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  • Turtles will usually return to the same beach where they hatched to lay their eggs.

  • Tortoises live on land. They cannot swim in water while turtles can swim and even float in water.

  • You can tell the sex of a tortoise by looking at his/her tail. Females have a smaller tail that is dropped down, while the male's much longer tail is usually pulled up and to the side of the rear shell.

  • Most tortoises are herbivorous; they eat grasses, weeds, leafy greens, flowers, and certain fruits, but some eat insects too.

  • Some adult sea turtles can weigh up to 1,000 pounds.

  • Tortoises can vary in size from just an inch or two to more than 6 feet.

Tortoises and turtles are both reptiles. The defining difference is that tortoises live on land, and turtles live in water.

The tortoise not only outlasted the hare in the race, in fact turtles have survived in our oceans, freshwater lakes, rivers and tortoises have lived on land, since before the dinosaurs walked the earth.

Their bodies are shielded by a shell, an upper part called the carapace and the lower portion called the plastron. The carapace and the plastron are attached at the end by a bridge which means that though the head and limbs may be withdrawn from the shell, the whole body can never be totally detached from it. These reptiles are generally reclusive and shy in nature.

Hundreds of species of turtles and tortoises each have special adaptive characteristics for each habitat that they live in. Different tortoises use claws for digging and ridged beaks for snapping up prey. Sea turtles use webbed feet or flippers for swimming and salty tear glands to excrete salt water. Some species have soft shells and leathery skin instead of a hard shell. The shape of the shell may be similar to a dome in order to make it difficult for predators to crush it.

The largest living reptile is actually the leatherback sea turtle, measuring seven feet long and weighing up to one ton, and can reach ocean depths below 4,000 feet. The leatherback is unique because it has a soft shell and a noticeably higher body temperature because of their high metabolic rate, allowing it to reach such deep ocean water. A full grown bog turtle of eastern North America is only as big as a golf ball.

Every turtle has to breathe air, although some can hold their breath for an extended time. Every turtle also lays its eggs on land, even the gigantic ones, no matter where their habitat is. After digging a hole in the sand or dirt and depositing the eggs, the female leaves the covered nest never to return or associate with the young. It is a dangerous battle for hatchlings to survive the crawl to the ocean alone. Until a hatchling’s shell hardens, it is very vulnerable to predators. This is the reason that one female will produce up to 200 eggs at one time.

Please don’t keep any reptile as a pet. Wild animals deserve to live in the wild. Plus reptiles can carry and transmit salmonella, and many are sold illegally.

Help to preserve a turtle’s wild habitat instead. Construction and development consume tortoise habitat every day. Certain destructive logging practices and some recreational activity also destroy their homes.

Pollution, fishing operations, motor boats and vehicles are major threats to turtles and their habitat.

Turtles and tortoises have well surpassed the dinosaurs so far, but they need our help to keep them around much longer.

DIY Explorer's Kit

Take a closer look at your backyard. Build an Explorer's Kit and see what you can find.

 

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