There are 13 families and about 356 species of turtles known to man from all four corners of the world. Naturally, while they may share certain similarities, the differences between them are more evident. Among these distinctions is their natural habitat. Generally, there are three types of habitats for turtles: oceans, rivers or streams, and land. For example, the seven species of sea turtles (leatherback, green, loggerhead, Kemp’s ridley, olive ridley, hawksbill, and flatback) live, as their names suggest, in the ocean. It is worth noting that among all the sea turtles, the leatherback turtles live in almost all oceans. The river terrapins and painted terrapins are found in rivers while tortoises are terrestrial animals..
As you may have guessed, the breeding spot for turtles also varies according to their species and habitat. Sea turtles usually experience breeding migration and lay their eggs on land, travelling thousands of miles away from their “home.” Female leatherback turtles are known to venture the longest migratory route, travelling up to 3,700 miles (approximately 6,000 km) per nesting season. Interestingly, they are also capable of returning to the same nesting sites where they were hatched. Contrastingly, female red-eared sliders do not have the same feature. Instead, they search for moist and loose soil to dig their nests. The amount of deposited eggs is also different. Leatherback turtles, for example, can lay up to 80 eggs, but red-eared sliders only have a maximum capacity of 30 eggs. Despite being soft-shelled, the round-shaped eggs do not break easily as they are surrounded by thick mucus.
Even though sea turtles are aquatic animals, they must lay their eggs on sandy beaches to let their yet-to-hatch offspring breathe in oxygen. The structure of the egg allows for this to happen even when buried in sand, but if they emerged in water, the young would possibly drown. This is why sea turtles do not deposit their eggs in the ocean. Nonetheless, if they are disturbed during nesting, they will return to the sea without laying their eggs, a situation known as a “false crawl.” If this happens, sea turtles will swim up to the shore again until they can deposit their clutch of eggs. In the case of multiple failures to nest, the eggs will be laid into the water to make way for a new batch of eggs. Therefore, sea turtles must remain undisturbed by external factors (typically unwanted lighting) when nesting.
While the shells sea turtles carry may steal the spotlight and prevail as their greatest feature and asset, navigation is also a talent of theirs. How is it possible for female sea turtles to return to the same natal beaches even after decades have passed? Research has proven that sea turtles are equipped with the ability to detect the earth’s magnetic fields, determining its latitude and longitude no matter where they are. Their competence and skill to survive are undeniable, as even hatchlings know to make their way into the sea only by the help of natural light.
Turtles do not always strike us as impressive or even compelling creatures. They live quietly and are often unassuming. However, if we take a deeper look into their nature and abilities—as this article has barely done—we will see how remarkable they are, and how there are always more to them than meets the eye.
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