3 March 2021

Sea Turtles and Tortoises

By Gary Clark

Turtles are reptiles of the class Chelonia or Testudines, in the class Squamata. They are generally characterized by a bony or cartilage shell evolved from their vertebrae that serves as a protective shield. More commonly, the word “Turtles” is usually limited to sea-dwelling and fresh-water Testudines only. But, recently, non-testudine fresh water turtles have been gaining popularity. In fact, some people refer to them as “fresh-water tortoises.”

A few characteristics set turtles apart from other reptile species. The most obvious is that unlike most reptiles, which lay eggs in nests built by the mother, turtles lay eggs in crevices or under rocks. Also, unlike most birds, which spend most of their time on the ground, turtles spend most of their time on land. This is particularly the case when they are young, as it takes several months for them to fully develop and leave their eggs behind. While they are on land, they tend to stay close to their nests, called burrows. In some cases, a turtle may abandon its nest to go and explore the waters for food.

Most sea turtle species grow to be no more than a few inches long, although the size can vary greatly based upon the species. For example, sea turtle species like the leatherback, red sea turtle, and the black sea turtle vary greatly in size. Larger sea turtles, such as the leatherback, are found in the southern Atlantic and Pacific Ocean. Meanwhile, smaller sea turtles, such as the red eared slider, are most common in the coastal areas of central and western Florida. In addition, some species of turtles have evolved to such an extent that their shells now cover their bodies almost entirely. These include the leatherback, which have become so large that some males have been recorded as weighing as much as one hundred pounds; the red eared slider, which have attained a size of more than twenty pounds; and the black sea turtle, which are now recognized by the State of Florida as being a protected species.

Unlike many other forms of pets, sea turtles are not closely related to any other creatures in the aquatic kingdom. Instead, they belong to the class that includes reptiles, with the exception of lizards and chameleons. They are, however, closely related to tortoises, as these animals share a great number of characteristics, including their shell, nerves, and ability to move about on land. As mentioned earlier, turtles tend to spend most of their time on land, and this fact has led to the mistaken belief that they are related to all tortoises, including the slipper, greyback, and painted turtles. While it is true that turtles do look similar to these animals and have even been incorrectly identified as being a part of the family of slipper turtles, the truth is that they are distinguished from these others by being better adapted to spend their time on land.

The word “tortoise” comes from two Greek words: to “thrust” or “to pound,” and “tea” meaning “wing.” Based on this etymology, it is apparent that the term first appeared in connection with the ancient game of chess, where the winner was the player who could bring his opponent’s teacup into submission. Because sea turtles and tortoises do share some basic traits, such as having flippers and a strong tail, it was often confused with these animals. However, recent scientific research has demonstrated that turtles have a very different skeleton and anatomy than tortoises, leading to the conclusion that these animals are actually separate species.

Although turtles lay eggs, they will not leave their eggs until they are hatched. As a result, they remain close to their nests, sleeping and feeding during daylight hours. After a female turtle lays her eggs, she will stay close to her nest for the next 8 years, until the young turtles begin to explore the world around them. A young turtle does not go out onto the open sea until he is old enough to move around on his own.