5 Fun Facts About Turtles

From their ancient lineage to their unique navigation skills, here are 5 fun facts about turtles.

Jun 30, 2023By Lauren Rey
facts about turtles

Turtles are one of the most fascinating creatures on the planet. They’ve been around for millions of years and inhabit many different regions around the world. From their prehistoric beginnings to their extraordinary navigational abilities, read on to learn more!

5. Turtles Are an Ancient Animal

turtle fossil
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Turtles are some of the oldest surviving creatures on Earth. The earliest known species of turtles lived over 260 million years ago and shared their lands and oceans with dinosaurs! While turtles have notably adapted and survived through several mass extinction events over millions of years, there are numerous species that have gone extinct in the last few centuries. Many of which were hunted to extinction by humans.

Adapting and evolving throughout history, turtles of today are virtually unrecognizable from their earliest ancestors. Primitive turtles lacked the most prominent feature of modern turtles–their signature shell! Early turtles more closely resembled lizards, but over time, started to develop a specialized bony structure on their backs known as a carapace. The carapace protected the turtle’s internal organs and eventually became what is now their protective shell.

While there are many different scientific theories for just how the turtle’s shell evolved, one thing is for certain, these ancient creatures have a complex and fascinating past!

4. Sea Turtles Are Incredible Navigators

sea turtle
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Sea turtles have incredible navigation abilities, which scientists believe comes down to sensing changes in the earth’s magnetic field. Sea turtles are known to swim thousands of miles around the world’s oceans yet still return to the same site every few years to nest. It is also believed that sea turtles will use the sun, moon, and stars to navigate.

When sea turtle hatchlings first emerge from their nests on the beach, they use the light of the moon to find their way to the ocean. In areas where sea turtles are known to nest, many local ordinances require or recommend beachfront businesses and properties to use sea turtle-friendly lighting to avoid confusing these new hatchlings.

Scientists are still studying these amazing creatures, but one thing is clear, sea turtles are some of the best navigators on Earth!

3. There Are Over 350 Species of Turtles

box turtle
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There are approximately 356 species of turtles found around the world. These extraordinary, shelled creatures live on every continent except Antarctica. There are both freshwater and saltwater turtles, as well as those that live on land.

Seven species of sea turtles are found throughout the world’s oceans, mainly in warm, tropical waters. They spend their entire lives at sea, only coming ashore to nest and lay eggs. Sadly, all seven species are considered vulnerable or endangered, but conservationists have made great strides to protect and preserve critical sea turtle nesting habitats.

There are hundreds of species of freshwater turtles that inhabit a variety of lakes, ponds, marshes, and wetlands across the world. Mostly in warmer, tropical, and subtropical regions. Freshwater turtles spend most of their time in the water but will come on land at times to eat, rest, lay eggs, or bask in the sun.

Land turtles, not to be confused with tortoises, are turtles that are considered terrestrial, meaning they primarily live on land. There are only two species of land turtles, the box turtle, and the wood turtle, although there are several subspecies of each one. These turtles tend to inhabit woodlands or forested areas that are close to lakes and ponds.

Although they all have different characteristics and habitats, all turtles, regardless of whether on land or in the water, have something in common–their signature shells!

2. Some Ancient Turtles Were as Big as a Car

archelon ischyros
Photo Credit: Yale Peabody Museum/Twitter

Today, the largest living turtle title belongs to the leatherback sea turtle, which can reach lengths of over six feet. However, millions of years ago, a much larger species roamed the oceans. The Archelon ischyros lived in the waters off North America during the Cretaceous period, approximately 66 to 80 million years ago.

It is believed that Archelon ischyros weighed over 4,400 pounds and reached lengths of over 13 feet long and 16 feet wide. These ancient giants were as large as a car! Archelon ischyros was first discovered in 1895 in an archaeological site in South Dakota. Its fossil was sent to the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University. It remains on display in their paleontology collection today. Other fossils of Archelons have been found in the same area of South Dakota over the years and are featured in several prominent Natural History Museums around the world.

1. Turtles Don’t Have Teeth

turtle eating
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While turtles eat a varied diet of both plants and animals, they do so notably without any teeth! Similar to birds, turtles have strong beaks and jaws to crush their food. Freshwater snapping turtles are known for their extraordinary bite force, which they use to hunt frogs, shellfish, and even small birds and mammals. Sea turtles are also known for their strong beaks, which they use to crack open crab and conch shells.

The only exception to turtles not having teeth is a single tooth known as a caruncle, which they are born with. The caruncle is a temporary tooth that is used to break open their eggshell and falls out shortly after hatching. For this reason, the caruncle is commonly referred to as the egg tooth.

While turtles may not have any teeth, they can still pack a powerful bite. If you ever find yourself near a turtle in the wild, it’s best to follow the cardinal rule of wildlife, look but don’t touch!

Lauren Rey
By Lauren Rey

A lover of all animals, Lauren’s background is in the veterinary world, but she is now a content writer on travel, wildlife, and all things pets! She’s based in Florida, but when not writing, she’s usually plotting out a new road trip route with her partner-in-crime. Pickles is a mixed-breed rescue dog that loves hiking, road trips, and Starbucks just as much as her mom does!