By Cheryl Conley, TWRC Wildlife Center
Some lump anything with an outside shell into the turtle category when in fact there are distinct differences between turtles and tortoises. Both are reptiles but turtles live in the water and the tortoise is a land-dweller.
Turtles are identifiable by their webbed feet and long claws. The webbing helps them swim. The tortoise has a heavier shell than the turtle and has short sturdy legs. Turtles are omnivores meaning they eat vegetation and meat. Tortoises tend to be herbivores but have been known to occasionally eat meat.
Both turtles and tortoises date back 220 million years! They both have a very long lifespan with sea turtles living up to 70 years and the more common turtles living up to 40 years. Tortoises can live up to 150 years!
Red-eared slider turtles became popular as pets when they were made available in dime stores. I know I had one in the 1950’s so they’ve been around a very long time! Their popularity soared when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie came out. Because the turtles were released into the wild when pet owners got tired of them, they are now considered invasive in some states. A couple of states have outlawed the sale of them. These turtles tend to be a bit aggressive and make it difficult for other native species to compete for food and habitats. They can also introduce unknown diseases to the wild population when pet turtles are released into the wild.
Probably the most unique turtle in our area is the softshell turtle. They live in the water and are carnivores. It has a flat shell and will often bury itself at the bottom of a lake, stream, or bayou leaving only its neck and head exposed. It can breathe under water much like a fish.
TWRC Wildlife Center cares for hundreds of turtles every year. Most are admitted because of injuries sustained from cars. In 2014, concerned citizens asked Missouri City to help protect turtles crossing the road. The City took a positive step by erecting road signs showing a mama turtle with three babies.
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