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Turtles and Tortoises: Testudines

Physical Characteristics, Behavior And ReproductionGEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, DIET, TORTOISES TURTLES AND PEOPLE, CONSERVATION STATUS

Turtles and tortoises live on all continents except Antarctica.

Depending on the species, turtles and tortoises can live on land, in fresh water, in the ocean, and along the coast. They live on many of the larger islands of the oceans and on every continent of the world except Antarctica.

Some species of turtles and tortoises are almost completely vegetarian, some eat almost nothing but meat, and still others eat a mix of meat and plants. Many turtles are opportunistic (ahper-too-NIS-tik) feeders, meaning that they eat just about anything they can find, from fruits and leaves to live tadpoles and bits of dead fish. In some species, baby turtles eat mostly insects and other meat but switch to mostly plants as they get older.

Many people hunt turtles for food or to use in making traditional medicines. Humans also collect many kinds of turtles and tortoises for the pet trade.

According to the World Conservation Union (IUCN), nearly half of all living species of turtles and tortoises are at risk of becoming extinct. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists thirteen U.S. species and twenty-four foreign species as Endangered. Many species are at risk because of overhunting and overcollecting or because their habitat is disappearing. Efforts are under way to protect many species.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Books:

Behler, John L., and F. Wayne King. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians. New York: Knopf, 1979.

Burnie, David, and Don E. Wilson, eds. Animal: The Definitive Visual Guide to the World's Wildlife. London: Dorling Kindersley, 2001.

Conant, Roger, and Joseph T. Collins. A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. 3rd ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998.

Ernst, C. H., and R. W. Barbour. Turtles of the World. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989.

Ernst, C. H., J. E. Lovich, and R. W. Barbour. Turtles of the United States and Canada. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994.

Harding, J. H., and J. A. Holman. Michigan Turtles and Lizards. East Lansing: Michigan State University, 1990.

Pough, F. H., R. M. Andrews, J. E. Cadle, M. L. Crump, A. H. Savitzky, and K. D. Wells. Herpetology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1998.

Stebbins, Robert C. A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. 3rd ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003.

Zug, G. R., L. J. Vitt, and J. P. Caldwell. Herpetology: An Introductory Biology of Amphibians and Reptiles. San Diego, CA: Academic Press, 2001.

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceDinosaurs, Snakes, and Other Reptiles