While some prehistoric turtles had teeth, no
modern turtles possess real teeth. Instead, all of
the turtles alive today have very sharp beaks
which the use to bite with. Hatchlings emerge from
their eggs using what is commonly known as the
egg-tooth or caruncle. This is located at the
front of the upper jaw and typically it disappears
a few months after the turtle hatches. It is a
modified scale and not a real tooth.
Some other turtle facts: In common usage in
the United States, the word turtle is an inclusive
word that refers to all species of water turtle,
sea turtle, box turtle, terrapin and tortoise. The
word tortoise refers to a particular type of
turtle that is well adapted to life on land.
Scientists group all turtles together in the
"order" known as TESTUDINES. This order
about a dozen living "families" of turtle.
Tortoises are a specialized subgroup of the order
TESTUDINES that are known as the Testudinidae.
According to Dr. Kristin Berry, the
following distinction is made between the terms
turtle and tortoise in the US: A tortoise is a
land dwelling turtle with high domed shell and
columnar, elephant-shaped hind legs. Tortoises go
to water only to drink or bathe.
In contrast, the word turtle is used for other
turtles: pond turtles, river turtles, box turtles,
musk turtles, sea turtles, etc. >So, tortoises
form a subgroup that can be distinguished from
other groups of turtle but they are "turtles"
What do you call a group of
turtles? Although people who keep pet turtles
tend to use the collective term "herd" to refer to
a group of turtles, the classic collective term is
a "bale of turtles."
The famed giant tortoises that inhabit islands
in the Galapagos Archipelago and Indian Ocean are
the largest of the living land turtles. A male
Galapagos tortoise, Geochelone nigra, from Isla
Santa Cruz that has been captive-raised at the
Life Fellowship Bird Sanctuary in Florida may well
be the largest tortoise known. He weighed 356
kilograms (785 pounds) in 1988 and by 1996 was
close to a stunning 400 kilograms (882 pounds). An
Aldabra tortoise, Geochelone gigantea, living on
Bird Island in the Seychelles is probably the
world's largest free-roaming tortoise weighing in
at a hefty 305 kilograms (672 pounds). In contrast
to these island giants, the largest mainland
tortoise -- the African spurred tortoise,
Geochelone sulcata -- reaches a mere 90 kilograms
(200 pounds) or so.
Two rare asiatic softshells
vie for the title of largest freshwater turtle. A
Pelochelys bibroni from southeast Asia measured 51
inches long and is estimated by Dr. Peter
Pritchard to have weighed 400 pounds. The
narrow-headed softshell Chitra indica, commonly
reaches 36 inches and is rumored to reach as much
as 72 inches. According to Pritchard's
Encyclopedia of Turtles the alligator snapping
turtle, Macroclemmys temminckii, is the USA's
largest freshwater turtle at 76 kilograms (167
pounds). Among the Pleurodire (sideneck) turtles,
the largest is the South American Arrau,
Podocnemis expansa. Females may reach 90 kilograms
The largest of all living
turtles is a sea turtle. At an impressive six feet
in length (and possibly longer) with a weight of
some 590 kilograms (1300 pounds) the leatherback
sea turtle, Dermochelys coriacea, is the true
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