Today is World Turtle Day, and we're celebrating the best way we know how: with adorable turtle footage! An annual event to raise awareness of turtles and tortoises, World Turtle Day was launched in 2000 by American Tortoise Rescue.
This all-volunteer organization has found new homes for literally thousands of abandoned creatures and aims to show us the gentle heart beneath the hard shell, generating love and respect for these real-life heroes in turtle form.
1. Same Difference
Both tortoises and turtles are inquisitive beasts, and they're not afraid to show it. Our question is: What's the difference? Well, both are members of the reptile order Testudines and, essentially, tortoises live on land while turtles spend (most of) their time in the water.
As a result, there are some small physical differences between them. Tortoises, for example, have shorter legs with flattened ends while turtles have webbed feet. Tortoises have heavier, domed shells while turtles are naturally flatter and more streamlined. Want a closer look? Watch the video above of a sea turtle trying desperately to eat a camera.
2. Strawberry Feels
The diet of tortoises and turtles can vary quite widely depending on the species, and it's important they have access to the right nutrition. While many tortoises are herbivores (eating grasses, fruits, flowers and leaves), others are omnivores and like to see insects, snails and slugs on the menu.
Sea turtles, meanwhile, enjoy jellyfish, seaweed and small crustaceans. Of course, there's always room for a delicious strawberry.
3. A Whole Tomato? Challenge Accepted
Although you might not guess it from this scene of tomato-based frustration, turtles and tortoises have pretty strong jaws. It's true that they lack teeth but that hard beak means nothing within neck-craning range is safe.
Snapping turtles can bite with a force of up to 656.81 newtons. That's about half of what we can manage with our human jaws. The only real issue is getting started.
4. The Sweet Smell of Success
We all know how wonderful raspberries smell — now imagine you're this guy. He, like other reptiles, has a well-developed sense of smell thanks to his vomeronasal organ (also known as Jacobson's Organ), which is located on the roof of the mouth.
Pumping air through the throat gives him a heady sense of what's on offer. In this case, a fruit sensation bigger than his head.
5. Reach for It!
Tortoises aren't as restricted to the down-low as you might think. They can actually rise up on their legs to show others who's boss during mating season, as well as extend the neck to reach low-hanging food when lunchtime calls.
In this case, we see a tortoise channeling his inner puppy and giving it all he's got in order to attain the prize.
6. Flower Power
Because they're adapted to living in the toughest of climates, tortoises and turtles are experts at extracting water from their food. Even the tiniest bite, when it passes through the highly efficient "hindgut" system, yields the maximum amount of moisture. This is even more important when you've got a whole heap of tiny turtle competition on your plate.
7. Missing a Mouthful
You know how it is — sometimes your dinner just won't cooperate. Well, tortoises and turtles have no problem keeping up. Though they're not the fastest creatures, they are persistent.
A tortoise can walk 4 miles in a day (which is more than most people we can think of), and an average turtle can swims at around 10 miles per hour or walk at 3 miles per hour. Experts say the marine green turtle can swim 300 miles in 10 days.
Like it or not, food has no hiding place.
8. Let Us Eat Lettuce
As we've seen, these creatures like a healthy diet. And, not surprisingly, this keeps them going a long time. Tortoises have been (slowly) walking the Earth for about 200 million to 220 million years — that's longer than crocodiles, snakes and lizards and waaaaay longer than mammals.
In addition, they can live a very long time — some species live to well over 100. A Galapagos tortoise named Harriet that died in Australia in 2006 was reputed to have been found and originally cared for by Charles Darwin!
9. The Reptile House
Eating healthy is important for keeping mind and body together — and that's perhaps doubly true if you happen to have not one but two skeletons.
The tortoise has a spine, rib cage and collar bone on the inside and an exoskeleton — comprising a top shell (carapace) and a bottom shell (plastron) — on the outside. The bony shell is covered in scutes, plates of keratin that protect against damage and infection.
10. Sole Survivors
Tortoises and turtles tend to be pretty solitary creatures — maybe this is related to the fact that they always seem to be thinking deep thoughts. When they do socialize, a group of tortoises is called a creep. Seems a little harsh when you consider their great contributions to humanity.
In 1968, the Soviet Union sent Zond 5, the first spacecraft to orbit the moon, out into the unknown with two tortoises aboard. NASA says, though they lost a little weight, they returned safe and happy. And, by all accounts, with a healthy appetite.