Turtles are reptiles with hard shells that protect them from predators. They are among the oldest and most primitive groups of reptiles, having evolved millions of years ago. Turtles live all over the world in almost every type of climate.
Turtles spend most of their lives in water. They are adapted for aquatic life, with webbed feet or flippers and a streamlined body. Sea turtles rarely leave the ocean, except to lay eggs in the sand. Freshwater turtles live in ponds and lakes, and they climb out of the water onto logs or rocks to bask in the warm sun.
Tortoises are land animals. Their feet are round and stumpy, adapted for walking on land. They also dig burrows with their strong forelimbs, and slip underground when the sun gets too hot.
Terrapins live on land and in water, usually in swamps, ponds, lakes and rivers.
With so many different types of turtle, there is no average size. The largest sea turtle species is the leatherback turtle. It weighs 600 to 1,500 lbs. (272 to 680 kilograms) and is about 4.5 to 5.25 feet (139 to 160 centimeters) long, according to the World Wildlife Federation (WWF). The Galápagos tortoise grows up to 6 feet (183 cm) long and 573 lbs. (260 kg), according to the San Diego Zoo. The largest freshwater turtle in North America is the alligator snapping turtle. It can grow to 2.5 feet (80 cm) long and weigh as much as 200 lbs. (91 kg). The Yangtze giant softshell turtle is the largest softshell turtle. It measures up to 3.6 feet (1 m) across, and weigh up to 309 lbs. (140 kg).
One of the smallest turtles is the speckled Cape tortoise, according to the San Diego Zoo. Its shell is 3.1 inches (7.9 cm) long. It weighs about 5 ounces (142 grams).
Most turtles are omnivores; they eat a variety of different things, depending on their species. Musk turtles eat mollusks, plants, small fish and insects. The cooter turtle is mostly vegetarian, and the green sea turtle only eats grasses and algae.
The alligator snapping turtle lures in fish with its tongue, which looks like a worm. It wiggles its tongue to attract a hungry fish and then snaps down on it with its strong jaw. It also eats aquatic plants, snakes, frogs, fish, worms, clams, crayfish and other turtles.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), many turtle species are listed as threatened, endangered or critically endangered. For example, the ploughshare tortoise and radiated tortoise are estimated to be extinct in the next 45 years.
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