Turtles are some of the most beloved reptiles in the world. These ancient mariners have been gliding through the Earth's waters for well over a hundred million years, and while they have witnessed the rise and fall of many other species - like dinosaurs - they have remained relatively unchanged in their fundamental design. However, habitat destruction, plastic pollution, bycatch and climate change are some of the factors pushing these living relics towards the brink of extinction. By raising awareness, supporting conservation efforts and taking steps to protect their habitats and reduce our environmental impact, we can help preserve these fascinating creatures for generations to come. So, without further ado, read on to discover ten fascinating turtle facts.

HHawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) on a coral reef in the Red Sea

Turtles Are Survivors

Turtles belong to one of the oldest reptilian lineages, with a history dating back over 200 million years. This ancient lineage has given them the ability to adapt and persist through countless environmental changes. Take the Triassic Period. Unlike dinosaurs, turtles were able to survive the Ice Age by slowing down their metabolism and going into hibernation until food became readily available.

The Fantastic Five

There are seven recognised species of sea turtles, and five of them are often referred to as the 'Fantastic Five.' These include the loggerhead, green, hawksbill, olive ridley and leatherback turtles. The remaining two species of sea turtle are the kemp's ridley and flatback turtle. These turtles are often excluded as they are less well-known and have more limited distributions. Sea turtle conservation efforts often focus on species more widespread because they are of greater concern for conservationists. Kemp's ridley turtles, for example, are critically endangered but have a relatively small nesting range in the Gulf of Mexico, which makes them less commonly encountered. Similarly, the flatback turtle has a limited distribution in northern Australia.

Turtles Can't Leave Their Shells

One of the defining features of turtles is their hard shell, which, made of bones and cartilage, forms a part of their body. This shell is a masterpiece of natural engineering, providing vital protection for the turtle's soft internal organs. The shell is divided into two parts: the carapace, which forms the top of the shell, and the plastron, which makes up the bottom. Together, these structures create a fortress-like shield that has evolved to protect them from predators.

Close up of a Hawksbill turtle

Diverse Habitats

Turtles have adapted to a wide range of habitats, from freshwater ponds and rivers to arid deserts. Some, like sea turtles, are perfectly suited to life in the open ocean, while others, like box turtles, thrive in terrestrial environments. Their varied lifestyle adaptations allow them to exploit different niches, which can be vital in the face of environmental changes. As the threat of climate change continues to unfold, it is thought that sea turtles may be able to adapt by shifting their nesting sites, season and depths.

They’re Cold-Blooded

Turtles are ectothermic, which means they rely on external sources to regulate their body temperature. They cannot generate their own body heat as mammals - like humans - do. To warm up, turtles will often bask in the sun. This behaviour is not only a way to regulate their body temperature but also serves as a means of conserving energy. When they get too warm, they retreat to the shade or water to cool down.

Group of green sea turtles on a reef in clear blue ocean

Longevity Champions

A turtle fact regularly preached is that only one in a thousand turtle hatchlings will make it to adulthood. But those who survive the scramble down the beach and into the ocean can live an incredibly long life span. The Galápagos tortoise, for instance, can live well beyond 100 years. Their slow metabolism, efficient use of energy and durable bodies all contribute to their impressive lifespan.

Slow Movers, Patient Survivors

If you've ever read The Tortoise and the Hare, or seen a turtle on land, you'll know that they are slow. However, what they lack in speed, they make up for in patience and resilience. Their slow and steady approach to life has allowed them to persist for millions of years, outlasting many other species that relied on speed and agility.

Sea turtle on a bed of seagrass eating grass

Turtles Have a Varied Diet

Turtles are primarily omnivores, which means they have a varied diet, consisting of plants, insects and small animals. However, some turtle species are strict herbivores, solely consuming aquatic plants and algae. Unlike many animals, turtles lack traditional teeth. Instead, they employ their keratin beaks to grasp and consume their food, and the specific shape and structure of a turtle's beak will vary significantly depending on the species. For instance, a hawksbill turtle's beak is specially adapted for breaking through coral and sea sponges, whereas a loggerhead's powerful jaw is designed to cut through tough lobster shells.

Sea turtle eggs with newborn turtle in sand hole

Nesting Rituals

Female sea turtles, after reaching sexual maturity, embark on extraordinary journeys, often spanning thousands of miles, to return to the very beaches where they hatched. Once ashore, they dig a nest chamber, meticulously, and lay a clutch of leathery eggs, which they carefully cover and camouflage before returning to the sea. Over the course of approximately 45 to 60 days, the eggs incubate, and hatchlings emerge. These tiny, determined creatures then make a perilous dash to the ocean, where they begin their oceanic odyssey, guided by innate environmental cues.

Green sea turtle in deep blue water

Conservation Concerns

While turtles have proven their resilience over millions of years, they are facing serious threats in the modern world. Many turtle species are endangered or threatened by human-led threats such as habitat loss, pollution, climate change and illegal trade. Conservation efforts are critical to protect these ancient reptiles, and initiatives to preserve their natural habitats, regulate trade, and raise awareness about their importance in ecosystems are underway globally. From beach patrols to the protection of nesting sites, education and research initiatives, these efforts are critical to safeguarding the future of sea turtles.