Turtles are some of the oldest reptiles in the world today, and the fantastic creatures have been around for over 200 million years. They are easily noticeable with their huge, usually dome-shaped shells that serve as a protective layer for the creatures. Unlike tortoises which are also members of the Testudines order of reptiles, turtles prefer to be around water, with many of them being aquatic or semi-aquatic.
However, some turtles spend most of their time on dry land, only going into the water to moisten themselves up a bit. Turtles are cold-blooded animals, and there are almost three hundred species of turtles in the world.
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Physical Description of Turtles
Turtles are four climbed creatures protected by dome-shaped shells covering the top and belly parts of the animals. A turtle can only leave its four limbs, neck and head region, and its tail out of its shell. Every other part has to stay in the shell to protect it from predators.
The shells of turtles are made up of different materials, including bones and skin, connecting the turtle and the shell. It is impossible for a turtle to completely remove its body from the protective layer because they are the same.
The front limbs of turtles are shaped like flippers to allow the creatures easy navigation in the water. They flip their limbs forward and backward to navigate water, which is one of the differences between turtles and tortoises. While turtles need flipper-like limbs to move in water, tortoises need more fixed features to allow them to trudge on land.
Species of Turtles
There are almost three hundred species of these intelligent creatures in the world today, and like many animals, a reasonable number are endangered. Some common turtles include box turtles, alligator snapping turtles, loggerhead sea turtles, and the great leatherback sea turtle.
How Long do Turtles Live?
Turtles have long life spans, with some species living as long as 100 years. Some turtles that are taken as pets often outlive their owners and get passed to other members of the family. Tortoise, which can be categorized under the big umbrella of turtles, also gave long life spans.
Swimming and Walking Speed of Turtles
On land, turtles are relatively slow, just like turtles. Most turtles move at the speed of 3 miles per hour when on land and about 10 miles per hour in the water. Researchers say the leatherback turtle can speed up to over 22 miles per hour when facing an immediate threat. It is considered the fastest species of turtles in the world.
Sizes of Turtles
Wild sea turtles can grow very big, with some species weighing well over 500 kilograms. This huge bulk is usually packed into frames of about 6-7 feet in length. A giant turtle in the world, for instance, can weigh up to 650 kg with just a length of about 9 feet.
Greensea turtles and loggerhead sea turtles can also weigh 500kg or more, with an approximate length of about 6-7feet.
Feeding Habits of Turtles
Animals feed differently based on their habitats, species, and general preferences. The same thing happens with turtles. Some turtles would instead feast on leafy greens, while some would rather go for a meal of crabs or jellyfish, and some other species will not discriminate between either of the two categories of food.
One exact thing is that turtles feed on what they can easily get in their habitats. So for turtles that spend all their lives in the water, a meal of jellyfish, seagrasses, or squids can be readily available. Turtles that live primarily on land, such as most of the species of box turtles, have better access to veggies, so that makes up a massive proportion of their meals.
Turtle or Tortoise
Many people cannot differentiate between turtles and tortoises as a result of the similar features they share. The most notable difference between the two testudines is that while tortoises live only on land, most turtles are aquatic, at least to some extent.
Another significant distinction is the constitution of their limbs. Turtles are made to survive in water and on land; as such most have webbed and flipper-like limbs. For tortoise, the limbs are not webbed, and each toe stands alone on its own. The hind-limbs of tortoises can be compared to a smaller version of elephants.
This design helps the animals dig their toes into the ground as they slowly move on land.
Predators of Turtles
Despite the enormous sizes of leatherbacks and other gigantic turtles, they are preyed on in the sea. Orcas and sharks are some of the greatest predators of these high turtles after man.
On land, smaller turtles also face threats from more giant animals such as foxes and raccoons.
Means of Reproduction
Most turtles mate in the water and lay their eggs on land. When breeding, a male turtle mounts the back of a female turtle and inserts his cloaca, a penis-alternative that also serves as an excretory organ, into a part of the female’s tail that is also known as the cloaca. The whole process of injecting the sperm into females can take hours, and this can be tasking on females who have to keep swimming to the surface of the water to breathe.
Female turtles also have to bear their weight and their partner’s weight during the process, and a female does not mate with only one male turtle. Male turtles can latch on for hours. In fact, in some species, the lower shells curve inwards to accommodate the female’s dome-shaped shell.
After mating, the females can store the sperm for months until it has to use it in fertilizing eggs. Fertilized eggs are laid on land and covered with sand. When the turtle hatch, they are left to fend for themselves. Small hatchlings and unhatched eggs are preyed on by everything from snakes to giant birds.
Turtles are reptiles with dome-shaped shells. They are often confused with tortoises, but unlike tortoises, they are aquatic animals.
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