Turtles are a fairly large detachment of reptiles, which includes more than three hundred species. Turtles inhabit all seas and continents, with the exception of Antarctica, high latitudes and high mountains. The land tortoise belongs to animals of the type «chordates», class «reptiles», detachment «tortoises» (lat. Testudines). Turtles have existed on Earth for a very long time – more than 220 million years. The animal got its name from the word “testa” — “bricks”, “tiles”. Land tortoises are represented by 16 genera, including 57 species.
Origin of the species and description
Scientists have established that turtles originated from one of the ancient extinct group of reptiles, the code name of which is Permian cotylosaurs. Extinct reptiles in their appearance were very similar to lizards. They had short, but at the same time very powerful and wide ribs, which, with millions of years of evolution, turned into a shell. These were marine animals that had a rather long neck and a long tail. The ancestors of turtles were omnivores – they ate both plant and animal food. Since their remains are now found on all continents, it is generally accepted that Permian cotylosaurs were once very common.
Video: Land tortoise
The most characteristic feature of all turtles is the presence of a shell, which serves as protection from enemies. It consists of two parts: abdominal and dorsal. The strength of the shell is very high, as it is able to withstand a load that significantly exceeds the weight of the animal — more than 200 times. Depending on the species, land turtles vary significantly in size and weight. Among them there are both giants weighing almost a ton with a shell size of about 2.5 meters, and very small, even tiny turtles, whose weight is not more than 150 g, and the shell length is 8-10 cm.
Zoologists two suborders of turtles are distinguished, which differ in the way they hide their heads under the shell:
- side-necked turtles – they hide their heads in the direction of the left or right paw (sideways);
- hidden neck turtles – fold their neck in S.
Land turtle species:
- Galapagos tortoise. Its mass can reach up to half a ton, and its length – up to meters. The size and appearance of the Galapagos tortoises depend on their habitat conditions. For example, in arid areas, their shell is shaped like a saddle; in areas where humidity is high, the shell is dome-shaped;
- Egyptian tortoise. One of the smallest turtles. Lives in the Middle East. The size of the shell of males is about 12 cm, females are slightly larger;
- panther tortoise. Lives in northern Africa. Shell length – about 80 cm, weight & # 8212; 40-50 kg. The carapace is quite high, domed;
- speckled cape. The smallest turtle on Earth. Lives in South Africa and Namibia. The length of her shell is no more than 9 cm, and her weight is approximately 96 — 164 g.
Appearance and Features
As mentioned earlier, the turtle has a hard and durable shell. The animal has a hard protective shell on the entire surface of the back and belly. The shell itself consists of two parts: the carapace and the plastron. The carapace consists of an inner armor, the basis of which are bone plates, and an outer layer of horny scutes. Some species have a dense layer of skin over the armor. The plastron consists of fused abdominal ribs, sternum and clavicle.
The head of land turtles, in comparison with the body, is not very large and streamlined. This feature allows the animal to quickly remove it in case of danger. The neck of all species of land turtles is quite short, so the eyes are always directed downwards. Animals bite and grind food with the help of a beak, which replaces their teeth. The surface of the beak is usually rough with characteristic bulges that replace animal teeth.
Interesting fact: Ancient turtles had real teeth, which were reduced over time.
The tongue of turtles is short and never protrudes, since its purpose is to help with swallowing food. The tail is available in almost all types of turtles, it can be with or without a spike at the end. In times of danger, the turtle, like its head, hides it under its shell. Turtles periodically molt, although molting is not as pronounced in terrestrial species as in their marine relatives.
Land turtles can periodically hibernate, which can last up to six months. This happens under adverse conditions: frost, drought. Land turtles are very clumsy and slow, for this reason, in case of danger, they do not run away, but hide in their shell. Another way to protect yourself is to quickly empty the bladder, which, by the way, is very capacious.
Where does the tortoise live?
The habitat of land turtles is concentrated predominantly in the steppe zones: from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to China, as well as in deserts, steppes, savannahs, semi-deserts of Africa, America, Albania, Australia, Italy and Greece, Pakistan and India. Turtles are very common in temperate zones and in all tropical regions.
You can even say that land tortoises can be found almost everywhere:
- in Africa;
- in Central America;
- in South America, except for Argentina and Chile;
- in Eurasia, except for the high latitudes of the continent and the Arabian Peninsula;
- in Australia, except for New Zealand and the desert central part of the mainland.
The main habitat of land turtles is land, which is quite logical. Occasionally, animals can dive into the water for a short time and do this in order to replenish the loss of moisture in the body.
Turtles dig their own shelters, where they stay almost constantly, until hunger forces them go hunting. For this reason, reptiles prefer to live on loose sandy and loamy soils covered with dense vegetation, where there is sufficient water and food. Turtles prefer loose soil because it is much easier to dig.
What does the tortoise eat?
The basis of the nutrition of land turtles are plants, that is, plant foods: grass, young branches of shrubs and trees, juicy fruits, berries, fruits, vegetables. Sometimes, to maintain protein balance, they can also feast on animal food: snails, slugs, worms and small insects.
Moisture for the body of a turtle is obtained mainly from the succulent parts of plants, however, if necessary, they can also drink water, doing this at any opportunity. Box turtles eat lichens and fungi, including poisonous ones. Because of this feature, their meat also becomes poisonous and is not suitable for food. But it's for the best, because the meat of most species of turtles is considered a delicacy, which is why their numbers are constantly decreasing.
Central Asian tortoises sit in their shelter all day, and come out to eat only after dark. This species is most popular with turtle lovers as pets as they will eat just about anything. In winter, turtles do not eat anything, because they go into hibernation. This behavior is due to the fact that with the onset of cold weather, food becomes very scarce. The duration of hibernation of land turtles depends on the climate. In the wild, it lasts from October to March.
Now you know how to feed a land tortoise at home. Let's see how she lives in the wild.
Peculiarities of character and lifestyle
Even despite the fact that the development of the brain in turtles is not at a high level, they have considerable intelligence. Land tortoises are solitary reptiles. Their herd instinct is not developed at all. They are looking for a couple exclusively for the mating period, after which they safely leave their partner.
Also, all turtles are characterized by slowness, which is characteristic of most reptiles. In addition, turtles, like bears, under adverse conditions (during the winter months) can hibernate, for which small groups occasionally gather. During hibernation, all vital processes in their bodies slow down, which allows them to endure the winter cold without any problems. Turtles are also long-lived, even by human standards, as they can live many times longer than humans. The average life expectancy of land tortoises in nature — 50-150 years old.
Fun fact: The oldest tortoise in the world today is a tortoise named Jonathan. She lives on the island of St. Helena and probably remembers the time of Napoleon, when the former French monarch lived in exile there.
There are very few cases when turtles harmed a person. Only caiman turtles became famous for this, and then during the mating period, when the male can mistake a person for a rival and attack him.
Social structure and reproduction
As such, there is no mating season for turtles, so they reproduce at different times depending on the species and location. In land turtles, one event signals the onset of mating games: for the right to fertilize a female, males enter into battle with each other. In doing so, they try to turn their opponent over or force him to retreat. The method of action is the same – powerful frequent shell strikes on the opponent's shell.
After a competitor's shameful flight from the battlefield, the victorious male proceeds to courtship. To attract the attention of the female, the winner can gently stroke her head with his paws and even sing. Some time after mating, the females lay eggs. To do this, they dig holes in the sand near water bodies. Often, their own burrows or even crocodile nests are used for these purposes. Egg laying is well covered with sand or soil and compacted with shell.
The number of eggs in a clutch can vary depending on the type of — 100-200 pieces. The eggs themselves can also be different: covered with a shell or a dense leathery shell. During the mating season, the female may lay several clutches. Under favorable conditions, after 91 days, small turtles hatch from the eggs, and their sex depends entirely on the temperature at which the incubation period took place. If it was cool, then males will hatch, if it is hot, then females. For reasons unknown to science, sometimes the incubation period can stretch from six months to several years.
Interesting fact: In 2013, an amazing event took place in the museum of the city of Dnepr (former Dnepropetrovsk). Turtle eggs, which had lain on exhibits for several years, unexpectedly hatched baby turtles.
Natural enemies of land turtles
Despite the reliable protection in the form of a hard shell, turtles have many enemies in nature. Birds of prey (hawks, eagles) hunt them and drop them from a height onto stones, pecking out the insides. Crows, magpies, jackdaws can eat whole barely hatched babies. There were cases when foxes threw turtles from rocks onto stones in order to later split their shells to eat them.
In South America, tortoises are very successfully hunted by jaguars. They so skillfully eat reptiles out of the shell that the results of their work can be compared with the activity of a surgeon's scalpel. At the same time, predators are not content with one turtle, but eat several at once, turning them over with their paws on their backs on flat ground, without grass and stones. Sometimes large rodents – rats – hunt turtles, biting off their tail or limbs. At the same time, the main enemies of turtles are people who hunt them for eggs, meat, and just for fun.
In addition to predators and humans, fungi, viruses, and parasites can be enemies of turtles. Often, sick and weak turtles, due to their slowness, become food for ants, which can very quickly gnaw on soft parts of the body. Some turtles may even engage in cannibalism, eating their relatives if they are unable to escape or resist. As for the giant Galapagos tortoises, given their size and weight, they have no natural enemies.
Interesting fact: Aeschylus – the ancient Greek playwright died a very ridiculous death. A turtle raised by an eagle fell on his head.
Population and species status
The conservation status of the International Union for Conservation of Nature has only 228 species of turtles, and 135 of them are on the verge of extinction. The most famous rare endangered species of land tortoise is the Central Asian land tortoise.
The main reasons that threaten the growth of the population of land tortoises:
- agricultural activities ;
- construction activity.
In addition, land turtles are very popular pets, which also does not play in their favor. Indeed, for this, turtles are constantly caught and kept in captivity until they are sold, and not always in good conditions.
Turtle meat is a valuable delicacy, which is why it is popular with restaurateurs. The unpretentiousness of turtles greatly facilitates their transportation, so they are transported as «live canned food». Animal shells are often used in the manufacture of various souvenirs and traditional women's hair ornaments.
Fun Fact: In most states in the US, keeping turtles as pets is allowed, but not recommended. However, in the state of Oregon it is completely prohibited. In addition, U.S. federal law prohibits turtle racing, as well as the trade and transportation of individuals whose size is less than 10 cm. >
The leadership of different countries in every possible way shows their efforts in the fight against the extinction of rare species of tortoises:
- stopping the export of rare species, imposing strict bans on the hunting of turtles, on the trade in turtle meat, as well as their eggs and shells. To do this, authorities conduct regular raids at airports and markets in search of unauthorized objects of export and sale;
- conducting campaigns designed for the conscience and sanity of consumers. For example, for more than 20 years, the Mexican government has been constantly urging citizens not to order dishes from turtles in restaurants, not to eat turtle eggs, not to buy trinkets (shoes, belts, combs) made from shells. Although some species of turtles have been protected since the 60s, serious punishment for poaching did not appear in the Mexican penal code until the 90s;
- fight against turtle farms. There is also an active fight against turtle farms, where animals are artificially raised for meat. Turtles are kept in terrible conditions. Most of them are very sick and have defects.
Interesting fact: The Uzbek legend about the origin of the tortoise says: «Some scammer so shamelessly shortchanged and outweighed buyers that they turned to Allah for help. Allah was very angry, squeezed the swindler between two scales, on which he was underweight and said: «You will forever bear the evidence of your shame!».
Ten years ago, a propaganda website was created under the auspices of the WSPA calling for a total ban on such farms. The land tortoise needs our help, without which it will not be possible to completely restore the population of these beautiful creatures.