Turtles Species

Familiarize yourself with the different types of prehistoric reptiles living in your pond and what they need to continue to thrive.

| March/ April 2020

Turtles have been around for more than 200 million years, making them among the oldest surviving land animals on Earth. We all have a picture of what a turtle looks like, but what makes a turtle a turtle?

Photo by Adobe Stock/MCE-128

The first distinguishing characteristic is its shell, which is formed by the fusion of the backbone, vertebrae, and ribs to form a box made of bone and cartilage. The top shell is called the “carapace,” and the bottom shell is known as the “plastron.” The two are joined by the “bridge.”

Another feature of turtles, as is the case with most reptiles, is that they lay eggs. Even aquatic and marine turtles that spend most of their lives in the water must come onto dry land to lay their eggs. The eggs are buried in the soil or under decaying vegetation, where they then incubate. Turtles don’t provide any care for their eggs or young; once the eggs are deposited, they’re on their own.

One more characteristic of all modern turtles is that, like birds, they don’t have teeth. Most turtles have beak-like mouths, and food is swallowed whole or crushed by their bony jaws.

There are more than 300 species of turtles worldwide, with more than 50 in the United States and Canada. They can be loosely grouped into five large categories: snapping, soft-shelled, aquatic and pond, box turtles and tortoises, and sea turtles. 

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