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All Things Turtle.
Information and pictures on Turtles.
Educational, Zoological, and Classification info.

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Like other reptiles, turtles are ectothermic (or "cold-blooded"). Like other amniotes (reptiles, dinosaurs, birds, and mammals), they breathe air and don't lay eggs underwater, though many species live in or around water. The largest turtles are aquatic.

Anatomy and morphology Turtles
The largest chelonian is the great leatherback sea turtle, which reaches a shell length of 200 cm (80 inches) and can reach a weight of over 900 kg (2,000 lb, or 1 short ton). Freshwater turtles are generally smaller, but with the largest species, the Asian softshell turtle Pelochelys cantorii, a few individuals have been reported to mup to 200 cm or 80 in (Das, 1991). This dwarfs even the better-known alligator snapping turtle, the largest chelonian in North America, which attains a shell length of up to 80 cm (31˝ in) and a weight of about 60 kg (170 lb)

Giant tortoises of the genera Geochelone, Meiolania, and others were relatively widely distributed around the world into prehistoric times, and are known to have existed in North and South America, Australia, and Africa. They became extinct at the same time as the appearance of Man, and it is assumed that humans hunted them for food. The only surviving giant tortoises are on the Seychelles and Galápagos Islands and can grow to over 130 cm (50 in) in length, and weigh about 300 kg (670 lb).
The largest ever chelonian was Archelon ischyros, a Late Cretaceous sea turtle known to have been up to 4.6 m (15 ft) long.

The smallest turtle is the speckled padloper tortoise of South Africa. It measures no more than 8 cm (3 in) in length and weighs about 140 g (5 oz). Two other species of small turtles are the American mud turtles and musk turtles that live in an area that ranges from Canada to South America. The shell length of many species in this group is less than 13 cm (5 in) in length.

Neck folding
Turtles are broken down into two groups, according to how they evolved a solution to the problem of withdrawing their neck into their shell (something the ancestral Proganochelys could not do): the Cryptodira, which can draw their neck in while contracting it under their spine; and the Pleurodira, which contract their neck to the side.

HeadTurtles
Most turtles that spend most of their life on land have their eyes looking down at objects in front of them. Some aquatic turtles, such as snapping turtles and soft-shelled turtles, have eyes closer to the top of the head. These species of turtles can hide from predators in shallow water where they lie entirely submerged except for their eyes and nostrils. Sea turtles possess glands near their eyes that produce salty tears that rid their body of excess salt taken in from the water they drink.

Turtles are thought to have exceptional night vision due to the unusually large number of rod cells in their retinas. Turtles have color vision with a wealth of cone subtypes with sensitivities ranging from the near Ultraviolet (UV A) to Red. Some land turtles have very poor pursuit movement abilities, which are normally reserved for predators that hunt quick moving prey, but carnivorous turtles are able to move their heads quickly to snap.

Turtles have a rigid beak. Turtles use their jaws to cut and chew food. Instead of teeth, the upper and lower jaws of the turtle are covered by horny ridges. Carnivorous turtles usually have knife-sharp ridges for slicing through their prey. Herbivorous turtles have serrated-edged ridges that help them cut through tough plants. Turtles use their tongues to swallow food, but they can't, unlike most reptiles, stick out their tongues to catch food.

Shell
The upper shell of the turtle is called the carapace. The lower shell that encases the belly is called the plastron. The carapace and plastron are joined together on the turtle's sides by bony structures called bridges. The inner layer of a turtle's shell is made up of about 60 bones that includes portions of the backbone and the ribs, meaning the turtle cannot crawl out of its shell. In most turtles, the outer layer of the shell is covered by horny scales called scutes that are part of its outer skin, or epidermis. Scutes are made up of a fibrous protein called keratin that also makes up the scales of other reptiles. These scutes overlap the seams between the shell bones and add strength to the shell. Some turtles do not have horny scutes. For example, the leatherback sea turtles and the soft-shelled turtles have shells covered with leathery skin instead.

The shape of the shell gives helpful clues to how the turtle lives. Most tortoises have a large dome-shaped shell that makes it difficult for predators to crush the shell between their jaws. One of the few exceptions is the African pancake tortoise which has a flat, flexible shell that allows it to hide in rock crevices. Most aquatic turtles have flat, streamlined shells which aid in swimming and diving. American snapping turtles and musk turtles have small, cross-shaped plastrons that give them more efficient leg movement for walking along the bottom of ponds and streams.

The color of a turtle's shell may vary. Shells are commonly colored brown, black, or olive green. In some species, shells may have red, orange, yellow, or grey markings and these markings are often spots, lines, or irregular blotches. One of the most colorful turtles is the eastern painted turtle which includes a yellow plastron and a black or olive shell with red markings around the rim.

Tortoises, being landbased, have rather heavy shells. In contrast, aquatic and soft-shelled turtles have lighter shells that help them avoid sinking in water and swim faster with more agility. These lighter shells have large spaces called fontanelles between the shell bones. The shell of a leatherback turtle is extremely light because they lack scutes and contain many fontanelles.

Skin and molting
As mentioned above, the outer layer of the shell is part of the skin, each scute (or plate) on the shell corresponding to a single modified scale. The remainder of the skin is composed of skin with much smaller scales, similar to the skin of other reptiles. Turtles and terrapins do not molt their skins all in one go, as snakes do, but continuously, in small pieces. When kept in aquaria, small sheets of dead skin can be seen in the water (often appearing to be a thin piece of plastic) when it has been sloughed off, often when the animal deliberately rubs itself against a piece of wood or stone. Tortoises also shed skin, but a lot of dead skin is allowed to accumulate into thick knobs and plates that provide protection to parts of the body outside the shell.

By counting the rings formed by the stack of smaller, older scutes on top of the larger, newer ones, it is possible to estimate the age of a turtle, if you know how many scutes are produced in a year. This method is not very accurate, partly because growth rate is not constant, but also because some of the scutes eventually fall away from the shell.

Limbs
Terrestrial tortoises have short, sturdy feet. Tortoises are famous for moving slowly, in part because of their heavy, cumbersome shell but also because of the relatively inefficient sprawling gait that they have, with the legs being bent, as with lizards rather than being straight and directly under the body, as is the case with mammals.

The amphibious turtles normally have limbs similar to those of tortoises except that the feet are webbed and often have long claws. These turtles swim using all four feet in a way similar to the dog paddle, with the feet on the left and right side of the body alternately providing thrust. Large turtles tend to swim less than smaller ones, and the very big species, such as alligator snapping turtles, hardly swim at all, preferring to simply walk along the bottom of the river or lake. As well as webbed feet, turtles also have very long claws, used to help them clamber onto riverbanks and floating logs, upon which they like to bask. Male turtles tend to have particularly long claws, and these appear to be used to stimulate the female while mating. While most turtles have webbed feet, a few turtles, such as the pig-nose turtles, have true flippers, with the digits being fused into paddles and the claws being relatively small. These species swim in the same way as sea turtles (see below).

Sea turtles are almost entirely aquatic and instead of feet they have flippers. Sea turtles "fly" through the water, using the up-and-down motion of the front flippers to generate thrust; the back feet are not used for propulsion but may be used as rudders for steering. Compared with freshwater turtles, sea turtles have very limited mobility on land, and apart from the dash from the nest to the sea as hatchlings, male sea turtles normally never leave the sea. Females must come back onto land to lay eggs. They move very slowly and laboriously, dragging themselves forwards with their flippers. The back flippers are used to dig the burrow and then fill it back with sand once the eggs have been deposited.

Ecology and life history
Even though many spend large amounts of their lives underwater, all turtles and tortoises are air-breathing reptiles, and must surface at regular intervals to refill their lungs with fresh air. They can also spend a lot of their lives on dry land. Aquatic respiration in Australian freshwater turtles is currently being studied. Some species have large cloacal cavities that are lined with many finger-like projections. These projections, called "papillae", have a rich blood supply, and serve to increase the surface area of the cloaca. The turtles can take up dissolved oxygen from the water using these papillae, in much the same way that fish use gills to respire.

Turtles lay eggs, like other reptiles, which are slightly soft and leathery. The eggs of the largest species are spherical, while the eggs of the rest are elongated. Their albumen is white and contains a different protein than do bird eggs, such that it will not coagulate when cooked. Turtle eggs prepared to eat consist mainly of yolk. In some species, temperature determines whether an egg develops into a male or a female: a higher temperature causes a female, a lower temperature causes a male. Large numbers of eggs are deposited in holes dug into mud or sand. They are then covered and left to incubate by themselves. When the turtles hatch they squirm their way to the surface and make for the water. There are no known species wherein the mother cares for the young.

Sea turtles lay their eggs on dry sandy beaches, and are highly endangered largely as a result of beach development and over hunting. Immature sea turtles are not raised by either parent.
Turtles can take many years to reach breeding age. Often turtles only breed every few years or more.
Researchers have recently discovered a turtle’s organs do not gradually break down or become less efficient over time, unlike most other animals. It was found that the liver, lungs and kidneys of a centenarian turtle are virtually indistinguishable from those of its immature counterpart. This has inspired genetic researchers to begin examining the turtle genome for longevity genes.

Evolutionary history
The first turtles are believed to have existed in the early Triassic Period of the Mesozoic era, about 200 million years ago. Their exact ancestry is disputed. It was believed that they are the only surviving branch of the ancient clade Anapsida, which includes groups such as procolophonoids, millerettids, protorothyrids and pareiasaurs. All anapsid skulls lack a temporal opening, while all other extant amniotes have temporal openings (although in mammals the hole has become the zygomatic arch). The millerettids, protorothyrids and pareiasaurs became extinct in the late Permian period, and the procolophonoids during the Triassic.

However, it was recently suggested that the anapsid-like turtle skull may be due to reversion rather than to anapsid descent. More recent phylogenetic studies with this in mind placed turtles firmly within diapsids, slightly closer to Squamata than to Archosauria. All molecular studies have strongly upheld this new phylogeny, though some place turtles closer to Archosauria. Re-analysis of prior phylogenies suggests that they classified turtles as anapsids both because they assumed this classification (most of them studying what sort of anapsid turtles are) and because they did not sample fossil and extant taxa broadly enough for constructing the cladogram. As of 2003, the consensus is that Testudines diverged from other diapsids between 285 and 270 million years ago.

The earliest known turtle is proganochelys, though this species already had many advanced turtle traits, and thus probably had many millions of years of preceding "turtle" evolution and species in its ancestry. It did lack the ability to pull its head into its shell (and it had a long neck), and had a long, spiked tail ending in a club, implying an ancestry occupying a similar niche to the ankylosaurs (though, presumably, only parallel evolution).

Turtle, tortoise or terrapin?
Different animals are called turtles, tortoises, or terrapins in different varieties of English
Although the word "turtle" is widely used to describe all members of the order Testudines, it is also common to see certain members described as terrapins, tortoises or sea turtles as well. Precisely how these alternative names are used, if at all, depends on the type of English being used.

* British English normally describes these reptiles as turtles if they live in the sea; terrapins if they live in fresh or brackish water; or tortoises if they live on land. However, there are exceptions to this where American or Australian common names are in wide use, as with the Fly River turtle.

* American English tends to use the word turtle for all species regardless of habitat, although tortoise may be used as a more precise term for any land-dwelling species. Oceanic species may be more specifically referred to as sea turtles. The name "terrapin" is strictly reserved for the brackish water diamondback terrapin, Malaclemys terrapin; the word terrapin in this case being derived from the Algonquian word for this animal.

* Australian English uses turtle for both the marine and freshwater species but tortoise for the terrestrial species.

To avoid confusion, the word chelonian is popular among veterinarians, scientists, and conservationists working with these animals as a catch-all name for any member of the order Testudines. It is based on the Ancient Greek word χελώνη (chelone, modern Greek χελώνα), meaning tortoise.

Turtles as pets
Turtles, particularly small terrestrial and freshwater turtles, are quite commonly kept as pets. Among the most popular are the Greek spur-thighed tortoise and red-ear slider (or terrapin). The general guideline for habitat size is 10 gallons of water per inch of shell. A lone adult male red-eared slider generally needs at least a 75 gallon tank. The most common of turtles, the red-ear slider, is an omnivore. As a hatchling they eat mostly protein in the form of commercial turtle pellets, and as they get older the diet must be comprised of a larger portion of vegetables and leafy greens. Many pet stores sell pellets and other turtle foods that are rich with vitamins and nutrients.
Turtles need a dry area to bask in (vapor bulb suggested) and since turtles spend roughly about 92% of their lives under water, they need a mass amount of water in their tank as well. Water is also very important, because they cannot digest food when they are out of water. It is best to keep the temperature around 70-80 degrees and avoid using tap water, because the chlorine and fluoride disturbs their PH balance.
As the turtle gets older, they tend to like more fruits as well. Although it is not very healthy for them to eat on a daily basis, it is okay to feed them the occasional banana or strawberry, but should be cut it into small pieces before putting it into the cage.

Sea turtleTurtles
Sea turtles (Superfamily Chelonioidea) are turtles found in all the world's oceans except the Arctic Ocean. There are seven living species of sea turtles: flatback, green, hawksbill, Kemp's Ridley, leatherback, loggerhead and olive ridley. The East Pacific subpopulation of the green turtle has been classified as a separate species in the past as the black turtle. However, DNA evidence indicates that it is not evolutionarily distinct from the green turtle.
All but the leatherback are in the family Cheloniidae; the leatherback belongs to the family Dermochelyidae and is its only member.The Flatback turtle is found solely on the northern coast of Australia.

Anatomy
Although they have been present for tens of millions of years since the Mesozoic, the body plan of sea turtles has remained relatively constant. Sea turtles possess dorsoventrally-flattened bodies with two hind legs and highly-evolved paddle-like front arms. Different species are distinguished by varying anatomical aspects: for instance, the prefrontal scales on the head, the number of and shape of scutes on the carapace, and the type of inframarginal scutes on the plastron. The leatherback is the only sea turtle that does not have a hard shell, instead carrying a mosaic of bony plates beneath its leathery skin. It is the largest of the sea turtles, measuring six or seven feet (2 m) in length at maturity, and three to five feet (1 to 1.5 m) in width, weighing up to 1300 pounds (600 kg). Other species are smaller, being mostly two to four feet in length (0.5 to 1 m) and proportionally narrower.

Distribution
The members of the superfamily have a general worldwide distribution. Sea turtles can be found in all oceans around the world except for the polar regions. Some species travel between oceans.

Ecology and life history
Sea turtles have an extraordinary sense of time and location. They are highly sensitive to the Earth's magnetic field and use it to navigate. The longevity of sea turtles has been speculated at 80 years. The fact that most species return to nest at the locations where they were born seems to indicate an imprint of that location's magnetic features. The Ridley turtles are especially peculiar because instead of nesting individually like the other species, they come ashore in one mass arrival known as an "arribada" (arrival). With the Kemp's Ridley this occurs during the day and on only one beach in the entire world. Their numbers used to range in the thousands but due to the effects of extensive egg poaching and hunting in previous years the numbers are now in the hundreds.
After about 30 years of maturing, adult female sea turtles return to the land to nest at night, usually on the same beach from which they hatched. This can take place every two to four years in maturity. They make from four to seven nests per nesting season.

All sea turtles generally employ the same methods when making a nest. A mature nesting female hauls herself onto the beach until she finds suitable sand on which to create a nest. Using its hind flippers, the female proceeds to dig a circular hole 40 to 50 centimeters deep. After the hole is dug, the female then starts filling the nest with eggs one by one until it has deposited around 150 to 200 eggs, depending on the turtle's species. The nest is then re-filled with loose sand by the female, re-sculpting and smoothening the sand over the nest until it is relatively undetectable visually. The whole process takes around thirty minutes to a little over an hour. After the nest is laid, the female then returns to the ocean.
Some of the eggs are unfertilized 'dummy eggs' and the rest contain young turtles. Incubation takes about 2 months. The length of incubation and the gender of the hatchling depends on the temperature of the sand. Darker sands maintain higher temperatures, decreasing incubation time and increasing the frequency of female hatchlings. When the eggs hatch, these hatchlings dig their way out and seek the ocean. Only a very small proportion of them (usually .001%) will be successful, as many predators wait to eat the steady stream of new hatched turtles (since many sea turtles lay eggs en masse, the eggs also hatch en masse)

The hatchlings then proceed into the open ocean, borne on oceanic currents that they often have no control over. While in the open ocean, it used to be the case that what happened to sea turtle young during this stage in their lives was unknown. However in 1987, it was discovered that the young of Chelonia mydas and Caretta caretta spent a great deal of their pelagic lives in floating sargassum beds - thick mats of unanchored seaweed floating in the middle of the ocean. Within these beds, they found ample shelter and food. In the absence of sargassum beds, turtle young feed in the vicinity of upwelling "fronts" In 2007, is was verified that green turtle hatchlings spend the first three to five years of their lives in pelagic waters. Out in the open ocean, pre-juveniles of this particular species were found to feed on zooplankton and smaller nekton before they are recruited into inshore sea grass meadows as obligate herbivores.

Taxonomy
Turtles are divided into three suborders, one of which, the Paracryptodira, is extinct. The two extant suborders are the Cryptodira and the Pleurodira. The Cryptodira is the larger of the two groups and includes all the marine turtles, the terrestrial tortoises, and many of the freshwater turtles. The Pleurodira are sometimes known as the side-necked turtles, a reference to the way they withdraw their heads into their shells. This smaller group consists primarily of various freshwaterturtles.

Scientific classification

Kingom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Sauropsida
Order: Testudines  Linnaeus, 1758

Suborders

Cryptodira
Pleurodira

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