May 23

The 23rd of May is World Turtle Day – a whole 24 hours dedicated to highlighting the plight of the hundreds of turtle and tortoise species around the world. These incredible reptiles range from the feisty to the downright funky, so here at ARKive we thought we would join in the celebrations by sharing our top turtle facts and some turtley awesome images!

Common snapping turtle image

The common snapping turtle is a rather feisty species, known for being somewhat short-tempered and aggressive

Top Turtle Tidbits

  • Turtles are found on every continent, except for Antarctica
  • Turtles are thought to have lived on Earth for over 200 million years
  • There are more than 330 recognised species of tortoise and turtle, just 7 of which are sea turtles
  • The sex of most turtle hatchlings is dependent on the temperature at which they are incubated – in many species, low incubation temperatures produce males, whereas higher temperatures lead to the production of females
Flatback turtle image

A mysterious species, the flatback turtle is listed as Data Deficient on the IUCN Red List

Turtle Profile: Flatback turtle

  • The distinctive-looking flatback turtle is distinguished by and named for its extremely flat, round or oval upper shell, which characteristically turns upwards at the rim
  • The flatback turtle is the only endemic species of marine turtle, nesting solely along the northern coast of Australia and on off-shore islands
  • This species has one of the smallest ranges of all the marine turtles, being limited to the tropical waters of northern Australia, Papua New Guinea and Irian Jaya
  • This enigmatic species is known to produce the largest eggs and hatchlings relative to its adult body size of all the sea turtle species

Fascinating flatback fact – Over much of its nesting range, the flatback turtle is predated upon by the largest reptile of them all – the saltwater crocodile!

Chaco side-necked turtle image

Any guesses as to how the Chaco side-necked turtle got its name?!

Did you know?

  • Although all turtles and tortoises have a shell, not all of them are able to withdraw their head and limbs into it
  • The shell of a turtle or tortoise is actually made up of many different bones, and is an evolutionary modification of the rib cage and a section of the vertebral column
  • The upper part of the shell is known as the ‘carapace’, while the under part is called the ‘plastron’
Burmese starred tortoise image

The Critically Endangered Burmese starred tortoise has a striking shell pattern

Testudines under threat

Turtles and tortoises belong to the taxonomic order ‘Testudines’, and are among the world’s most endangered vertebrates, with about half of these incredible reptilian species being at risk of extinction. They face a whole host of threats, from pollution and habitat destruction to collection for the pet trade, food or for use in traditional medicines.

One of the most threatened species of all is Swinhoe’s soft shell turtle, also known as the Yangtze giant softshell turtle, which can weigh over 120kg. The historic range of this enormous species has diminished considerably as a result of wetland destruction, water pollution and over-collection of the species for consumption, and the global population of this fascinating reptile now numbers just four individuals, two of which are in captivity.

Swinhoe's soft shell turtle image

Unfortunately, only two individuals of Swinhoe’s soft shell turtle remain in the wild, both of which are male

What is being done to help?

Thankfully, various conservation organisations and individuals are working tirelessly to help save turtles and tortoises from the brink of extinction. Here are some actions being taken to ensure the future survival of these fascinating creatures:

  • Shrimp fisheries are now using Turtle Excluder Devices, which only allow shrimp-sized objects to enter the nets, preventing turtles from being caught as bycatch
  • Many species are now listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which means that international trade is strictly monitored and controlled – this should hopefully prevent some collection of wild turtles for the international pet trade
  • Some nesting sites are protected during the nesting season to ensure that eggs cannot be collected and subsequently sold
  • Captive breeding programmes and the protection of areas which are known to support turtle populations could ensure the long-term survival of these magnificent reptiles

Are you turtley in awe of sea turtles? Want to learn more about them? Then why not check out our eggshellent new ARKive Education resource – Turtle Life Cycle – and play the turtle-tastic board game!

Find out more about turtles, tortoises and their conservation:

Learn more about reptile conservation:

View photos and videos of turtle and tortoise species on ARKive

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

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