Turtles are amazing reptiles of the class Testudines or Chelonians. They are characterized by an asymmetrical bony or cartilage shell evolved from their backbones which acts as a protective shield. Termites or other predators can easily break or destroy this hardy outer cover. In captivity, turtles are an excellent source of food for invertebrates and other pets because of their size and robustness.
Turtles are found in a wide variety of habitats both on land and in the water. These live in temperate to tropical areas in both fresh and salt water. They can also be found in marshlands, swamps, slow rivers, slow estuaries and in shallow swampy areas along beaches, shores and along estuaries. The great variety of habitats means that turtles can inhabit any environment they find suitable and it is likely that many different turtle species exist in the wilds of North America.
Most turtles are active at night and eat mostly prey, although some sea turtle species such as the leatherback turtle may eat fish, small reptiles and birds. Long-tailed and spotted turtles are more likely to lay eggs because they care for their young. Baby turtles spend about a year in the mother’s pouch where they nourish through suckling by sucking juices from her body. A turtle lays about 200 eggs in a round. Some species like the red eared slider lay eggs in clusters of two to five.
Turtles are held in captivity for a number of reasons including ornamental purposes, scientific study, breeding purposes and collection. Captivity helps them adapt to life in captivity and reduce stress and mortality due to death or injury. A captive turtle may lose more weight than an indigenous wild turtle due to the increased diet and the presence of unnatural chemicals and antibiotics that are used by the staff to promote growth. To ensure long-term survival of species and reduce illegal trade, it is important to save species that have been adversely affected by human activities like sea turtles nesting beaches and oil spills.
Tortoises are small in comparison to turtles and their meat is not eaten regularly by them. However, they are considered delicacies in certain parts of the world where turtle species lay eggs and grow into adults. It is very difficult to introduce tortoises into an area where they might endanger local fauna and eco-systems. Invasive predators or diseases can also be a threat to tortoise populations.
There are efforts being made to restrict the illegal trade in wildlife. Recently, the Sea Turtle Protection Act has been passed to restrict the import or export of sea turtles. The main aim of this legislation is to reduce sea turtle bycatch. A significant reduction in illegal trade can be achieved if better measures are implemented to halt the nesting beaches of sea turtles.