1. A group of turtles is called a bale. Historically, turtles have been the symbols of patience and wisdom. In the Hawaiian the word “honu” means sea turtles and represents long life. Turtles have been alive for more than 200 million years. They have been alive longer than mammals, birds, crocodiles, snakes and lizards. The earliest turtles had teeth and they could not pull their heads into their shells, but other than that they were very similar to the turtles that are alive today. Some people believe that the turtles’ shell is what has allowed them to successfully survive for so long.
2. There are many species of turtles. Several species of turtles can live to be over a hundred years of age including the American Box Turtle. There was an adult Indian Ocean Giant Tortoise that when captured was estimated to be fifty years old. It then lived another 152 years in captivity. Age 80 is middle-aged for Galapagos tortoises.
3. North America contains a large variety of turtle species, but Europe contains only two species of turtle and three species of tortoise.Turtles will live in almost any climate warm enough to allow them to complete their breeding cycle. Turtles live on every continent except Antarctica. While most turtles do not like the cold well, the Blanding's turtle has been observed swimming under the ice in the Great Lakes region.
4. Turtles can range in size from the 4 inch Bog turtle to the 1,500 pound Leathery Turtles. Kemp’s Ridley is the smallest and rarest of all sea turtles and is an endangered species as is the leatherback turtle. The Hawksbill turtle has nearly been hunted into extinction because of it’s unique and beautiful shell.
5. The shell of the turtle is what makes it unique. The top domed part of a turtle's shell is called the carapase and the bottom underlying part is called the plastron. The shell of a turtle is made up of 60 different bones all connected together. These bony parts of the shell are covered with plates that make the shell stronger. The turtle’s shell also has nerve endings in it. If you touch the shell, a turtle can feel it. Turtles pull their heads and feet into their shells to protect themselves. Some Box turtles can eat so much that they no longer will fit into their shell. Hingeback and box turtles each have hinges on their shells that actually allow them to completely enter their shell by closing up the openings.
6. All turtles lay their eggs on land. When in the eggs, turtles take about 2 months to incubate and their sex is determined by the temperature. Under 29 degrees they become male, over 29 degrees they become female. Female turtles mate with several males in the ocean and store the sperm inside them, so a single nest may hold babies from different fathers. Only one out of one thousand sea turtles survive after hatching. Baby sea turtles circle their nest once after hatching before heading toward the ocean. Once a male sea turtle hatches and enters the ocean, it will probably not step on land again. A female turtle laying eggs will dig several empty nests to throw off predators trying to eat the eggs.
7. Most turtle species have five toes on each limb with a few exceptions including the American Box Turtle of the Carolina species that only has four toes, and in some cases, only three. Turtles have good eyesight and an excellent sense of smell. Hearing and their sense of touch are both good. Sea turtles excrete salt absorbed in sea water from their eyes, which is why they seem to cry. Many snapping turtles have been known for biting for no reason at all and not letting go.
8. There are differences between a turtle and tortoise. A turtle spends most of its time in water. Turtles have webbed feet for swimming. A tortoise is a land dweller. Its feet are not webbed. Turtles have flatter backs than tortoises. Terrapins are creatures fall in between. They spend time both on land and in water.
9. Some turtles can live for more than a year without food. Hawksbill turtles feast off sea sponges which are highly poisonous to most sea animals, but not to this turtle. A tortoise's diet consists mostly of shrubs and plants.
10. Some aquatic turtles can absorb oxygen through the skin on their neck allowing them to remain submerged underwater for extended periods of time and enabling them to hibernate underwater. The soft shelled turtle uses it's long tip nose and nostrils like a snorkel to breath under water. The green sea turtle can stay under water for over five hours without coming up for air. When in danger the green turtle can swim almost 20 miles an hour to escape. Some land turtles can actually out run a human on level ground. The desert tortoise is probably the slowest of all tortoises. It can only move 2 feet each minute.