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Introduction to Turtles

Last Updated: 1/21/12

Introduction and Disclaimer
Turtle FAQ
Turtle Photos


Introduction and Disclaimer

Disclaimer: I have only had a few turtles in my life, for short periods of time. I had a painted turtle on 4/19/02 for a few weeks, a snapping turtle hatchling for his first 8 months 2002-2003, and a few wild box turtles for a few days for treatment/help but that is it! Yet, my turtle pages are very popular! Thus, I cannot offer many anecdotes as with my other web pages. Please visit the fabulous links on my turtle links page or read the books on my turtle books page to learn much more about turtles. This is all information I have learned from reading books and the internet and common sense. Please e-mail me if any of the information is wrong, and I will correct it as soon as possible. Any suggestions as to information to include or good web sites to link to would be appreciated.

A few definitions to help novices:
Carapace = the top shell on the turtle's back; the spine is part of the carapace
Plastron = the bottom shell on the turtle's tummy
Scutes = the individual plates on the carapace; may be pentagons, hexagons, etc.

For more information on ponds in general and the many species of plants and animals that reside within them, visit my Pond Index.


Turtle FAQ

There is one series of questions that I am asked more than anything else. "I found a turtle; how do I care for it?. What is it? How can I tell if it's a girl or boy?" I literally retype my response to these questions half a dozen times a week. So, I decided to answer all these questions here so that I can refer people to this section for a response. I have moved the "How can I tell if it's a girl or boy?" question to my turtle breeding page.

"I found a turtle; how do I care for it?"

Let me start by saying that in most cases, you should return the turtle to where you found it. If the turtle was crossing the road, place it on the side of the road to which it was heading. If you are not sure if the turtle is aquatic or terrestrial, do not place it on water but on land. It will move to where it wants to go. If the location that you found the turtle is being destroyed for "development," the turtle should not be returned. Turtles usually set up territories where they know where all the best food, water, hibernation, and egg laying sites are. If a turtle is released in a strange area, it will often wander, starve, or try to migrate towards its home and across many roads. Box turtles are notorious for this. Relocations usually fail so such turtles must become captive turtles for their entire lifetimes. Aquatic turtles are more likely to tolerate relocation but will almost always leave in search of a better home. If they like where you put them, they usually return. If they find a better home, they rarely return. If you rescue a turtle from destruction, it should be given to a turtle rehabilitator who can treat it for any diseases, infections, or parasites and decide to either release it to suitable habitat or make it a captive for life.

It is illegal in the United States in most cases to sell or possess a turtle under four inches in length. It is also illegal to remove a turtle from the wild without permission. It is also illegal in most cases to possess turtle eggs. Despite this, thousands of people do all of these things and are rarely cited for it. The four-inch law was put into effect to prevent children from putting small turtles in their mouths and perhaps catching salmonella if the turtle carried it due to poor health. This law would help keep small wild turtles in the wild where they belong, that is, if it were enforced. Turtles are much more happy and healthy in the wild where they can hopefully reproduce their species.

Since turtles need either access to natural sunlight or full spectrum fluorescent lighting and heat lamps and other special needs, you have to be sure that you are willing to care for the turtle properly if you keep it. Aquatic turtles need their water kept clean. Turtles are prone to respiratory infections, fungal infections, parasites, vitamin deficiencies, and more. Turtles from areas that have a winter must undergo a period of hibernation or their lives are usually shortened. If the turtle is indoors, that means a special refrigerator for the turtles. Turtles require a reasonable amount of time, money, and expertise to care for properly. They may live from about 20 to 100 years, depending on the species in question. If after reading all this, you still want to keep that turtle, be sure to properly care for it. In addition to reading my turtle care sections, be sure to check out the expert advise that the people provide under the turtle organizations section.

For more information on removing turtles from the wild and on releasing them to the wild, go to this section.. For more information on hatchling legalities, go to the baby turtle introduction page. It is important to think wisely before making these decisions.

"What is it?"

Since I have had few turtles, I am certainly not a turtle expert. I most likely cannot give you a positive identification of your turtle via description. If you provide a photo of the turtle, I can compare it to those in my books and may be able to identify it. For proper identification, either consult a book or ask at one of the turtle organizations to which I link below. You can borrow, glance at, or buy a turtle book from the library, book store, or pet store. A good turtle book should have photos to compare to the turtle that you have. Keep in mind that the book will usually focus on either pet turtles which are often from tropical countries or on native turtles. Be sure to get the right book for the kind of turtle you are looking up. If you want me to identify a turtle, be sure to indicate which state and/or country to which you think it is native.

Aquatic turtles have flatter bodies and webbed feet. Terrestrial turtles (box turtles, tortoises) have more domed bodies and separated toes. If the turtle can enclose itself completely inside its shell with a hinge, it is a box turtle.


Turtle Photos

There are various photos on my site of turtles so check out the sections on specific species. Here are a few additional turtle photos that do not really fit into any of my other sections that I have added to the site since they are strange, or I do not know what they are.

Photos are listed newest to oldest.

Turtles in the turtle pond at the Washington, D.C. zoo on 10/2/11. They were too far away and too large to identify easily but might be huge Eastern painted turtles or red-bellied turtles.

Kris sent these photos of a gorgeous Costa Rican turtle on 3/4/08. It may be a Central American wood turtle, also called painted wood turtle.
Costa Rican turtle - plastron
Costa Rican turtle - carapace
Costa Rican turtle - front view with head

Rachel who lives in Trinidad sent this photo of a turtle on 6/24/07 for identification. The turtle was laying eggs in her yard. I was not sure what it was but she got back to me and told me it is a Common Galap or Rhinoclemmys punctularia.
Common Galap and its egg
On 9/12/07, Rachel sent me this photo of the baby that hatched!
Baby Galap turtle
Later, on 9/3/08, Rachel sent these additional photos.
Female galap turtle
Galap turtle eggs
Galap turtle eggs

Lana sent these photos of her two snake-necked turtles on 2/17/06 and 2/24/06. They live in Australia.
Snake-necked turtles
Snake-necked turtles

Steve sent these photo of what I thought were two musk turtles (but no longer think that) at the Tanglewood Preserve on 10/14/05. I do not know for sure what they are. Do you? Steve contacted me on 6/5/06 to say that he thinks they could be Western pond turtles. It is hard for me to tell as, for them, I go by the longer tail, and the tail is not easily seen in these photos. Joshua on 1/3/10 agrees that they are Western pond turtles.
Turtles
Turtles

Weird turtle - I think it is a snakehead turtle or something. Someone sent this photo to me long ago so I have lost the date and name of the person but thought I would just stick up the photo anyway.
Weird turtle - the same perhaps snakehead turtle again (sent by same person at same time, same turtle). James informed me on 5/6/05 that the turtle is an African sideneck. Katie informed me on 8/7/07 that it is a African helmeted terrapin which is the same thing as an African sidenecked turtle.

On 11/18/04, an unknown person sent these photos of a turtle for identification. I did not know what it was at the time but, seeing it again in 2007, I think it is a diamondback terrapin. I linked in to these photos on 3/3/07.
Diamondback terrapin - top view
Diamondback terrapin - front view
Diamondback terrapin - bottom view

Bill sent me these two photos of a turtle that he taped up on 8/8/03. Like a lot of the photos I have, it got put aside. I finally will link this in on 2/3/07, 3.5 years later! He said this 4.5 inch turtle had been hit by a car. He wrapped her up. He wanted to know if she was a painted turtle. Well, she is not. I am not positive which species she is though. Her plastron looks similar to that of a bog turtle but she lacks the tell tale yellow splotch on her cheek. Her head looks sort of like a spotted turtle. Her back is obscured by the tape and gauze which would have told me a lot more (at least if she were a spotted turtle for sure). Her plastron looks more like a wood turtle than a spotted turtle. So, I am not sure what she is. I'm guessing a wood turtle? If any experts read this, please let me know which species this turtle was. Bill did not say where he lived. Thanks.
Injured turtle plastron
Injured turtle carapace and head - the carapace is totally hidden but notice the spots on the head which made me think she could be a spotted turtle; yet, the plastron is more wood turtle-like

Turtle - I have no idea what this turtle is but the old file was saved as "boto." Again, this is an old photo I never put on that I have lost the date and person from whence it came. There is some water lettuce in the photo too. Joshua on 1/3/10 says it is an Eastern painted turtle.


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