Mini, Domed and Massive: Turtles and Tortoises Come in All Shapes and Sizes
By Jazmine Zuniga Paiz, age 14
and tortoises have been around us for 200 million years. But, how well do we
know these domed reptiles?
may not realize that there is a great diversity of these creatures in the wild.
Three of these unique specimens are diamondback terrapins, alligator snapping
turtles, and Galapagos giant tortoises.
In the salt
marshes and in the lowest part of rivers where the tide flows, lives a small
turtle species called the diamondback terrapin. They are found in the Atlantic
and Gulf coasts of the United States.
When hatched, the
diamondbacks are about one inch long. Once they reach breeding age at ten
years, they can dig multiple nests, each containing 12 eggs. Diamondback
terrapins sport mottled yellow, orange and black undersides. Their diet
typically consists of snails and worms.
comparison to the one-inch diamondbacks, alligator snapping turtles are
massive. These monsters are the largest and most dangerous freshwater turtles. In
1948, a 500-pound alligator snapping turtle as large as a dinner table was
discovered. The maximum size of these turtles is yet to be found. Carrying neck
spikes, a lengthy tail and a bumpy shell, these ominous turtles resemble
Bowser, the terror-inducing star of Nintendo.
snapping turtles are great hunters. These stealthy stalkers wait patiently for
hours. Their hard work pays off when they catch a nice chunk of fish in their
mouths. These turtles lure in their prey with a small worm-like thread of skin
on their tongues. By holding their mouths open and wiggling the fake bait, they
attract fish, giving their prey a one-way ticket to the their stomachs.
there are the giant tortoises, of the Galapagos Islands, located in the
Atlantic Ocean west of Ecuador. Although these goliaths are similar in size to
the alligator snapping turtles, there are many differences between the two
species. Turtles, unlike tortoises, can swim. Tortoises are also herbivores
whereas turtles can eat plants, other animals or both.
The Galapagos is
one of two types of giant tortoise species. Weighing up to 800-pounds and
growing up to four feet in length, they are gentle, gigantic cactus lovers.
With their extensive necks and beak-like mouths, they are able to reach and eat
all the plants and cactus they like. These tortoises have a lifespan exceeding
a century, but sadly only a few thousand remain due to sailors who hunted and
ate them. The giant tortoises survive and linger on the islands waiting for the
end of the century to roll around.
These reptiles are
fascinating as they are diverse. To learn about their history, evolution and
species is truly worthy of awe.
[Sources: The Kingfisher Illustrated
Animal Encyclopedia, www.diffen.com/difference,