From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Turtles are reptiles characterised by a special bony or cartilaginous shell developed from their ribs and acting as a shield. The earliest known turtles date from 220 million years ago, making turtles one of the oldest reptile groups and a more ancient group than lizards, snakes or crocodiles. Of the 327 known species alive today, some are highly endangered.

Turtles are ectotherms—their internal temperature varies according to the ambient environment, commonly called cold-blooded. However, because of their high metabolic rate, leatherback sea turtles have a body temperature that is noticeably higher than that of the surrounding water.

Turtles are classified as amniotes, along with other reptiles, birds, and mammals. Like other amniotes, turtles breathe air and do not lay eggs underwater, although many species live in or around water.

The largest living chelonian is the leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), which reaches a shell length of 200 cm (6.6 ft) and can reach a weight of over 900 kg (2,000 lb). Freshwater turtles are generally smaller, but with the largest species, the Asian softshell turtle Pelochelys cantorii, a few individuals have been reported up to 200 cm (6.6 ft). This dwarfs even the better-known alligator snapping turtle, the largest chelonian in North America, which attains a shell length of up to 80 cm (2.6 ft) and weighs as much as 113.4 kg (250 lb). Giant tortoises of the genera Geochelone, Meiolania, and others were relatively widely distributed around the world into prehistoric times, and are known to have existed in North and South America, Australia, and Africa. They became extinct at the same time as the appearance of man, and it is assumed humans hunted them for food. The only surviving giant tortoises are on the Seychelles and Galápagos Islands, and can grow to over 130 cm (51 in) in length, and weigh about 300 kg (660 lb).


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