Science, Tech & Environment

11 reasons you are about to start celebrating World Turtle Day



Martin Cathrae

I've always felt a certain camaraderie with turtles because they retract their heads into their shells when they're frightened. But enough about me.

Today is World Turtle Day. It is a time to reflect on these glorious reptiles and learn more about them. For some of us it is also a time to dress like a turtle.

Feel free to celebrate in whatever way you like. Might we suggest you peruse this list before deciding:

1. Turtles have favorite colors


Not only can turtles perceive colors, but they like certain ones over others. Whenever they see red, orange or yellow they get really excited and go over to whatever it is and see if they want to eat it. Solid.

2. They are older than everything


Turtles are freakin' old. The oldest known turtle fossil dates back 220 million years, which means it showed up 23 million years after the earliest known dinosaur. That's a long time ago.

3. Tortoises were the first astronauts


Tortoises, not turtles but close, orbited the moon before people did. Fer real. In 1968, Russia sent a space probe called Zond 5 around the moon on a fact-finding mission intended to determine whether such a feat was possible for humans. A pair of tortoises (carelessly referred to as "turtles" in media references at the time) accompanied a life size mannequin on the probe and lived to tell the tale. The tortoises did. Well, they can't talk but they survived. Even though they lost 10 percent of their body weight.

4. That shell is anything but


It seems like armor or something, but a turtle's shell is actually made up of 50 different bones and is technically part of the rib cage and spine. Woah.

5. They are living Walt Disney's dream


At least according to those who say Disney cryogenically froze himself after he died. A baby western painted turtle can freeze solid, and as long as nothing messes with it too much, the turtle will be just fine when and if its body thaws out.

6. Hotter eggs make girl turtles


OK this is crazy, but it also seems like something that might happen in a human reality sometime soon. Most turtle eggs have temperature-dependent sex determination. Warmer temperatures produce females, while cooler temperatures make males. Look out climate change, or we're going to have a whole lotta females and so little time.

7. Are you gonna eat that?


Turtles, they're just like us. They can become obese. They tend to keep eating even when they're not hungry and sometimes they throw up in the water. Ew.

8. I'm not crying, I'm just releasing excess salt from my eyes

Sea turtles cry, but not because they are sad. They have a gland that empties into their eyes that helps them get rid of excess salt accumulated by living in the salty ocean. You can see the tears if they are out of the water on land, otherwise it's just like they are crying ocean into the ocean and everything is one, y'know?

9. They're forensic experts

Snapping turtles have helped police find dead bodies. How? Police would attach a snapper to a rope and release it into a body of water. Because they will pretty much snap at anything you put in front of their faces, when the reptile stopped moving, police assumed it had found a body and begun to feed. They would send a diver down to see what was up or drag a hook along the bottom and voila.

10. They can breathe through their butts


Yeah. They can absorb oxygen through the skin on their necks and butts and that's what allows them to stay under water for so long. Go figure.

11. Remember what happened to the hare?


On level ground, a North American softshell turtle can outrun a human!