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Turtle Facts

Turtles come in all shapes and sizes and exist on land and in the sea.

They have been around for millions of years and some even live longer than people.

Turtle Facts for Kids

  • Turtles can live long lives, some can live to 200 years of age.
  • The turtle shell is made of keratin, which is the same material that our fingernails are made of.
  • Sea turtles return to the location where they were born to lay their eggs.
  • Sea turtle babies will hatch at night and look for the light of the moon as a guide to lead them to the water.
  • People that live in areas of sea turtle nests will often turn off all of their lights to keep from confusing the babies.
  • The name for baby turtles is ‘sparkies’.
  • Turtles have the ability to retract their heads in case of danger so that they go inside their shells.

3 Different Types of Turtles

The term “turtle” is typically used as a generalization to cover turtles, tortoises, and sea turtles, but there are differences in these three categories. 

1. Turtles

A turtle is a semi-aquatic animal as it spends its time split between land and water. They typically spend most of their time in the water and the rest on land. 

Turtles come in several groups called families. They are as follows:

Emydidae Family

Emydidae turtle

The Emydidae family is a very large, diverse group. More than 95 turtle species fit into this category. Most of these species are either freshwater turtles, or they live on land. Two commonly known Emydid turtles are the box turtle and the bog turtle. 

The box turtle is mostly a land turtle and is one of the most commonly seen turtles in the wild around ponds, wooded areas, and fields. They have an easily recognizable dome-shaped shell with ridges. Their toes are usually webbed some to support them when they go in the water, but they are more adapted to land. 

Box turtles typically get no longer than six inches. They are omnivores, so they eat anything from amphibians to berries. The younger the box turtle, the more meat they eat. More mature box turtles typically stick with a plant diet.

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Facts for Kids

Bog turtles are among the smallest turtles in America as the largest ever found was only 4.5 inches. They, too, are omnivores, eating anything from berries to snakes. Sadly, invasive plants and a changing environment are causing the bog turtle population to decline with concern that they may soon become endangered.

Mud and Musk Turtles

Musk Turtle

The Kinosternidae family is made up of mud and musk turtles. There are eleven species, but they are only found in North and South America. Mud and musk turtles are little guys, usually reaching no more than six inches long. 

In the case of danger, a musk turtle reacts similarly to a skunk. Musk turtles have a chemical odor to release when they feel threatened. Unfortunately, that self-defense mechanism is not always helpful. Thanks to habitat loss, musk turtles have been considered a threatened species for over 30 years. 

Mud turtles are called that as they tend to stay on the muddy bottoms of the water. They have been considered endangered for several years now. 

Softshell Turtles

Softshell Turtle

A few species of soft-shelled turtles make up the Trionychidae family that inhabits North America, Asia, Africa, and Australia. There are approximately 30 species of softshell turtles in total. 

Softshell turtles are omnivores, meaning that they eat pretty much any plant or animal that they can get. They are typically large with pointy noses, and their shells are very flat. You can usually catch them sunbathing. 

Softshell turtles are not yet listed as threatened here in the United States. However, they are in other countries. For instance, the Yangtze giant softshell turtle is considered one of the world’s most endangered turtles. 

Additionally, though they are not yet listed as threatened, it does not mean that they do not face threats. Between chemical pollution and habitat destruction, they might end up on that list very soon. 

Snapping Turtles 

Snapping Turtle

Snapping turtles are from the Chelydridae family of turtles. They usually live in creeks, rivers, lakes, wetlands, ponds, and similar habitats. They hibernate on the muddy bottom during the winter. 

Snapping turtles eat plants, spiders, worms, frogs, birds, small mammals, and even smaller turtles. They can grow to more than three feet and nearly 200 pounds. 

Pleurodira Family

Pleurodira Turtle

The Pleurodira family is made up of three separate families: the Chelidae, the Pelomedusidae, and the Podocnemididae turtles. The group is known as side-necked turtles due to their defensive characteristics. Instead of pulling their head into the shell, they turn their head and neck sideways to cover themselves in the face of danger. 

2. Tortoises

Tortoise

Tortoises spend more of their time on land as they are not the best swimmers. You might catch them in shallow water, but they typically steer clear of anything too deep as they can actually flip upside down and drown. 

Dig a Little Deeper Into Turtles VS Tortoises 

It can be a little confusing keeping turtles and tortoises separate, but it’s not impossible. Let’s start with some basic differences.

  • Tortoises live on land. They occasionally dip in the water for a bath or a drink, but they do not stay there. 
  • Turtles, on the other hand, can live on land, but they are fans of living in the water. In fact, they are capable of holding their breath underwater for hours at a time.
  • Tortoises have padded, stumpy feet that resemble an elephant’s foot. This makes it easier for them to walk on land. 
  • Most turtles, on the other hand, have webbed feet. Sea turtles have something more akin to flippers. These make it easier for them to get around in the water. 
  • The one exception to this is box turtles. They have claws as they spend more time on land than in water. 
  • Tortoises prefer vegetables.
  • Turtles are omnivores. They eat plants and meat- whatever they find available. 

3. Sea Turtles

Sea turtles (sometimes called marine turtles), on the other hand, live up to their name. They stay in the water constantly until it’s time to lay eggs. Sea turtles lay an average of 110 eggs per nest, and they may have two to eight nests each season. This should mean a large population of sea turtles, but that is not the case. Unfortunately, other animals, such as dogs, tend to dig up and eat or destroy any sea turtle egg they find in the nest. 

Additionally, they tend to be eaten, skinned, and used for other purposes. These issues have led to many being classified as endangered. They can live over 50 years, but they are endangered, so many do not make it that long. 

They vary in size according to the species. Below are seven different species of sea turtles and their size

Hawksbill Turtle

Hawksbill Turtle

They get their name from the pointy beak that looks like something you would see on a bird. They grow to about 45 inches and about 150 pounds in weight.

The female always returns to the same nesting place that she was born in to lay her eggs.

You can find Hawksbill turtles throughout the tropical waters of the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian oceans.

Green Sea Turtle

Green Sea Turtle

These are the largest species of hard-shelled turtles.

They can grow to between 3 to 4 feet and weigh 300 to 350 pounds.

Unbelievably they can live for 60 to 70 years.

They get their name from their green-color fat, which comes from a diet of seagrass and algae.

Green sea turtles are found in tropical and subtropical oceans worldwide off the coasts of over 140 countries.

Flatback Turtle

Flatback Turtle

Flatback sea turtles are usually about 220 pounds and up to 37 inches long. You’ll find them in the coastal waters of Australia and beautiful Papua New Guinea.

They like to eat sea cucumbers, soft corals, and even jellyfish.

The females always next on the beaches in Australia and, on average, lay about 50 eggs

Kemp’s Ridley Turtle

Kemp’s Ridley Turtle

Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles are the smallest, growing to no more than 24 to 27 inches in length and 100 pounds.

They are an endangered species and protected under the Endangered Species Act

They eat crabs, some fish, mollusks, and jellyfish.

From May to July, the females return to nest on the same beach where they were born. They lay about 100 eggs. They return to their nesting spot during daylight hours.

Olive Ridley Turtle

Olive Ridley Turtle

The Olive Ridley turtle is named so due to its olive-colored, heart-shaped shell. These typically weigh no more than 110 pounds and about two feet long. 

They like to sleep underwater and can do so for about 2 hours before needed to pop back up for some air.

They enjoy eating crabs, jellyfish, and shrimp.

They can live for between 50-60 years and are found in warm and tropical waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. But also in the warm water of the Atlantic.

Leatherback Sea Turtle

Leatherback Turtle

Leatherbacks are the largest turtle in the world. They often grow to more than six feet long and nearly 2000 pounds.

They are the only turtle species that does not have a hard shell.

They are called Leatherbacks because of their tough skin that looks like rubbery leather.

They can swim 10,000 miles just to get to their nesting grounds.

They are amazing swimmers and can dive 4,000 feet deep and can stay underwater for almost 90 minutes.

Loggerhead Turtle

Adult loggerhead turtles are usually about four feet long and typically anywhere from 200 to 400 pounds.

They get their name because of their broad, muscular heads.

They live for around 25 to 40 years

Like others, the females return to the same nesting grounds where they were born to lay eggs.

They eat crabs, jellyfish, shrimp, sponges, and fish.

How to Save the Endangered Sea Turtle Population

If you want to do your part to save the endangered sea turtle population, you are not alone. The following are a few simple ways that you can make a dramatic difference.

1. Learn More About Your Food

Many people love seafood, but most do not understand how it is caught. Commercial fishermen employ tactics, such as trawling. Basically, this means that they drop a net and pull everything up that gets trapped in the net. 

The net drags along the bottom of the ocean floor, destroying plants and habitats along the way. Additionally, anything that fishermen do not want typically gets thrown to the side instead of back into the ocean. Before diving into your seafood platter, learn how it was caught. Choose only seafood that is sourced responsibly. 

2. Keep An Eye Out

Try to keep a watch for any sea turtles and nesting sites. Avoid them as much as possible. If you happen to run across a sea turtle, do your best not to disturb it. 

3. Beach Clean Up

When you take a trip to the beach, be sure you clean up all of your mess before leaving. This- of course- means to clean up all of your trash and put away any recreational furniture. However, you should also fill in any holes and knock down any sandcastles to prevent hatchlings from getting caught in them. 

You can also join in on group beach clean-up days or pick a day every week or so to clean a section of the beach. Every piece of trash you clean up contributes to the health and safety of sea turtles.

4. Avoid Souvenirs Made From Hawksbills

Tortoiseshell souvenirs may be beautiful, but they wreak havoc on the sea turtle population- specifically hawksbills. Purchasing such items encourages greater danger to sea turtles. Aim to avoid anything you know is made of tortoiseshell. 

5. Careful With the Sunscreen

Did you know that some sunscreen can actually harm coral reefs and hurt sea turtles? If you get into the ocean with sunscreen that contains oxybenzone, it can wash off of you and make its way to sea turtle habitats. When choosing sunscreen, be sure that it does not include this chemical.

6. Be Environmentally Aware

Every environmental decision you make can impact the sea turtle population. Look at your daily activities to find ways to be more environmentally-friendly. Some examples include using less power, driving less, and buying reusable water bottles.

7. Avoid Plastic

Sea turtles- especially leatherbacks and hawkbills- love to eat jellyfish. Sadly, this fact is responsible for many of their deaths. This is because when they notice Plastic floating in the water, they mistake it for jellyfish, try to eat it, and die from it. 

More waste ends up in the ocean than most people think. By avoiding Plastic- and definitely leaving it at home during beach trips- you are making a difference in the amount that ends up in the ocean.

8. Keep Up With Hatching Season

Different turtles have different hatching seasons. Learn what hatching seasons occur at what time of year in your area. Once you know, be sure not to have any fires on the beach during that time. If you do, the hatchlings might crawl into the fire as they are attracted to the light. 

9. Donate

There are plenty of organizations that work to preserve sea life. Often, they can do a lot of work that might be difficult for one person to complete on his or her own. Choose one that supports a particular cause you care about, such as sea turtles, and commit to donating any amount you can. Every dollar can make a difference.

10. Find a Group to Join

Time can be as valuable as money when it comes to supporting a worthy cause. Consider finding a conservation group that you can donate some time to, whether it’s hours every day or a couple of hours a month.

11. Share What You Know

Many people go through life making bad or unhealthy decisions simply due to being unaware of the consequences. Share with others all you know and learn so that they, too, are aware of the problem. It will not change everyone’s behavior. However, if some people you speak to change only one bad habit, it would make a very positive impact on the environment. 

Fun Turtle Facts

  • The color of a tortoise’s shell tells a lot about where they are from. If you see a tortoise with a light-colored shell, that tortoise comes from a hot climate, such as a desert. The darker the shell, the cooler the climate. 
  • Not all turtles can hide their head in their shells, though most can. 
  • You can sometimes hear a turtle breathe out when they are retracting their head into their shell, just like when someone is about to jump in a pool. They breathe out in preparation for holding their breath. 
  • There are really no set names for a female or male turtle-like there are with many other animals. However, baby sea turtles, a baby tortoise, and any other baby turtle are all referred to as “hatchling.”
  • The number of eggs a turtle lays depends specifically on the type of turtle. Flatback turtles lay less than others at about 50 eggs. Sea turtles lay more than 100. Other turtles can lay anywhere in between.
  • Sea turtles are pretty amazing. They have special glands that act as filters to remove salt from their drinking water. 
  • Green sea turtles like to eat plants, such as seagrass. The fact that they eat it and keep its growth in check saves many other ocean creatures. 
  • Most people think of turtles as calm, gentle, and slow-moving. One of the most vicious types of turtles is the alligator snapping turtle in North America. It has a hooked beak and powerful jaws and can weigh up to two hundred pounds and be as large as 2.5 feet long.
  • The oldest turtle fossil that has been found is over 220 million years old.
  • Some turtles have muscles that help them to breathe underwater. These are special muscles located between their lungs and limbs.
  • There was a myth that indicated turtles could not hear very well. This is false. Examination of the ear canals of turtles shows that they can hear better than humans but in slight variations.

Turtles can see in color, specifically red, yellow, and orange.

This relates to the types of foods that they eat and for those that are the most appealing.

Some species of turtles on the Galapagos Islands were hunted by sailors to extinction.

Sailors visiting the islands would load the ships with turtles and then use them for food for an extended voyage.