Environment

It’s World Turtle Day, so here are a bunch of adorable turtles

By Kendra Pierre-Louis - March 20, 2019
Credits:

Hi, friend!

Pexels

In 2000—the year that the summer Olympics were held in Sydney, that Florida electoral boards poured over hanging chads, and Microsoft founder Bill Gates stepped down to focus on his foundation—the American Tortoise Rescue declared May 23rd World Turtle Day. The goal, according to their official website, is to “help people celebrate and protect turtles and tortoises and their disappearing habitats around the world.”

The obvious question is why an organization devoted to tortoises would care about turtles. Well, the answer is that turtles and tortoises are pretty similar. They’re both reptiles of the order Testudines, and they both rely on a shell for protection. The biggest difference between the two is that tortoises live on land, while turtles live (to some degree or another) in water, so World Turtle Day is pretty much World Turtle And Tortoise Day.

Many species of turtle are at risk of extinction, but perhaps none as acutely as sea turtles—nearly all species are classified as endangered. Sea turtles, as their name suggests, spend almost all of their time in the water. And unlike other turtles, they can’t retract their head or legs into their shell. They also suffer an ecological assault on all fronts. Because their eggs, meat, skin, and shells are all considered valuable, they’re frequently victims of poaching and overfishing, and are often caught up in nets meant for other swimmers. Sea turtles are also losing habitat, because they frequently nest on beaches that are desirable for development—and climate change is taking care of any beaches we fail to build condos on.

Tortoises (and turtles that spend more time on land) also suffer from habitat loss. But because they spend so much time on shore, they also risk being run over by automobiles as roads spring up in their backyards—and it’s not always by accident. According to research, as many as six percent of drivers deliberately try to run over turtles and tortoises, proving that it’s not the reptiles who are cold blooded.

But turtles and tortoises are awesome and worthy of our protection, so we’ve assembled a gallery of some of the most charismatic members of the Testudines order for your viewing pleasure.

Gallery Item 1

Credits:

K. Kristina Drake, USGS

Above, we see a desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) hatching from its egg at the Western Ecological Research Center. USGS studies the life history and ecology of the desert tortoise, which is a federally listed threatened species only found in the Mojave Desert.   Young tortoises are especially vulnerable to predators like dogs and ravens, whose numbers can increase around areas of human activity. Adult tortoises can be killed by car traffic, trash (they eat it), and wildfires, and are affected by loss of habitat from urban and industrial development, cutting short their potential lifespan of 100 years.

Gallery Item 2

Credits:

A Kemp's ridley sea turtle in Texas.

US EPA

Gallery Item 3

Credits:

An endangered sea turtle makes its way across the beach in Nicaragua's La Flor Wildlife Refuge.

Jerry Bauer, US Forest Service

Gallery Item 5

Credits:

A green sea turtle.

David Burdick, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Gallery Item 6

Credits:

A sea turtle shows off its facial markings.

Adam Li, NOAA/NMFS/SWFSC.

Gallery Item 7

Credits:

An adult hawksbill turtle in Secret Harbor, St. Thomas, USVI.

Becky A. Dayhuf, NOAA

Gallery Item 8

Credits:

A turtle eating beach grass and looking darn adorable doing so.

Reiba

Gallery Item 10

Credits:

A loggerhead turtle.

Pexels

Gallery Item 12

Credits:

The Agassiz's desert tortoise, a native of the Mojave Desert.

Ken Nussear

Gallery Item 13

Credits:

A band of baby loggerhead sea turtles on the beach in Core Banks, North Carolina.

Dawn Childs, USGS

Gallery Item 14

Credits:

A turtle chills on a hill.

USGS

Gallery Item 15

Credits:

This desert tortoise hatchling is 2 inches in length—smaller than a tube of chapstick.

Cassie Waters, National Park Service

Gallery Item 18

Credits:

A juvenile desert tortoise in Red Cliffs National Conservation Area.

John Kellam, Bureau of Land Management

Gallery Item 20

Credits:

Finally, here are some more baby loggerhead sea turtles—because we know you need them.

Bureau of Land Management