Turtle

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Turtles are reptiles of the order Testudines (or Chelonia characterized by a special bony or cartilaginous shell developed from their ribs and acting as a shield. “Turtle” may refer to the order as a whole (American English) or to fresh-water and sea-dwelling Testudines (British English).The order Testudines includes both extant (living) and extinct species. The earliest known members of this group date.million years ago, making turtles one of the oldest reptile groups and a more ancient group than snakes or crocodilians. Of the 356 known species alive today, some are highly endangered,

Turtles are ectotherms—animals commonly called cold-blooded—meaning that their internal temperature varies according to the ambient environment. However, because of their high metabolic rate, leatherback sea turtles have a body temperature that is noticeably higher than that of the surrounding water. Turtles are classified as amniotes, along with other reptiles, birds, and mammals. Like other amniotes, turtles breathe air and do not lay eggs underwater, although many species live in or around water. The study of turtles is called chronology, after the Greek word for turtle. It is also sometimes called testudinology, after the Latin name for turtles.

 

Turtle, tortoise, or terrapin

         

In North America, all chelonians are commonly called turtlesTortoise is used only in reference to fully terrestrial turtles or, more narrowly, only those members of Testudinidae, the family of modern land tortoises.Terrapinmay refers to small semi-aquatic turtles that live in fresh and brackish water, in particular, the diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin).Although the members of the genus Terrapene dwell mostly on land, they are referred to as box turtles rather than tortoises.The American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists uses “turtle” to describe all species of the order Testudines, regardless of whether they are land-dwelling or sea-dwelling, and uses “tortoise” as a more specific term for slow-moving terrestrial species.

 

Head

Most turtles that spend most of their lives on land have their eyes looking down at objects in front of them. Some aquatic turtles, such as snapping turtles and soft-shelled turtles, have eyes closer to the top of the head. These species of turtle can hide from predators in shallow water, where they lie entirely submerged except for their eyes and nostrils. Near their eyes, sea turtles possess glands that produce salty tears that rid their body of excess salt taken in from the water they drink.

Turtles have rigid beaks and use their jaws to cut and chew food. Instead of having teeth, which they appear to have lost about 150-200 million years ago, the upper and lower jaws of the turtle are covered by horny ridges. Carnivorous turtles usually have knife-sharp ridges for slicing through their prey. Herbivorous turtles have serrated-edged ridges that help them cut through tough plants. They use their tongues to swallow food, but unlike most reptiles, they cannot stick out their tongues to catch food.

Shell

The upper shell of the turtle is called the carapace. The lower shell that encases the belly is called the plastron. The carapace and plastron are joined together on the turtle’s sides by bony structures called bridges. The inner layer of a turtle’s shell is made up of about 60 bones that include portions of the backbone and the ribs, meaning the turtle cannot crawl out of its shell. In most turtles, the outer layer of the shell is covered by horny scales called scutes that are part of its outer skin, or epidermis. Scutes are made up of the fibrous protein keratin that also makes up the scales of other reptiles. These scutes overlap the seams between the shell bones and add strength to the shell. Some turtles do not have horny scutes; for example, the leatherback sea turtle and the soft-shelled turtles have shells covered with leathery skin instead.

The rigid shell means that turtles cannot breathe as other reptiles do, by changing the volume of their chest cavities via expansion and contraction of the ribs. Instead, they breathe in two ways. First, they employ limb pumping, sucking air into their lungs and pushing it out by moving the limbs in and out relative to the shell. Secondly, when the abdominal muscles that cover the posterior opening of the shell contract, the pressure inside the shell and lungs decreases, drawing air into the lungs, allowing these muscles to function in much the same way as the mammalian diaphragm. The second set of abdominal muscles face the opposite way and when they contract they expel air under positive pressure.The shape of the shell gives helpful clues about how a turtle lives. Most tortoises have a large, dome-shaped shell that makes it difficult for predators to crush the shell between their jaws. One of the few exceptions is the African pancake tortoise, which has a flat, flexible shell that allows it to hide in rock crevices. Most aquatic turtles have flat, streamlined shells, which aid in swimming and diving. American snapping turtles and musk turtles have small, cross-shaped plastrons that give them more efficient leg movement for walking along the bottom of ponds and streams. Another exception is the Belawan Turtle (Cirebon, West Java), which has sunken-back soft-shell.

The color of a turtle’s shell may vary. Shells are commonly coloured brown, black, or olive green. In some species, shells may have red, orange, yellow, or grey markings, often spots, lines, or irregular blotches. One of the most colourful turtles is the eastern painted turtle, which includes a yellow plastron and a black or olive shell with red markings around the rim.

Tortoises, being land-based, have rather heavy shells. In contrast, aquatic and soft-shelled turtles have lighter shells that help them avoid sinking in water and swim faster with more agility. These lighter shells have large spaces called fontanelles between the shell bones. The shells of leatherback sea turtles are extremely light because they lack scutes and contain many fontanelles.

It has been suggested by Jackson (2002) that the turtle shell can function as pH buffer. To endure through anoxic conditions, such as winter periods trapped beneath ice or within anoxic mud at the bottom of ponds, turtles utilize two general physiological mechanisms. In the case of prolonged periods of anoxia, it has been shown that the turtle shell both releases carbonate buffers and uptakes lactic acid.

 

Skin and moulting

The tail of a snapping turtle

As mentioned above, the outer layer of the shell is part of the skin; each scute (or plate) on the shell corresponds to a single modified scale. The remainder of the skin has much smaller scales, similar to the skin of other reptiles. Turtles do not moult their skins all at once as snakes do, but continuously in small pieces. When turtles are kept in aquaria, small sheets of dead skin can be seen in the water (often appearing to be a thin piece of plastic) having been sloughed off when the animals deliberately rub themselves against a piece of wood or stone. Tortoises also shed skin, but the dead skin is allowed to accumulate into thick knobs and plates that provide protection to parts of the body outside the shell.

 

Limbs

Terrestrial tortoises have short, sturdy feet. Tortoises are famous for moving slowly, in part because of their heavy, cumbersome shells, which restrict stride length.

Skeleton of snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina)

Amphibious turtles normally have limbs similar to those of tortoises, except that the feet are webbed and often have long claws. These turtles swim using all four feet in a way similar to the dog paddle, with the feet on the left and right side of the body alternately providing thrust. Large turtles tend to swim less than smaller ones, and the very big species, such as alligator snapping turtles, hardly swim at all, preferring to walk along the bottom of the river or lake. As well as webbed feet, turtles have very long claws, used to help them clamber onto riverbanks and floating logs upon which they bask. Male turtles tend to have particularly long claws, and these appear to be used to stimulate the female while mating. While most turtles have webbed feet, some, such as the pig-nosed turtle, have true flippers, with the digits being fused into paddles and the claws being relatively small. These species swim in the same way as sea turtles do (see below).

Sea turtles are almost entirely aquatic and have flippers instead of feet. Sea turtles fly through the water, using the up-and-down motion of the front flippers to generate thrust; the back feet are not used for propulsion but may be used as rudders for steering. Compared with freshwater turtles, sea turtles have very limited mobility on land, and apart from the dash from the nest to the sea as hatchlings, male sea turtles normally never leave the sea. Females must come back onto land to lay eggs. They move very slowly and laboriously, dragging themselves forwards with their flippers.

 

 

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