Mini, Domed and Massive: Turtles and Tortoises Come in All Shapes and Sizes

By Jazmine Zuniga Paiz, age 14

Turtles and tortoises have been around us for 200 million years. But, how well do we know these domed reptiles?

You may not realize that there is a great diversity of these creatures in the wild. Three of these unique specimens are diamondback terrapins, alligator snapping turtles, and Galapagos giant tortoises.

In the salt marshes and in the lowest part of rivers where the tide flows, lives a small turtle species called the diamondback terrapin. They are found in the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States.

When hatched, the diamondbacks are about one inch long. Once they reach breeding age at ten years, they can dig multiple nests, each containing 12 eggs. Diamondback terrapins sport mottled yellow, orange and black undersides. Their diet typically consists of snails and worms.

In comparison to the one-inch diamondbacks, alligator snapping turtles are massive. These monsters are the largest and most dangerous freshwater turtles. In 1948, a 500-pound alligator snapping turtle as large as a dinner table was discovered. The maximum size of these turtles is yet to be found. Carrying neck spikes, a lengthy tail and a bumpy shell, these ominous turtles resemble Bowser, the terror-inducing star of Nintendo. 

Alligator snapping turtles are great hunters. These stealthy stalkers wait patiently for hours. Their hard work pays off when they catch a nice chunk of fish in their mouths. These turtles lure in their prey with a small worm-like thread of skin on their tongues. By holding their mouths open and wiggling the fake bait, they attract fish, giving their prey a one-way ticket to the their stomachs.

Then there are the giant tortoises, of the Galapagos Islands, located in the Atlantic Ocean west of Ecuador. Although these goliaths are similar in size to the alligator snapping turtles, there are many differences between the two species. Turtles, unlike tortoises, can swim. Tortoises are also herbivores whereas turtles can eat plants, other animals or both.

The Galapagos is one of two types of giant tortoise species. Weighing up to 800-pounds and growing up to four feet in length, they are gentle, gigantic cactus lovers. With their extensive necks and beak-like mouths, they are able to reach and eat all the plants and cactus they like. These tortoises have a lifespan exceeding a century, but sadly only a few thousand remain due to sailors who hunted and ate them. The giant tortoises survive and linger on the islands waiting for the end of the century to roll around.

These reptiles are fascinating as they are diverse. To learn about their history, evolution and species is truly worthy of awe.

[Sources: The Kingfisher Illustrated Animal Encyclopedia,,]

Thta's going to make things a lot easier from here on out. – KeyaanThta's going to make things a lot easier from here on out. (2016-04-27 18:28)