May 23

The 23rd of May is World Turtle Day – a whole 24 hours dedicated to highlighting the plight of the 300 or more turtle species around the world. Here at ARKive we thought we would celebrate by sharing our top turtle facts.

Did you know…

  • Turtles are found on every continent, except for Antarctica
  • The age of most juvenile turtles can be determined by the upper shell, which grows each year from a central point
  • Turtles are thought to have lived on earth for over 200 million years
  • The sex of most turtle hatchlings is dependent on the temperature which they are incubated at, with males hatching at low temperatures and females hatching when the temperature is higher

Lovely loggerheads

Loggerhead turtle image

Loggerhead turtles are regularly caught as bycatch along their migration routes

  • The loggerhead turtle has powerful jaws that can make easy work of its hard-shelled prey.
  • It is highly migratory and is known to cross oceans.

Not a jack in a box

Ornate box turtle hatchling image

Ornate box turtles are popular pets in in Europe and the United States

  • Box turtles gain their common name from their hinged shell which enables them to completely close their shell to protect themselves.
  • The male ornate box turtle has enlarged claws on its hindfeet to grip onto the female while mating.

Vast vertebrate

Leatherback turtle image

The greatest threat to the leatherback turtle is thought to be the effects of climate change

  • The leatherback turtle is the world’s largest turtle, with the average carapace (the shell covering the back) reaching around 160 centimetres and the largest recorded individual weighing up to 916 kilograms.
  • Uniquely, the leatherback turtle is able to maintain an elevated body temperature, giving it the ability to dive to depths of up to 1,000 metres in pursuit of prey.

Snappy by name, snappy by nature

Alligator snapping turtle image

The alligator snapping turtle is used as an ingredient in the delicacy 'turtle soup'

  • The alligator snapping turtle is nicknamed the ‘dinosaur of the turtle world’ due to its prehistoric, alligator-like appearance, from which it gains its common name.
  • The tongue of the alligator snapping turtle has a small, worm-like projection, which is wiggled to attract prey.

What is being done to help?

  • 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.
  • The protection of areas which are known to support turtle populations, as well as captive breeding programmes, could ensure the long term survival of these magnificent and fascinating reptiles.
  • Global warming poses a major threat, as populations have begun to show skewed sex ratios, with higher temperatures meaning more females than males. Although global warming is unlikely to be reversed, reducing greenhouse gas emissions may limit some damage.

Find out more about World Turtle Day American Tortoise Rescue website and for more information on reptile conservation see the International Reptile Conservation Foundation.

Hannah Mulvany, ARKive Species Text Author Intern