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One Shell of a Story!

alligator snapping turtle


The turtle has roamed the Earth since the Upper Triassic Period. For reference, here is the history of the Earth, according to the fossil record:

Geologic timeline
This is an illustrated timeline of Earth’s history. The Upper Triassic period occurs in the upper left between the Permian and Jurassic periods (around 251 million years).

A turtle’s shell is its most distinguishable feature. It is actually a modified ribcage, not an exoskeleton or mere protective covering. Hence, you cannot ‘take it off’. Turtles are reptiles of the Testudines order, distinguished by their shell (of course) and perforation patterns around the head. The main types of turtles present today include sea turtles, snapping turtles, pond turtles, tortoises, and softshell turtles. Each turtle group will be discussed in the following sections.

The Sea Turtle

Underwater Photography of Brown Sea Turtle
A Brown Sea Turtle (via Tom Fisk at

Sea turtles are large turtles found in tropical and subtropical regions. There are two distinct populations, found throughout the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The green sea turtle is the largest in this group and can grow to be over 3 feet and 350 lb. The green sea turtle populations have diminished much over the past century due to overfishing and entanglement in plastics and leftover fishing gear.

Sea turtles can be distinguished from other turtles by their small heads and shells of various colors, including olive green, brown, yellow, orange, and black. Other turtles in this group include the Hawksbill sea turtle Olive Ridley sea turtle Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle.

Snapping Turtles

Alligator Snapping Turtle
Alligator Snapping Turtle

Snapping turtles can be found throughout North America, the northern tip of South America, and portions of Southeast Asia. They can be broadly divided into two species, the common snapping turtle and the alligator snapping turtle. The alligator snapping turtle is the largest freshwater turtle in North America. It’s not as aggressive as other snapping turtles, surprisingly. It can stay underwater for almost an hour!

All snapping turtles have fairly long tails, a big head, strong jaws, and an upper hook shaped jaw. Snapping turtles can’t fully retract their limbs or head into their shell. Snapping turtles have existed for about 65 million years!

They typically live in warm climates, have a diverse diet (plants, bugs, fish, snakes, newts), and display unusual mating habits. Snapping turtles, for example, mate between April and November and move their heads from side to side during courtship to attract a mate.

Pond Turtles

Pond Turtle in Natural Habitat
Pond Turtle

Pond turtles constitute the largest group of turtles. They can be found all over the world. Some are carnivores, others are herbivores. These are the turtles typically used in the pet trade, which has harmed many of their wild populations. They have many predators, including alligators and raccoons. Types of pond turtles include the Western pond turtle, Chinese pond turtle, European pond turtle, painted turtle, box turtle, and African Sideneck turtle.



Tortoises are the largest land-dwelling turtles. Tortoises live in southern Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas, Australia, and surrounding islands. They are herbivores and typically feed on flowers, grasses, fruits, and carrion (animal remains). They have heavy scales and non-webbed feet. Tortoises are close relatives of pond turtles.

Softshell Turtles

Group of softshell turtles

Softshell turtles can be found in any body of water with a soft bottom floor. Their shells are leather like, but not hard ( as their name implies). They’re commonly found buried in mud and are omnivores, feeding on both plants and small animals.


In conclusion, there are many different turtles, and they are all beautiful creatures. Increasing changes in global climate have led to increasing storms and erosion. This, in term, has led to the destruction of it turtle nesting habitats. Increasing temperatures alter natural set ratios, reducing reproductive rates.

Though our effect on the natural world has harmed turtles, much is being done to protect them and restore their habitats. Groups such as The World Wildlife Fund, United Nations Environment Programme, Turtle Conservancy, and The Nature Conservancy are actively working to preserve and restore Natural habitats and threatened an endangered species.

For more information on what is being done to save the Earths natural habitats, check out the World Wildlife Fund’s mission and recent victories. To give your home some added flair, check out these turtle-inspired items!


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