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Interesting Facts About Sea Turtles and Tortoises

We're shelling out plenty of knowledge for World Turtle Day.

Headshot of Emy Rodriguez FloresBy Emy Rodriguez Flores
turtle closeup with school of fish
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Turtles are an important part of our ecosystem and should be protected just like any other precious animal. We're celebrating these reptiles by bringing you some of the most interesting facts about them. Did you know that some aquatic turtles breathe through their butt when hibernating? Or that sea turtles can hold their breath underwater for up to seven hours? We should focus on the conservation of our favorite slow pokes and support programs like Costa Rica's non-profit CIRENAS (Centro de Investigación de Recursos Naturales y Sociales) who partnered with eco-tourism focused resort Florblanca devoting time and effort into protecting turtle nests on Costa Rica's Pacific coast. Some turtles species are still at-risk and it's up to us to make sure our children and grandchildren are able to see and learn about these fascinating creatures while they're still alive.


Male sea turtles never leave the ocean.

green sea turtle surfacing at olowalu, maui
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A representative from the Georgia Aquarium explains, "They spend their entire lives in the ocean; after hatching from nests on the beach, young sea turtles make a mad dash to the ocean, where they will live. Only breeding females will in time return to the beach to build nests of their own."


If it's hot, more female sea turtles are born and if cold, more males.

new born sea turtle coming out from nest
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"The temperature determines the sex of the hatchling, with a warmer nest producing more females, and cooler nests producing more males." A representative from the Georgia Aquarium says.


Climate change could cause declines in male turtles.

newly hatched turtle entering the surf in costa rica
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According to WWF-Australia, "A 2018 study revealed that increasing temperatures are turning green turtle populations almost completely female in the northern Great Barrier Reef."

WWF-Australia’s Christine Madden Hof adds "If climate change isn’t addressed we’re going to see complete feminization of the northern Great Barrier Reef green turtle population. We’re investigating simple but effective ways to cool sand temperatures and re-establish more natural gender numbers of offspring - ultimately saving the species."

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Sea turtles cry salty tears to get rid of excess salt in their belly.

blue deep sea foaming water background
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Like some animals, drinking straight up salt water is no bueno. Various animals that live in the ocean have coping mechanisms and sea turtles have a special gland that empties excess salt near the eyes. If you see a sea turtle crying, it's probably just expelling salt from the water it just drank.


Sea turtles absorb all types of chemicals from the sea.

underwater sewer pipe
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From WWF-Australia: "A research project led by WWF-Australia found a large number of human-sourced chemicals, including heart and gout medication, in green turtles foraging near towns on the Great Barrier Reef."

WWF-Australia’s Christine Madden Hof adds, "Be careful what you put down your sink, wash from your driveways, spray on your lawns, everything ends up in the ocean and turtles are ingesting not only plastics but accumulating the chemicals as well. We know for some populations of turtles, these chemicals are having a negative impact on their health."


Not all turtles have the same limbs.

green sea turtle
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A representative from the Georgia Aquarium adds, "Sea turtles have flippers instead of feet. Unlike other turtles, they cannot retract their limbs into their shells for protection."

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Turtles everywhere are still hunted for their shells.

turtle from above
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WWF-Australia mentions "Hawksbill turtles are still hunted for their beautiful shells. Tourists, particularly cruise ship passengers, may be offered tortoiseshell jewellery and other hawksbill products when they visit local markets."

WWF-Australia’s Christine Madden Hof adds "Think Before you buy – when traveling be careful what products you buy, tortoiseshell products are made from real, live hawksbill sea turtle shells. These species of turtles are critically endangered globally and the tortoiseshell trade is one of the biggest threats it faces. Choose other locally made products instead."


Tortoises aren't actually mad at you when you pick them up.

tortoise angulate reptile walking shell home dome nature wildlife outdoors safari
jacobeukman//Getty Images

"While it is true that the sound a turtle makes sounds like it's hissing, it's not. When a turtle is afraid or picked up quickly, it pulls its head in really quickly and this action forces the air out. It's biological, not deliberate. " Says the American Tortoise Rescue.


Some turtles breathe through their butts.

turtle yellow bellied slider
ffaber53//Getty Images

The American Tortoise Rescue explains "When water turtles hibernate under water for months, they breathe through their butts."

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Turtles see in color and have great memory.

close up of turtle swimming in sea
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A study from the James Cook University’s Turtle Health Research facility found "Turtles have color vision. (Their favorite color – not surprisingly – is blue.) They also have good memories. Trials have shown that turtles which have mastered a trick to obtain a food reward, at a young age, will immediately remember how to achieve the same result, when the puzzle is re-introduced to them eight months later. There is also evidence that turtles have individual personalities."

"I didn’t think that reptiles had personalities, but they do," observed Professor Ariel from the research facility. "Some turtles are shy and will avoid a new device in the tank, whereas others are bold and will swim up to nudge or bite it. They have vastly different behavioral traits."

Headshot of Emy Rodriguez Flores
Emy Rodriguez Flores

Emy is a journalist and Florida native covering everything from lifestyle, travel, fashion, beauty and more.

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