Celebrate these slow-moving dinosaur descendants by learning more about them below.
The Largest Turtles Weigh More Than Some Cows
Turtles come in all sizes — with more than 356 species, there’s bound to be variation. But leatherback sea turtles, a roaming breed, are the kings of the Testudines order. Feeding mostly on jellyfish, these turtles reach lengths above 6.5 feet and a staggering 2,000 pounds. (For reference, the average Holstein cow — the black-and-white ones on the Ben & Jerry’s containers — are less than 5 feet tall at the shoulder and weigh about 1,500 pounds.)
Their massive size doesn’t keep them in one place, though; leatherbacks are incredibly migratory, traveling more than 10,000 miles each year and clocking in swimming speeds of 22 miles per hour. Even though their bulk (and hard, leathery shells) makes them predators more often than prey, leatherback sea turtles are recognized as an endangered species due to threats from fishnets, ocean pollution, human consumption, and destruction of shorelines where they nest and lay their eggs.
Turtles Don’t Have Teeth
Just like birds, turtles have beaks, which they use to tear into food or defend themselves against predators. And even though they don’t have any teeth, turtles grind down their dinners easily thanks to mouth ridges that vary based on diet. Carnivorous turtles have more pronounced beaks and ridges, while turtles on a plant-based diet have flatter faces that excel at mashing fruits and greens.
In fact, turtles are the only toothless reptiles. While some young turtles have a single “egg-tooth” that helps them break through shells while hatching, it’s really a hardened scale that falls off soon after.
Most Turtles Live (Happily) Alone
While turtles can be found living near one another in plentiful habitats, they’re not known for thriving in communities. Most turtle species are happy living independent lives as solitary creatures, only interacting with other turtles to mate, travel to nesting grounds, or fight for resources. African helmeted turtles may be the exception, though — these carnivorous reptiles work together in groups to take down larger prey, like birds, at the edges of lakes and ponds.
The Oldest Living Turtle Was Born Before Electricity Was Invented
Turtles hardly seem to be in a rush, and maybe that’s because days pass slowly over the course of their long lifespans. While age varies by species, turtles can live for decades. Sea turtles sometimes reach 100 years, while the North American Blanding’s turtle can live to age 70. Countless turtles have been documented for their old age in captivity, and one in particular holds the record for oldest living land animal. Named Jonathan, the 189-year-old (his precise species is up for debate) was born around 1832 and has lived on the island of St. Helena since 1882. While able to roam freely on the estate of the island’s governor with a few tortoise friends, 1,100-pound Jonathan is blind and has lost his sense of smell, although he can still hear and enjoys munching his fruit and vegetables.
Turtles Have Been to Space
Turtles are found on every continent, and for a short time, two were even in space. In September 1968, the Soviet Union launched its Zond 5 spacecraft on a mission to orbit the moon. The shuttle wasn’t the first to make the journey during the space race of the ‘60s, but it did have a notable achievement: It was the first spacecraft to circle the moon with living beings on board. Along with mealworms, plants, and bacteria, two Russian steppe tortoises survived the journey, returning to Earth unharmed (though they did weigh slightly less).