Turtles: Who Doesn’t Like Them?

Photograph of St Helena resident tortoise Jonathan around 1900, with a Boer War prisoner. Jonathan is still alive today. (Image via Wikimedia Commons).
Photograph of St Helena tortoise Jonathan in around 1885. Jonathan is still alive today. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Today is World Turtle Day. Here are some things you may not have known about them.

Turtles are reptiles that belong to the order Testudines. Their defining characteristic is their shell, which is made of bone or cartilage depending on the species.

In American English, the word turtle is used to describe all members of the order, including tortoises. British and Australian English use the term differently.

The various definitions agree on one thing: Tortoises live on land and don’t swim. British English refers to all non-tortoise members of the order as turtles.

A common third term for some of the creatures is terrapin, which is the Algonquian word for turtle and usually refers to edible, hard-shell turtles found in brackish water near the sea.

Today, there are about 300 species of turtle. The majority are of the suborder cryptodira, including tortoises, snapping turtles and sea turtles. The other suborder is pleurodira. The main difference between the two suborders is that the more common cryptodira retract their heads into their shells, while pleurodira withdraw their heads by moving them to the side near their front leg.

Turtles are cold-blooded, which means their internal temperature varies along with the ambient temperature. They are also amniotes, which means they lay eggs on land.

The smallest turtle is the South African speckled padloper tortoise, the maximum size of which is about 3 inches and weighs about a quarter of a pound.

The largest turtle is the leatherback sea turtle, which can be as big as six-and-a-half feet across and weigh more than a ton.

Turtles shells are an integral part of their bodies. They can’t shed their shells or otherwise open them.

Turtles, specifically tortoises, have among the longest lifespans of any animal. The longest-lived turtle was presented to the Tongan royal family by Captain James Cook in 1777. It died of natural causes in 1965 at the age of 188. The oldest known living turtle is Jonathan, a tortoise on the island of St. Helena, that is believed to have been born in 1832, making him 184 years old.

Our question: Only one vertebrate is believed to have lived a longer life than the tortoise given to the Tongan royals. What type of animal was it?

Today is World Crohn’s Disease and Colitis Day and also International Day to End Obstetric Fistula. It’s Constitution Day in Germany, Labour Day in Jamaica and Students’ Day in Mexico.

It’s unofficially Lucky Penny Day and National Laffy Taffy Day.

It’s the birthday of singer and actress Rosemary Clooney, who was born in 1928; synthesizer inventor Robert Moog, born in 1934; and comedian Drew Carey, who is 58 today.

Because our topic doesn’t have a year associated with it, we’ll spin the wheel to pick a year at random.

This week in 2013, the top song in the U.S. was “Can’t Hold Us” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.

The No. 1 movie was “Star Trek Into Darkness,” while the novel “12th of Never” by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.


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