Ask the Aquarium: Difference Between Sea and Land Turtles
BY SHERRY WHITE
Special to The Pilot
Q. While on a nature walk in the woods at the beach, we found a turtle. We thought it might be a sea turtle. How could we tell?
A. One of the best ways to distinguish land turtles from sea turtles is to get a look at the feet. If the turtle has flippers, it's a sea turtle, which you're not likely to find in the woods at the beach. But, if you see claws, and perhaps some webbing, the turtle probably spends a lot of time on land and some time in fresh or brackish water. Turtles can bite, so be careful about checking out the feet.
As a rule, turtles fall into three basic habitat categories: semi-terrestrial, aquatic/semi-aquatic and marine. Turtles that spend a lot of time on land have fairly large feet, and often their claws are visible. Turtles that spend a good amount of time in water and on land usually have webbing on their feet to help with swimming.
The shape of a turtle's shell is another clue. Turtles that spend more time on land tend to have high, rounded, dome-shaped shells and longer legs with clawed feet (good for gripping the ground). Turtles more suited for water have flatter, smoother, streamlined shells and, because they do more swimming than walking, their legs tend to be short and stubby.
Most turtles are omnivores; however, some are carnivores and a few are herbivores. Interestingly, some begin life as carnivores and become herbivores. Aquatic turtles tend to be omnivores, feeding primarily on fish and insects, but sometimes eat plants. Land turtles are primarily herbivores, but will occasionally munch on earthworms, grubs and the like. Marine turtles are mainly carnivores, with the exception of the green sea turtle, which is an herbivore. Its favorite food is seagrass.
All turtles, even sea turtles, lay eggs on land.
The state operates three public aquariums: one in Pine Knoll Shores, another at Fort Fisher and a third on Roanoke Island. The aquariums are administered by the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and are designed to inspire appreciation and conservation of North Carolina's aquatic environment.
For more information about the Aquariums, visit www.ncaquariums.com, o r call (800) 832-FISH.
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