Did you know that leatherback sea turtles have existed without change since the age of the dinosaurs? These extraordinary creatures are one species of turtle that has experienced very little evolution for millions of years!
These turtles, and many others, are vital pieces of the marine ecosystem. They're also vulnerable to destructive fishing practices, litter, and water pollutants.
In honor of World Turtle Day, this article will go over the top turtle facts about these incredible creatures! Read on to learn some cool facts about turtles that will motivate you to make environmentally conscious choices!
1. They've Been Around a Really Long Time
If you've ever thought that these scaley, reptilian creatures look prehistoric, there's a reason for that! The first turtles evolved over 260 million years ago! The eunotosaurus africanus is the earliest known turtle with a shell structure.
Shortly after this early turtle evolved, a meteor hit the earth, wiping out 90% of life on land. Luckily, these turtles had natural burrowing skills and could swim very deep, which allowed them to survive the impact. They were then able to continue to adapt to the post-dinosaur world.
In addition, individual turtles and tortoises are known for their longevity. They have some of the longest lifespans of all animals!
A royal tortoise is said to have lived to the age of 344, but this is unverified and unlikely. The oldest verified turtle alive is Jonathan, a giant tortoise. He's currently 189 years old!
Johnathan recently became the oldest chelonian ever. (Chelonia is a scientific order containing turtles, tortoises, and terrapins). The previous oldest chelonian recorded was named Tu'i Malila, and she was 188 at the time of her death.
Tortoises vs. Turtles
All tortoises are turtles, but not all turtles are tortoises! Tortoises are a specific kind of turtle.
If you're wondering what the difference is between turtles and tortoises, you're not alone. Many people get them confused. Tortoises are adapted for life on land, while turtles are adapted for aquatic life.
Tortoises have legs that look like miniature elephant legs, while turtles have flippers! It's difficult to verify the lifespan of sea turtles compared to tortoises. A pet turtle can live between 10 and 80 years, but large wild sea turtles can break 100 years.
2. They'll Eat Almost Anything
Most turtles are omnivores, but some have more specific tastes.
The alligator snapping turtle is entirely carnivorous and eats fish and small mammals like raccoons, opossums, and small children—okay, maybe not the last one.
While they don't eat people, they have been known to bite and are considered potentially dangerous. Their bite snaps shut with enough force to bite through the handle of a broom! Rarely, human fingers have been bitten off by the species.
These turtles can be incredibly large, with older males averaging about 45 kg, or 100 lbs!
In contrast, the green sea turtle is an herbivore and eats only seagrasses and algae. Due to the color of their food, they can get a green or blue hue. This is one of the greatest sea turtle facts—they literally are what they eat!
If you're looking for some pet turtle facts, most pet turtles are omnivores. Box turtles, the most common pet turtle, will eat slugs, worms, crickets, fruit, and vegetables.
3. They Have a Very Unique Egg-Laying Procedure
All species of turtles lay their eggs on land, even sea turtles! When a female is ready to nest, she'll crawl out of the ocean at night.
The female turtle will then dig through the sand like she's making a snow angel. She's constructing what's called a "body pit" by digging with her flippers. After she's nestled in, she'll use her rear flippers to dig an egg cavity.
After the egg cavity is complete, she'll lay her eggs, usually between 80 and 120 at a time. Once she's laid all her eggs, she'll pack sand over the egg cavity to hide them from predators. Then she'll head back to the sea and never returns to the nest.
Baby Turtle Facts
About 60 days later, the eggs will hatch. The baby turtles must bite their way through their shells, and dig out of the nest and run to the water in a mad dash.
If they don't make it to the sea quickly, the little turtles will probably get caught by predators like birds or die in the sun. From the water, the baby turtles are swept away in the current. With sharks, birds, and large fish to worry about, only about one in 1,000 turtles makes it to adulthood.
4. They're Great at Holding Their Breath
Many people think that turtles breathe underwater, but this is not true! Turtles need air and have to come to the surface to breathe oxygen. Turtles can hold their breath for about 85 minutes on average.
This means that if a turtle gets stuck underwater, it can actually drown.
Some species can absorb oxygen from the water, allowing them to absorb oxygen from the water. They can stay underwater for four to seven hours while they sleep. But when awake, they will still have to breach the surface to breathe again.
5. Your Sunscreen Could Be Killing Turtles
If you, like so many others, love turtles and want to see them in their natural habitat, you'll lather up on sunscreen before swimming. There's nothing wrong with protecting your skin, as long as your sunscreen is reef-safe.
Up to 14,000 tons of sunscreen enter the world's reefs every year. Studies have found that sunscreen chemicals damage corals, making them susceptible to bleaching. Sunscreen pollution can stop corals from reproducing and surviving, and it's one of the reasons our coral reefs are dying.
One of the most important things to know about turtles is that they rely on these coral reefs as their primary habitats. Plastic litter and ocean pollution makes it more and more challenging for them to survive.
You might not be able to save every turtle, but you can do your best by getting reef-safe sunscreen that supports marine life. These creatures have lived since the dinosaurs. It's up to us to make sure that sunscreen isn't what brings them to extinction!
Remember These Turtle Facts and Save the Turtles!
Now that you know some turtle facts for adults, think about them the next time you buy sunscreen. They're some of the most majestic creatures on our earth, so we all need to do our part to keep them around for generations to come.
If you're looking for reef-safe sunscreen for your next seaside vacation, check out People 4 Ocean for the best selection that's good for your skin, and the Australian turtle.