Turtle, the only reptile that has a shell and no teeth. Turtles are found in many parts of the world with temperate or tropical climates. Some kinds live on land, others in fresh water or salt water. Land turtles can swim, and water turtles breathe air and lay their eggs on land.

Turtles are probably the longest-living group of animals, some living 150 years or more. Full-grown turtles vary in size from certain American freshwater turtles 3 1/2 inches (9 cm) long and less than one pound (.45 kg) in weight to sea-living leatherback turtles 8 to 9 feet (2.4 to 2.7 m) long and weighing up to 1,500 pounds (680 kg). Most species of turtles grow throughout life, although slowly after the first 5 to 10 years.

The gopher tortoiseThe gopher tortoise digs burrows for hibernation and protection.

In the United States, all shelled reptiles are called turtles. Some land turtles are also called tortoises, and various edible freshwater turtles are known as terrapins. In England, shelled reptiles are called tortoises, except for a few marine species that are known as turtles.

Turtles have been in existence for about 200,000,000 years. They are the oldest reptile group that has living representatives.

Many species of turtles are in danger of extinction due to human activities. Turtles are captured for food and other uses; their habitats and nesting sites are being destroyed by pollution, the drainage of wetlands, and commercial development; and they are accidentally caught in fishing nets. The endangered sea turtles include the hawksbill, Atlantic ridley, and leatherback; certain populations of the green and Pacific ridley sea turtles are also endangered. Endangered land turtles include the Bolson and giant Galápagos tortoises. Endangered freshwater turtles include various softshell, slider, and cooter species.

Where in the World Do Turtles Live?

Since turtles are cold-blooded, they can’t live in places that are cold all year long. But turtles live almost everywhere else. They live in hot, sandy deserts. They live in lush, green forests and grasslands. Some turtles live high in the mountains. Others live in wet, lowland marshes and swamps.

Besides living on land, turtles also live in water. Many kinds of turtles live in fresh water, such as in lakes, ponds, or rivers. Sea turtles live in salty oceans.

Altogether, there are seven species of turtles that live in the sea. Most kinds live in more than one ocean. Green turtles, for example, live in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. Other kinds of sea turtles, such as Kemp’s ridleys, have a much smaller area they call home. This sea turtle is found only in the Gulf of Mexico and some parts of the Atlantic Ocean.