Let's get our first fun fact cleared up right at the beginning - turtles are reptiles, not amphibians. Sure they're equally happy in both land and water - except for tortoises that will drown if put in deep water - but this does not make them amphibians. In fact, turtles are pretty unique as reptiles as the only ones to actually grow an external shell made of bone!
And it seems all that calcium goes right into that shell because turtles don't have teeth. They've got a pretty sharp beak that will take your finger right off if you're not fast enough but then, you are faster than a turtle right?
All living turtles belong to the crown group Chelonia and there about 300 species existing today, although a fair few are on the endangered list. Turtles are local to every continent, except Antarctica, and every ocean, except the Arctic. Wondering why they don't live in the coldest regions? You guessed it! As reptiles, turtles are cold-blooded and hence cannot generate their own body heat.
But literally everywhere else you look you're likely to find turtles and this is probably because they're one of the oldest living species of reptile, having been around for about 215 million years.
The turtle's shell is called its ‘exoskeleton’ which basically means the ‘outer skeleton’ made of bone. The turtle exoskeleton, or shell, grows out from its ribs to fuse with the backbone and is formed of large plates called scutes.
The upper part of the shell is called the carapace and the lower part is called the plastron. This lower belly is how you tell the males and females apart.
In males, the plastron is concave while in the females it is flat. Not all turtle shells are hard. In fact, some are downright ‘soft’ earning some turtles the name ‘leatherback. ’ (The leatherback sea turtle, by the way, grows to be one of the largest turtles in existence at around two meters long. )
Another little known fact about turtles is their well-developed sense of sight and smell. This, second to their shells, is their greatest defense against predators. If they can see or smell an attack far away enough they can drag themselves into safety under mud, water or a large rock before the predator gets close enough to do some real damage. The pancake tortoise, for instance, has a soft-shell but this helps it much more than a hard shell would by allowing it to squeeze into rock crevices to escape attack.
All turtles and tortoises breathe water and although they can go for extended periods of time underwater eventually they all must resurface.
This includes the Australian freshwater turtle which has a most fascinating feature near its cloacal cavity.
These are the blood-rich papillae that are able to absorb dissolved oxygen straight from water, similarly to fish gills, allowing it to stay underwater much longer than many of its counterparts.
Turtles are extremely fascinating creatures and the more information you find out about them, the more you want to know. Keeping one as a pet entails knowing a lot more than you would need to know about other animals but it is definitely well worth the effort.
Look up turtles and turtle facts online, in books, at pet-shops - find out everything you can before getting one as a pet but do get one if you've been thinking about it. They make great pets!
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