If you like dinosaurs, you probably will like turtles, too. While most dino fossils are from animals that died out millions of years ago, fossils of turtles look, in many ways, like turtles today. Except some were larger. And some had teeth, which modern turtles do not.Turtles are the oldest of all surviving reptiles, older even than crocodiles or snakes.Today, there are more than 300 species of turtles, from small ones only four inches long and weighinghalf a pound up to huge ones that are eight feet long and weigh 1,500 pounds.Turtles have a top shell and a bottom shell. The top shell is larger giving more protection on top, while the bottom shell is smaller, just a little larger than the turtle’s body.Most turtles can pull their heads and legs inside their shell to protect themselves.Modern turtles are divided into two major groups, depending on how they pull their heads into their shell. Side-neck turtles bend their necks to the side (just like their name suggests) and tuck their heads into the shell sideways. Hidden-neck turtles pull their heads straight back into the shell.All turtles we see in the United States are the hidden-neck kind.Side-neck turtles live in fresh water and are found in the Southern Hemisphere, mostly in Australia, South America, and Africa.A few species can’t hide their heads in their shells at all.Some turtles live in the water, some live on land, and some are comfortable in both places. Though we often call them all turtles, they actually have different names.Turtles live in water. Tortoises live on land. Terrapins live both on land and in water. (Some people use the word terrapin to refer to freshwater turtles. It’s confusing.)One way to tell if a turtle lives on land or in the water is to look at its feet. Does it have flippers or webbed toes, or does it have separate toes?If it has flippers or webbed toes, it lives mostly in or near the water and is a turtle (or perhaps a terrapin). If it has separate toes, it lives mostly on land and is probably a tortoise.Turtles tend to have lower, more streamlined shells, great for swimming.Tortoises tend to have higher, more rounded shells, great for protection.We often use the word turtle to include turtles, tortoises, and terrapins when talking about all three.Regardless of type, there are special words for the upper and lower shells.The upper shell is called a carapace (rhymes with scare a face.) It is part of the turtle’s skeleton, made up of over 50 bones which include the rib cage and spine. The bones are held together and covered with a special hardening substance.The lower shell covers the belly and is made up of only seven to 11 bones. It is called the plastron (PLASS-truhn).Turtles are cold-blooded. That means that their body temperature can change to match the air or water around them. If it’s hot out, their temperature rises. If it’s cold out, their temperature drops.People and most animals are warm-blooded. No matter if it’s hot or cold out, our body temperature tries not to change.What a turtle eats depends a lot on where it lives. Many tortoises, for example, eat beetles, fruit, and even grass. Sea turtles like algae, squid, and jellyfish. Terrapins may eat things found in the water and things found on land. The diet of each individual type may differ a bit. Some eat only meat, some eat only plants, and some eat a combination of the two.Most turtles in the world are in danger of becoming extinct (dying out), just like the dinosaurs did. The difference is, dinosaurs were killed off by a giant meteor that hit the Earth. Turtles are in danger from global warming and from pollution and other human activities.There is a special day each year called World Turtle Day, which takes place on May 23rd. It was started in 2000 by American Tortoise Rescue and is a day to learn about and do things to save turtles.You can learn more by visiting worldturtleday.org.Fun Facts.•  Turtles tend to live a long time. Most can live from 10 to 80 years.•  The world’s oldest living turtle is a 190-year-old giant Seychelles tortoise named Jonathan. He lives on the British isle of Saint Helena.•  Many turtles have good eyesight and hearing. They also have a good sense of direction.•  They have nerves connected to their shell, so can feel if someone or something touches it.•  Turtles lay eggs. No matter if it lives on land or in the water, a turtle will lay its eggs on land. Even giant sea turtles will come up onto a beach to lay their eggs.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: