In My Backyard – Issue #11 – Turtles, Tortoises or Terrapins

The cold is officially over here in the mid-west and those days of drippy, humid temperatures have already begun. Though some of us might dread this warming weather, there are those who thrive in it. And I don’t mean those warm-blooded humans but literally warm-blooded creatures also known as ectotherms. Snakes, lizards, and turtles are prevalent in these temperatures.

Last month I wrote about the Garter snake and though we haven’t been visited by more of its kind– and I know this would please some people– we have had another neighbor of the same class. In fact, we have had four. Turtles, that is.

One evening my brother was looking out his window and spotted one in the yard. Unfortunately for the turtle, we all ran out to take a look. We took some pictures too.

A shy little guy, he stayed like that for the most part. Only after we backed up did he decide to make a run for it. Don’t underestimate the little guys, they may not reach high speeds but they can make unexpectedly quick getaways.

Take a look at its claws. They’re long and, as my brother noted, the colour goes down to the tips, unlike a dogs whose claws are usually a paler or darker colour.

The top of a turtle is called the carapace and the bottom is the plastron while the sides, what you see in the picture above, is called the bridges. Isn’t the colour gorgeous? Take a good look at the structure of this turtles plastron, firm and unmoving. I’ll point out a difference in a little bit.

The turtles shell is part of its skeleton connecting, believe it or not, to its ribs. Obviously, these guys can’t wiggle out of their shell like they do on Mario games. Sorry.

Now though I may refer to it as merely a “turtle”, it has a specific name. It is actually a Chicken turtle, named according to its taste that used to be quite popular in these parts. Here’s a picture of one I found on the internet. Its colors are not so vivid but they look very similar.

Courtesy of Google Images

Twice we have seen one of these guys around here, the second time Mum spotted one out in the field behind our house. He was even shyer than the other and much dustier.

But I mentioned four encounters. The other two Dad brought home, on separate occasions, after coming across them on the road. They looked like this one.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Its hard to tell its size in this picture but they are smaller than the chicken turtle. The two he brought were a little lighter than this guy but the one thing I noticed immediately was their shape and different plastron. Take a look at the next picture to see what I mean.

Courtesy of Google Images

The upper part of its plastron closes like a hinge providing the turtle with complete protection from the outside. At first, knowing very little about them, I wondered if the smaller turtles were younger and could therefore close up while the larger ones had grown too big to close up. So I researched it. This little guy is a box turtle who can do it all the time, while Chicken turtles cannot.

Turtle, Tortoise, or Terrapin?

This is a questions I have often asked, what is the difference between a turtle, tortoise, and terrapin?

The turtle is an all around word meaning reptiles of the order Testudines, or Chelonii, while tortoise and terrapin are more defining. The turtle could mean anything from a large terrestrial turtle to an aquatic turtle to a tiny turtle living in brackish waters. The other two terms, however, define the type. Tortoise, for example, is a turtle that is a land-dweller. Like this big fellow:

Courtesy of Wikipedia

A terrapin on the other hand is a turtle that lives in fresh or brackish waters. To me, they are the small ones you can put in aquariums. But terrapins can be bigger than that, though how big depends upon the species. Tortoises are still the great monsters.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Above is a picture of a baby tortoise helping itself to a bit of lettuce. Too cute!

Now lets not forget sea turtles who inhabit most of the worlds oceans, handling salt water in their own special way. You may or may not know that sea turtles have glands near their eyes that release excess salt from their bodies sometimes causing them to appear as though they are crying.

Here’s a beauty to gaze on:

Courtesy of Wikipedia

One very obvious difference between terrestrial and sea turtles is their appendages. Sea turtles, like this common Green sea turtle, have flippers, front and back, for swimming and they only go ashore to lay eggs while tortoises, on the other hand, have heavy clawed legs more fit for land travel. God created each one specifically for their location, and perfectly, otherwise they wouldn’t have survived. A turtle with heavy claws and a love for water would hardly have a chance, just like one with flippers would be easy prey to land animals hungry for turtle. 

And this draws the eleventh issue of In My Backyard to a close. In one more month I’ll have reached a year and in two I will celebrate its anniversary. Meet me back here for each of those events! Until then, keep your eyes open for what nature you already have around you and be sure to thank God for the blessing of it all.

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