Scientific Name
Various in the order Testudines
Geographic Range
North and Central America
Vegetation, fish, insects, invertebrates, depending on species

More Information

Turtles evolved roughly 260 million years ago from ancient lizard-like reptiles called the diapsids, slowly forming their characteristic shell over millennia. The shell evolved from the arching of the spine and the widening and fusing of the ribs. A turtle’s shell includes the carapace at the top, the plastron at the bottom, and the bridge—the middle area where the carapace and plastron fuse. Turtles require a lot of calcium to properly form their shells; nutritional deficiencies can lead to serious shell malformations.

Turtle shells come in a variety of shapes and sizes, depending on the species’ ecology. Smaller aquatic turtles, like pond sliders, have highly developed shells with a large carapace, plastron, and bridge to protect them from predators. Common snapping turtles have large, camouflaged carapaces and small plastrons. Snapping turtles are large, bottom-dwelling, sit-and-wait predators, so they don’t require as much underbelly protection when they are adults.

Did You know?

  • Alligator snapping turtles have a growth on their tongue that looks like a wiggling worm. They use this to lure fish and other prey into their open jaws.
  • Common Nature Boardwalk residents include painted turtles, pond sliders, and common snapping turtles.
  • Turtles are cold-blooded, or ectothermic, so they are unable to be active during cold months. In late fall, they bury themselves beneath the frost line, entering a state of suspended animation called brumation until spring comes.
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