The words tortoise and turtle are often used interchangeably however, they are not synonymous. Both reptiles are in the same order they are from different families in terms of taxonomy classification.
For those of you who are not science nerds:
While both the turtle and the tortoise belong to the oldest groups of the reptiles dating back to 220 million years they have are physical and habitational differences as well. As highlighted in last week’s post, the tortoise is larger, has a dome or saddleback shell, while turtles are smaller and have flat and streamlined shells. Tortoise feet are made for walking while turtles have webbed feet with long claws for swimming. Tortoises live on land while turtles dwell in the water for most of their life and only come onto land to lay eggs. The moms then return to the sea living her offspring to fend for themselves while tortoise mommies protect their hatchlings for almost three months.
It takes a sea turtle about 50 years to reach maturity and their life span, while impressive at 60-70 years can’t hold a candle to the tortoise’s life expectancy of up to 150 years.
They may be smaller than the giant tortoises we met in the Galapagos, but watching a sea turtle in its natural water environment is lots of fun and can lead to surprising interactions since the best way to see them is to be underwater.
We enjoyed a number of snorkeling adventures and again, thanks to our wonderful guide, Alfredo Maneses, I have some cool photos to share. They are not Nat Geo quality, given the non-technical camera I lent Alfredo as well as the general murkiness of the water but I still think you will enjoy them:
These photos are of the Galapagos Green Turtle, the commonest species and the only one to actually breed in the islands. While its favorite place is the open sea, these turtles do come onshore to lay their eggs at night across a wide range of time from December to June. In fact, the females come onshore multiple times laying 50-80 eggs at a time.
Here’s a fascinating factoid: the sex of the hatchlings is determined by the nest’s temperature. If it is above 86 degrees, the hatchlings tend to be females; below 86 degrees the hatchlings are more likely to be males. Insert whatever *hotness* joke here.
Unfortunately I didn’t get to see the Leatherback Turtle which is the largest turtle in the world. It can weigh up to 1100 pounds, is over 5 feet long with a fin span of up to 10 feet. Most striking is the fact that this turtle does not have a hard shell to protect its body. Instead it has very tough leathery skin. It also tends to enjoy a menu of jellyfish and other soft sea creatures rather than plants.
Here is a picture from the internet of a leatherback:
Let’s get back to those encounters I mentioned. Here is a rare Mikecus Humanicus who got up close and personal (aka Mike, a fellow traveler):
Watching these turtles reminded me of one of the first books I ever read. Dr Seuss (you can read more about one of my favorite authors here) wrote “Yertle The Turtle” in 1938 surprisingly as an allegory on dictatorship and expansionism, where Yertle was the turtle version of Hitler or Mussolini. This story is so relevant today so I will leave you with this quote: