All About Turtles

Turtles are reptiles which have a hard shell for protection. They live all over the world. Turtles, terrapins, and tortoises are sometimes confused. They are all part of a group of reptiles called testudines. Turtles spend most of their lives in the water. They have webbed feet and a streamlined body. Sea turtles stay in the ocean except when they lay eggs on the sand. Freshwater turtles come out to lie in the sun on a log. Tortoises are land animals with short stumpy legs. They can dig and go underground when it gets too hot. A terrapin lives in both land and water, usually in lakes and rivers and ponds. Turtles are amniotes. They breathe air and lay eggs on land.

Turtles vary greatly in size. The largest sea turtle is the leatherback turtle. It weighs six hundred to fifteen hundred pounds. It is about five feet long. The largest freshwater turtle in North America is the alligator snapping turtle. The largest softshell turtle in the world is the Yangtze giant softshell turtle. One of the smallest turtles is the speckled cape tortoise which weighs about five ounces.

A turtle's shell is made up of about sixty bones which are covered by plates called scutes. The shell is part of its skeleton. These plates are made up of keratin, the same substance of which human fingernails are made. Many turtles can draw their head and feet into their shells. Turtles are put into categories according to how they do this. Pleurodires pull their head in sideways. Cryptodires pull their heads straight back in. Sea turtles cannot retract their heads and feet.

Turtles live on every continent except Antarctica. Most live in southeastern North America and South Asia. Five species live in Europe. Sea turtles are found in the Coral Triangle, waters around the lands on the eastern and western sides of the Pacific Ocean. In Africa, the most common turtle is the African helmeted turtle. It eats young birds and small mammals. It emits a foul-smelling liquid from glands in its legs. Roti island snaked turtles are found on an island in Indonesia.

Most turtles are active during the day but like to spend time alone. They are not social animals. They are loud creatures, making sounds like barking dogs or even chickens. Most turtles are omnivores. The cooter turtles and the green sea turtles are vegetarian. The alligator snapping turtle has a tongue which looks like a worm and lures fish close to it.

Although all turtles lay eggs, none stay around to raise their offspring. The mating age for turtles ranges from a few years to up to fifty. Some males fight to get the right to mate with a female. Some seduce the female with a mating ritual. Sea turtles lay their eggs on the sand, about one hundred ten at a time. The sex of the baby turtles is determined by the temperature of the sand. The perfect temperature breeds an equal number of males and females. However, since temperatures in the world are rising, too many females are being born. This causes a decline in total numbers.

Many turtle species are now considered rare and liable to be extinct soon. The ploughshare and radiated tortoise are two of the endangered species. In 1968, the Soviets launched Zond 5, a probe to circle the moon. Two Russian tortoises were on the spacecraft. They returned safely but lost ten percent of their body weight.

Turtles have a long lifespan, living to well over one hundred years. Tu' I malila of Tonga Island lived to the age of one hundred eighty-eight. Most species of turtle have five toes on each foot. Turtles have a good sense of smell and good eyesight, as well as good hearing and sense of touch. Some aquatic turtles can absorb oxygen through their skin and stay underwater for long periods of time.

A: Reptile
B: Mammal
C: Birds
D: Primates

A: Tortoises are sea creatures.
B: Turtles have a short lifespan.
C: Turtles have a poor sense of hearing.
D: Turtles have good eyesight.

A: Female turtles remain on their nests for several months after the eggs are laid.
B: One type of turtle lives in Antarctica.
C: Usually, about one hundred ten eggs are laid by a turtle at a time.
D: Most turtles weigh about one hundred pounds.

A: A creature which breathes underwater
B: A creature which breathes air and lays eggs on land
C: A creature which lays its eggs in the water
D: A creature which cannot breathe underwater

A: Keratin
B: Calcium
C: Phosphorous
D: Iron

A: All turtles can retract their heads.
B: Only tortoises can retract their heads.
C: Sea turtles cannot retract their heads.
D: Pleurodires pull their head in straight.

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