Turtles are among the oldest animals in the world

Posted on Mar 11, 2022      83

Turtles are among the oldest animals in the world. The first of their kind already populated the planet 220 million years ago. Why the reptiles grow so old, what species there are and other exciting facts about the turtle you can read here.


There are currently 341 known species and over 200 subspecies of turtles. They live from water to desert in a wide variety of biotopes and can thus be found on every continent on earth. They have adapted themselves physically optimally to the respective conditions.

According to the diversity of their habitats, the species are also very different. In Germany, the European pond turtle is native - a small to medium-sized turtle that feeds on meat and is predominantly at home in water.

Particularly large representatives of their species are river turtles in South America. They are surpassed by the giant tortoises, which live on individual island groups. In Asia there are soft-shelled turtles: they are characterized by a soft, leathery shell. Other species are found in Australia, including snake-necked turtles and various species of sea turtles. The leatherback turtle is also native to the area. It is considered the largest and fastest turtle in the world and, like the soft-shelled turtle, does not have a solid shell.

Biting turtle species

Soft-shelled turtles, snapping turtles, and long-necked turtles are considered particularly bitey. Despite distinct differences in appearance, these species of turtles do not feed purely on plants, but prefer to consume carnivorous foods. For this reason, their diet includes fish, amphibians, waterfowl, and even small mammals. Only occasionally do they eat plant food. All three species of turtles have a very mobile head or neck. Hidden, they ambush their prey and snap unexpectedly. Thanks to the long neck, soft-shelled turtles can even attack backwards over their shell.

Temperature matters

Turtles, like all reptiles, areothermic. Therefore, they cannot regulate their body temperature independently. They depend on external influences such as the heat from the sun’s rays or the water temperature. As a result, most species live in tropical and subtropical climates. This is also where the largest turtles are found. With exception, individual genera stray into more temperate zones with temperatures around 18 degrees. Researchers frequently observed leatherback turtles off the coasts of Scotland. Sporadically, turtles have also appeared off the coasts of the Netherlands and Denmark in recent years. It is still a mystery to the experts how the animals could reach the relatively cool North Sea. The routes they take are also still unexplored.


Turtles reproduce differently depending on the genus. Aquatic turtles and other species that live mainly in lakes or rivers perform mating in water. In tortoises and similar species, mating takes place on land. In the water, the male clasps the female in the middle of the body with his extremely long flippers. On land, the male climbs onto the shell of the female turtle from behind to perform the sex act.

Although the mating of the two species differs, there are clear parallels in the laying of eggs and in the incubation process: Turtles lay their eggs only on land, using the warmth of the sun’s rays as a brood aid.

At night, the female turtle swims to the beach and digs a hole to lay her eggs. Fifty to a hundred eggs land in the hollow. Afterwards, the animals cover the clutches with sand again before returning to the sea. The sun then takes over the incubation.

The clutches of the land turtle also benefit from the warmth of the sun. Here, however, the eggs are laid during the day in nesting burrows that the females dig with their hind legs. The clutches themselves are much smaller than those of the aquatic turtle, so that here only between one and thirty eggs are laid. The nesting cavity is then carefully sealed, and the bottom leveled. In this way, neat predators have little opportunity to track down the brood.

Sexual development

In some species of turtles, the sex of the offspring is not genetically determined at fertilization. This is also the case in European aquatic and terrestrial turtle species. The hatching of the hatchlings and the sex of the offspring is based on climatic conditions and certain temperature ranges. In the aquatic turtle genus, males predominantly hatch between 27 and 28.7 degrees; females predominantly leave the nest between 29.7 to 32 degrees Celsius.

It takes 55 to 56 days from egg laying to hatching. The young burrow to the surface after hatching and immediately begin an independent life. With a size of 5.8 to 6 centimeters, they immediately seek the water.

The offspring of the tortoise is also fully developed physically after hatching. However, depending on the temperature, the birth here takes place at a greater interval of 60 to 150 days. They also burrow to the surface and are immediately viable on their own.


Turtles are omnivores. Depending on the species, a preference for plant or meat foods usually predominates. Most species of turtles are not very selective in their choice of food, besides a typical vegetarian diet of plants, vegetables and fruits, they resort to fish, worms, snails, but also to excretory products of other animals when necessary.


The reptiles are known for their high life expectancy. Individual species live well over 150 years. The oldest known turtle even made it to a proud 256 years. It lived in a zoo in Calcutta and died there in 2006.

How do the animals become so old? Turtles owe this to their genes, but also to their slow metabolism. In addition, the frugal animals can also manage for a long time without food. A high age is usually reached by the larger species of turtles, such as the Galapagos tortoises. The small reptiles, which are kept as pets, rather come to 30 to 40 years of life.

The bottom line is that not only have turtles been around for millions of years, these adaptable animals are found on every continent on earth. Whether large or small, terrestrial or aquatic, they find their niche and impress with their high life expectancy. Some species are threatened with extinction. The culprit is usually man and the pollution he causes.

Teg:   turtle  specie