Happy World Turtle Day! Help “shellebrate” this special day dedicated to raising awareness about the endangered status of turtles and tortoises by sharing the importance of these unique creatures and inspiring others help protect them.
- All tortoises are turtles, but not all turtles are tortoises. The term tortoise specifically refers to terrestrial turtles or tortoises, not aquatic turtles.
- Turtles have been in existence since dinosaurs roamed the Earth about 200 million years ago.
- In Finding Nemo, Crush the sea turtle says “Hundred and fifty, dude, and still young. Rock on!” It’s true, the record for oldest turtle is 190 years old! Large land tortoises and sea turtles can live to be 150 years or more.
- Contrary to popular belief, only some turtles can retract their heads and tails into their shells.
What do they look like?
Aquatic turtles and tortoises have distinct characteristics to tell them apart. Tortoise’s feet are short and rounded so they can walk on land; their shells are more of a dome shape. On the contrary, aquatic turtles have webbed feet with claws, and their shells are flat. Colors and patterns vary depending on the species.
There are 356 species of turtles in the world and about 34 different species in Texas. Ones common to our area are the aquatic red-eared slider, box turtle, and common snapping turtle.
What do they eat?
Turtles eat a wide range of foods and diets differ between tortoises and sea turtles. Generally, most turtles are omnivores, eating both smaller animals and plants. Some can be fully herbivores or carnivores. Tortoises prefer small insects including caterpillars, earthworms, and snails. They also eat fruits, nuts, flowers, grasses, berries, and mushrooms. Sea turtles are usually carnivores. Sea turtles have a diet rich in jellyfish, sponges, crabs, and other small sea creatures. Some species also eat algae, coral, and seaweed.
What eats them?
Depending on where turtles live, they have many different predators. Tortoises get eaten by birds, reptiles like snakes and lizards, and mammals including dogs, raccoons, and coyotes. Some may get eaten by other turtles! Sea turtle predators include whales, dolphins, sharks, and some carnivorous fish.
Why do we need them?
Turtles are keystone species, which means that they are critical to the stability of the ecosystem. Unfortunately, many species of turtles are endangered and at risk of extinction. Worldwide, human actions drive down turtle populations due to water pollution, habitat destruction, pet trading, commercial fishing, and poaching.
Here at home you can make a difference by helping to keep existing turtle habitats free from litter. Environmental Services offers numerous waterway clean-ups and litter audits – lend a hand at our next event!
Single-use plastics like bags, water bottles, and soda caps end up in waterways and are a hazard to all aquatic life. Switching to reusable alternatives helps stop these problems at the source. There are many organizations dedicated to saving turtles that provide valuable information on what you can do to help.
Whether you’re an avid turtle lover or “turtly” on the fence, Turtle Day is a reminder that what we do matters, and we can all do something to protect these incredible creatures and their habitats.
For more information visit:
Click the link below to print a World Turtle Day coloring page!
Interested in learning more about local wildlife? Check out these past Creature Features: