What types of turtles are there in the world? Let’s take this exploratory journey together if you want to know about this and more about turtles.
Turtles are unique animals and cousins to the tortoise. While tortoises live on the land, the turtles’ habitat is in the water. These reptiles evolved millions of years ago. They are among the oldest reptiles in the world existing before snakes and crocodiles.
Like other reptiles, you will come across different types of turtles on every continent except in Antarctica. In fact, scientific records show that there are over 300 species of turtles. Each of these species has its unique traits and characteristics.
However, some of them have since faced extinction due to poaching, harvesting of their eggs, and climate change. For this reason, many countries classify them under the endangered species category. This aspect gives them legal protection.
Currently, there are around 6.5 million turtles on the planet. Most are wild, while some are kept as pets, and at government conservancies.
While you will find many species of turtles as noted above, which are the main types?
Here is a list of types of turtles that you will find around the world.
Table of Contents
What is a Turtle?
Before we even dive deeper into the different types of turtles, it is important first to understand this animal. A turtle is a type of reptile belonging to kingdom Animalia, class Reptilia, and order Testudines.
A turtle has over 13 families with different genus and species names.
This animal came to existence over 200 million years ago and evolved before other reptiles such as crocodiles and snakes. And, although the name turtle can include tortoise, the two animals differ significantly.
Turtles are water dwellers while tortoises live on land. Also, while both animals have their body encased in a bony shell, these shells differ in texture and design.
Each of the shells has a unique architecture that enables it to adapt to its habitat. For instance, when you look at their legs, you find that the tortoise has elephant-like feet.
Turtles on their part have flipper-like feet that enable them to swim.
10 Main Types of Turtles
When you visit different places in the world, you are likely to see different types of turtles. These turtles differ in their body characteristics. Some are good to keep as pets, while others reside in freshwater or salty water lakes and seas.
Here are the 10 main types of turtles around the world:
1. Leatherback Turtle
The leatherback turtle is the giant of all turtles. This turtle has a length of up to 6 feet, making it the largest turtle on the planet. Also, it travels the farthest and swims deepest, reaching up to a depth of over 3000 feet.
An adult Leatherback turtle weighs between 300 and 640 kgs. This turtle differs from other types of turtles mainly by its looks. Just a look at its shell is enough to help you identify this animal.
A leatherback has leathery unique shells with a thin layer with tough and rubber-like skin. The shell has thousands of bony plates, which make it pretty strong. Also, it is the only turtle in the sea that does not have a hard shell.
The Leatherback turtle carapace has seven distinct ridges spread across its body length. This carapace is flexible and does not have scales.
While most leatherback turtles will have a grey carapace, others will have a black carapace with white or pale spots. Also, there are turtles from this group that are pure black or whitish.
This makes it easier to differentiate them from other types of turtles in the sea.
Considering their feeding aspect, the Leatherback turtles feed on jellyfish and other jelly-like organisms. They cannot feed on hard-bodied organisms due to their delicate jaws.
And when it comes to reproduction, Leatherback reproduces through laying eggs. The turtle can lay up to 80 fertilized eggs. The female turtle has a specific nesting beach but can change from time to time.
You will find them in Alaska all the way in South Africa.
2. Loggerhead Turtle
Next on our list of turtles is the loggerhead. These types of turtles get their name from having a large or log-like head. Unlike the Leatherbacks, these turtles are known to have pretty strong jaws, and also lack ridges on their carapace.
Instead, they have scales or scutes, which are large and non-overlapping. The carapace is bony and with a heart-like shape, and adult turtles have a reddish-brown carapace with yellowish-brown plastron.
The loggerheads can grow up to a length of up to 3.5 feet and weigh between 70 and 170 kgs. Unlike leatherbacks, they feed on shellfish, crabs, and other small sea invertebrates. The strong jaws are effective in crushing hard shells.
Loggerheads lay eggs in 3 to 6 nests per season. Each nest can consist of between 100 and 126 eggs that incubate for 60 days.
Considering their habitat, loggerheads live in the coastal bay and shallow waters. You will find them mostly in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. They prefer tropical temperatures and waters and can find them in any ocean around the tropical region.
3. Green Turtle
This turtle gets its name from the color of the green fats found under its shell. Green turtles feature a carapace with zero ridges. This part has four lateral scales that are large and non-overlapping.
Its prefrontal single pair of scales is what makes it distinctive from other turtles.
The turtle has an oval-like body which is flatter than other turtles in this family. This turtle has two sub-groups; the black sea turtles and the Pacific green turtles.
The green turtles’ carapace color ranges from pale grey to green. You will come along turtles in this group with brown, brilliant yellow, and green tones featuring radiating stripes. Their plastron also varies depending on the turtles’ habitat.
Green turtles are ocean dwellers. The Pacific green turtle features bluish, green, and dark grey plastron, while the Atlantic has dirty white, white, or yellowish ones. Their hatchlings are black or dark brown with a white bottom.
In terms of diet, adult green turtles feed on plants. While young, these turtles feed on insects, worms, algae, and grass. They can grow up to a length of 4 feet and weigh between 110 and 190 kgs.
Green turtles nest after every 2 years. They can nest 3 to 5 times per season and lay up to 115 eggs per nest. Since they feed on plants, they love to stay on the bays and unlikely to live in the open seas.
Notably, green fat under this species shell is a high sort for the element. People use it to make a delicious green turtle soup, which makes them an endangered species.
See related: Malayan Tiger
Types of Small Turtles
4. Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle
Kemp’s Ridley is one of the famous types of small turtles. These turtles have a length of 2 feet and weigh between 32 and 50 kgs. They have a moderate head and triangular.
Like the green turtle, their carapace has no ridges. Instead, it is large with non-overlapping scales divided into 5 rounded laterals. The adult carapace color is dark grey-green, featuring white or yellowish plastron, while their hatchlings have a jet black one.
These turtles have a strong and powerful jaw which enables them to feed on clams, crabs, mussels, jellyfish, fish, sea urchins, and squid. The common habitat of the Kemp’s Ridley turtle is on the Caribbean shores in Northern Mexico.
Also, you will find a large number of these turtles in Texas, USA. These bay areas have sand or are muddy, offering the best habitat for this species.
Kemp’s Ridley turtles have the most often nesting intervals. The nesting varies from one to three years. Unlike other turtles, these small turtles have a mass nesting approach called arribadas (meaning arrivals in English).
The turtle can lay up to 110 eggs per nest. Their eggs have an incubation of 55 days.
5. Hawksbill Turtle
Hawksbill is another turtle that fits in the small turtle group. Named after their head and hawk-like pointed beak, these painted turtles have a beautiful shell that attracts traffickers. Their head features two pairs of scales.
The Hawksbill turtles feature an elliptical-shaped carapace with four overlapping lateral scales. You will notice them by the color of their bright carapaces, which is yellow, orange, or brown.
These turtles have a small length of between 2.5 and 3 feet. They weigh between 46 and 70 kgs.
With sharp beaks, these turtles feed on carol reefs, sponges, shrimp, and squid. They also eat jellyfish and other small fishes.
On reproduction, the Hawksbill turtles have a nesting interval of 2 to 4 years. They can lay eggs 3 to 6 times during the nesting season, with each nest having an average of 160 eggs. The eggs take 60 days to hatch.
Hawksbills are rocky sea residents. As they feed on animals that reside on the rocks, their habitat is on the rocky areas, coast reefs, and lagoons. So, you can come across these turtles on all tropical waters be it the Pacific, Atlantic, or Indian oceans.
Like many sea turtles, the Hawksbills face the threat of harvesting due to their expensive shell. Their shell is popular for making jewelry, decorative items, and hair ornaments.
See related: West African Manatee
6. Flatback Turtle
Flatback turtles are also among turtles that don’t grow too big. They have a length of up to 3.25 feet and weighs around 90kgs. As the name suggests, they have a flat body.
Their carapace is oval or sometimes round with non-overlapping scales. The carapace color is olive-grey with yellowish or pale brown tones on the margins. Their heads have prefrontal single pair scales.
Like most turtles, Flatbacks feed on invertebrates such as jellyfish, mollusks, sea cucumbers prawns, bryozoans, and weeds. These species score high when it comes to hatching. The turtles nest 4 times per season, laying up to 50 eggs per nest.
These eggs take up to 55 days to hatch. Also, they are not widespread like other species. You can only find them in Australia and the New Papua Guinea region of the Pacific Ocean.
7. Olive Ridley Turtle
These small turtles get their name from their olive-colored carapace. They have a small head and 6 lateral scales on their carapace. Their length range between 2 and 2.5 feet with a weight of up to 45 kgs. Unlike their counterparts, these turtles are omnivores meaning they feed on both sea insects or invertebrates and plants.
When the nesting season kicks in, a mass of thousands of female turtles goes to the beaches to lay eggs. So, they follow the behavior of the Kemp’s Ridley turtles. The Olive Ridley turtles have annual nesting with two seasons.
They lay up to 110 eggs per nest, and these eggs take between 52 and 58 days to incubate and hatch. Their nesting grounds are along the coasts of Central America and India.
Can You Take a Turtle as a Pet?
Turtles are superb animals and amazing to watch. For this reason, you might think of creating a local habitat and raise some turtles. But, which are the best types of turtles to take as pets?
Types of Pet Turtles
8. Red Eared Sliders
If you are looking for a pet turtle, the red-eared slider tops the list of the most popular species. They are more sociable and easier to bond with, compared to most of their relatives. Also, they are quite active and easy to find.
Red-eared sliders are among the turtles that stay small forever, and best suited for indoor aquariums – although you can still rear them outdoors. However, you must ensure you get them the right shelter, cleaned, and with warm temperatures.
This semiaquatic turtle is among the most popular types of turtles in the US and the rest of the world. Red-eared sliders can grow up to 16 inches, although the average size is around 8 inches.
The turtle can live up to 40 years with the right conditions, although this tends to be shorter when the turtle is domesticated.
See related: Great Hammerhead Shark
9. African Sideneck Turtles
These are small freshwater turtles that have their roots in sub-Saharan Africa. This turtle species gets its name from its distinct long neck, which usually can’t retract fully from the shell. For this reason, they try to draw the neck to the side, folding it under the upper edge of the shell, and hence the name.
They are rounded in shape and can grow up to 17.7 inches. This makes them an incredible choice for a pet turtle. However, you should note that they are a bit complex to care for than many other turtle types.
For instance, you need to always keep the water clean. This can be achieved by getting the right filtration system, which will prevent frequent water changes.
They also require a large tank, as they are adept swimmers. Enough UV lights will also help to give them the right temperatures to busk under (always over 70 degrees)
10. Western Painted Turtles
When it comes to looks, the western painted turtle certainly carries the day. They have a distinctive look, with detailed shell patterns and markings.
They are small, beautiful, and can fit either as indoors or outdoors pets. However, since they also like to swim, they will also require a large tank. Their home should also be warm and clean.
These types of turtles are native to North America, but you’ll also find them in Canada and Northern Mexico. Female western painted turtles grow up to 10 inches, while the males only grow up to 6 inches.
These turtles are shy, love cuddling, and eat while swimming.
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