There are hundreds of different species of turtle in existence. They range from sea turtles – which cover vast distances across the world’s oceans, as they have for over 200 million years – to the tiny Musk Turtle, a popular household pet. In honour of World Turtle Day and Love Your Zoo Week, we’re taking a look at some of the weirdest turtle facts and trivia!
- Turtles and tortoises are different
Well in the UK anyway! In the USA all reptiles with a shell are called ‘turtles’, here in the UK we differentiate tortoises which live on land, turtles which mainly live in the sea and terrapins which live in freshwater swamps.
- Turtles cry a lot
…but not because they’re upset. Instead, turtles have glands that help them remove excess salt from their eyes. It might look like a turtle is crying, but really it’s just taking care of itself!
- They’ve been around since the time of the dinosaurs
You may have thought that turtles look quite dinosaur-like with their scaly skin and green/brown colours. Well, they’ve been around since dinosaurs roamed the earth! During the Jurassic period, turtles and dinosaurs emerged at around the same time. In fact, some of the turtles that evolved during this period can still be seen swimming around today, looking barely any different.
- Leatherback Sea Turtles weigh up to 900kg
- More than the weight of a Smart Car
- Around the same weight as 18,000 Mars Bars
- And about as much as 6,060 Syrian hamsters!
Unsurprisingly, Leatherback Turtles are the largest species of turtle in the world. They can grow up to 1.6M long – not something you’d want to find in the pond! Luckily you’re more likely to find them in swimming in the sea, they are even spotted off our coast from time to time where they come to eat jellyfish.
- Female turtles have special rituals for laying eggs
They always return to the place where they were born to lay their own eggs. Nobody is entirely sure why they do this, but it’s estimated that generations of turtles may have been returning to the same spot for hundreds of years. Eggs are laid on dry land, which is the most common time to see a turtle not in the water.
Male turtles, on the other hand, don’t have to lay eggs – which means some of them don’t leave the water even once during their lifetime.
- Some turtles lure their dinner in
Many turtles are omnivores, which means they eat many different things, although this may differ depending on their particular species. This may include anything from plants and insects to small jellyfish!
The Alligator Snapping Turtle possibly has the most interesting eating habits. It uses its tongue, which looks like a worm, to lure hungry fish in. It then catches the fish with its strong jaw. But that’s not all – the Alligator Snapping Turtle is also a fan of snakes, frogs, and even other turtles!
- Turtle sex relies on temperature
…sometimes, anyway. In some turtle species, whether the egg develops into a male of female turtle depends on how warm it is. Lower temperatures mean a male will develop, while higher temperatures will lead to a female being born!
- The smallest ever turtle weight about 5 ounces
Unlike the Leatherback Sea Turtle, the Amagua Speckled Padloper Tortoise from South Africa is truly tiny – it can weigh less than 100 grams. At around 8cm long when fully grow, they are small enough to hold in the palm of your hand even when they’re adults.
- Some turtles bark
Unlike us, turtles don’t have vocal chords – but that doesn’t mean they aren’t noisy! Some species of pet tortoise make ‘barking’ noises, often surprising their unsuspecting owners. Others may sound like whirring motors, for example, and some even make belching noises. The Red-Footed Tortoise, which lives in South America, makes clucking sounds a bit like a chicken whilst the Egyptian tortoise sings when it is mating!
- Turtles are the stars of the screen
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were so popular in the 1980s that they caused a terrapin craze! Terrapins were briefly very popular pets, thanks to their resemblance to the Mutant Ninja Turtles, but many were released into the nation’s waterways when the craze was over. That’s why you will sometimes see terrapins swimming around our canals today. Every year we get offered dozens of terrapins that were bought when small and have now out grown their tank, they do not make good pets unless you are willing to do your research and invest a lot of money in proper housing and equipment.
Crush and Squirt from Pixar’s Finding Nemo are just two examples of Sea Turtles enjoying stardom the big screen.
We need to look after our turtles before they disappear forever
Sadly, many of our turtles are threatened, endangered or critically endangered. Over collection for food or the exotic pet trade, habitat loss, marine pollution are all contributing to very serious situation indeed for many species.
Turtles have been around for a long time – the oldest fossil we’ve ever found is the Desmatochelys padillai Turtle, which shows that sea turtles have been around for 120 million years. If we don’t look after our turtles, more may disappear forever.
Drayton Manor Zoo is committed to raising awareness about turtle conservation and houses several species including Pancake tortoise and Asian Box turtle which both have dedicated breeding programmes? Why not come along to see what we are doing to help save endangered species and meet some of our fantastic animals.