Testudines – Turtles & tortoises

Famous for being slow, members of this order have evolved very little since they first appeared 200 million years ago

While colloquially, the term tortoise is used for land-dwelling species, terrapins for freshwater species, and turtles for marine ones freshwater, and marine species, zoologists generally refer to all members of this order simply as turtles.

The defining characteristic of Testudines is their unique carapace, or shell, which serves as both protection and structural support. This shell is formed by the fusion of some of the vertebrae and ribs, providing a sturdy shield against predators and environmental hazards. Tortoises, recognizable by their chunky feet and dome-shaped shells, are adapted for life on land, while sea turtles boast streamlined shells and powerful flippers for efficient swimming in the ocean.

In terms of diet, the preferences of Testudines vary depending on their habitat and lifestyle. Land-dwelling species, such as tortoises, are primarily herbivorous, feeding on a diet of vegetation with the occasional indulgence of insects or other small invertebrates. In contrast, aquatic species, including freshwater terrapins and marine turtles, have a more diverse diet, consuming insects, larvae, mollusks, jellyfish, seaweed, and aquatic plants.

Reproduction among Testudines typically involves laying eggs on land, with females seeking out suitable nesting sites to bury their clutches. Sea turtles, in particular, are renowned for their remarkable nesting behaviors, undertaking epic migrations spanning thousands of miles to return to the beaches where they were hatched. This extraordinary journey highlights the strong homing instinct and navigational abilities of these ancient reptiles.