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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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A Note On Endangered Species

There is always much debate about bills that have been passed into law, if they should be changed or removed, etc. When it comes to protecting the Earth and all life, however, there is no room for debate. Various animal welfare and environmental protection measures have been put in place by numerous countries around the globe, and cumulatively by the U.N. These measures are constantly in danger of either being repealed or not enforced.

As you no doubt know, in this modern industrial age, it’s hard for people to live in a way that doesn’t harm the environment. There is an increasing awareness about this that is leading to more reforms and demands for change. Many scientists and other experts argue this is not enough, or that the reforms will not come soon enough to prevent lasting damage to our environment.

Also, human activities and development have driven numerous species to the brink of extinction. Honeybees, elephants, gorillas, monarch butterflies, whales, chestnut trees, and cypress tress are but a few examples. Some find all this information intimidating. I mean, this all sounds important, but what can I do? The answer: whatever you can, even if it’s simply being more aware of what goes on around you.

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Endangered Species

There are new species being discovered every day. There are also many now-existing species disappearing every day. Tree frogs, Monarch butterflies, bees, tigers, elephants, and many others. Species can become endangered for several reasons: habitat loss, poaching, illegal hunting, pollution, and climate change. Most factors that play into a species becoming endangered are due to human activities.

Many of us, without realizing it, contribute to these factors through daily commutes, products we buy, and the types of activities we support and engage in. It is not realistic, however, to completely stop our ‘contribution’. However, it is important to be aware and realize that everyone can do something, even if it’s in the minor everyday choices we make. Everyone includes you. Everyone doing something, no matter how small, can add up to make a big impact and possibly alter the detrimental damage we are doing to the environment.

It is important to realize that this damage is real, and it is affecting the lives of many animals (and people) around the world. The problems our world is facing are very real, no matter if you can see it or not when you walk out your door. Consider keeping this in mind as you go about your day.

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