Our information and activities about turtles today were inspired by A Place for Turtles by Melissa Stewart and illustrated by Higgins Bond, the newest picture book in the A Place For… series. In a sequence of two-page spreads, Stewart explains an environmental threat to turtles and then reveals what humans can do about it. For more details and a complete review, see out sister blog Wrapped in Foil.
Let’s learn about turtles!
1. What is a turtle? (Identification and classification)
Turtles are reptiles, which means they are cold-blooded, have scaly skin and lay eggs. Some other reptiles are snakes, lizards, and crocodiles. Because they are “cold-blooded” they often bask in the sun to maintain their body temperature.
Turtles are known for their shells or protective outer covering. In hard shelled species, the top shell is called the carapace and the bottom shell is called the plastron.
Many species, like the one in the photograph above, are found in or near freshwater, especially in lakes and ponds.
(Photo from National Park Service)
Sea turtles, such as this Kemp’s Ridley, spend virtually all of their lives in the oceans.
Tortoises are turtles that are not associated with bodies of water. Some species can even survive in hot deserts.
To learn more about how to identify different types of turtles, try a field guide or website. For example, Discover Life has an interactive turtle identification guide. Ocean Ambassadors has an extensive page about turtle biology and how to identify sea turtles.
2.What do turtles eat?
Which of the following do at least some turtles eat?
If you said all of the above, you are correct. Many turtles eat a variety of foods.
One exception is the desert tortoise. They do best if fed only the leaves and flowers of native plants, such as wildflowers and grasses.
3. Laying eggs
Turtles lay their eggs in nests of loose dirt or sand. Finding a suitable place to lay their eggs can be a difficult and dangerous business for turtles. When turtles lay their eggs on the land they are often vulnerable to predators not found in the water.
Why did the snapping turtle cross the road?
This snapping turtle is in danger of being hit by cars because she is crossing the road to lay her eggs in a bank along the roadside. Perhaps the warm pavement seems like a good place to incubate eggs?
In A Place for Turtles, Melissa Stewart describes how people in Alabama built a fence to keep turtles out of the road.
4. Turtles as pets?
Keeping turtles as pets is being discouraged for a number of reasons.
First of all, small turtles are likely to carry Salmonella bacteria, which can be fatal to susceptible humans.
Secondly, people who don’t realize how much work it is to keep a pet will often dump their unwanted turtles into a nearby park or natural area. This is a problem because the pet store turtles may kill local turtles or infect them with diseases, or the area might simply not be suitable for their survival.
My family recently found a tortoise that had been dumped in a park. It was so cold out that the tortoise couldn’t move. It needed to be in a safe place to prepare for its hibernation, not tossed into a park.
Did you know a desert tortoise may live to be over 100 years old? That is a long time to be responsible for a single pet!
1. One great way to learn more about turtles is the build a model.
An easy craft for the youngest set is making a turtle using a paper bowl. There are instructions all over the Internet, but here is a good example at About.com. A cute variation is making a turtle using a section of egg carton at the National Wildlife Foundation.
For older children, encourage more elaborate models, like this one using Model Magic. Create an appropriate diorama to study the habitat a particular turtle is found in.
2. Look for citizen science projects involving turtles, like this one in Arizona looking for ornate box turtles, Leatherback Watch in California, or one from the Piedmont Wildlife Center about box turtles.
3. Letter, Numbers and Books has a cute sensory activity to explore turtles laying eggs in sand for young children.
4. Learn how to draw a desert tortoise and investigate its life cycle.
5. Back to our featured book, A Place for Turtles has a section about the hazards of plastic grocery bags. Find out more about how plastic bags harm sea turtles with this coloring page.
A Place for Turtles and others in the series would be a perfect choice for an Earth Day celebration. Unlike some books about threatened and endangered animals, this book remains positive by explaining what can be done to help mitigate threats. What a great way to learn more about turtles and help them at the same time.
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Peachtree Publishers (March 1, 2013)
Book was provided by publisher for review purposes.
More books by Melissa Stewart and Peachtree Publishers.
Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.