Facts you didn’t know about the Tortoise
by Cliff Sawit
Manila Bulletin Publishing Corp
Tortoises, the slow-moving land dwellers of the Turtle family, have been fascinating humans for centuries. Not only are they adorable, but they also have some interesting characteristics that may surprise you. From what makes them different from Turtles to the sensitivity of their shells, let’s explore eight facts you might not know about Tortoises. TORTOISES AND TURTLES ARE NOT THE SAME A common misconception is that a Tortoise and a Turtle are the same. However, this is not the case. A turtle is any shelled reptile who belongs to the order Chelonii, while the word Tortoise refers to terrestrial Turtles. This means that not all Turtles are Tortoises, but all Tortoises are Turtles. The easiest way to tell them apart is by looking at their feet and shells. Water Turtles have flippers or webbed feet with long claws, and their shells are flatter and more streamlined, while Tortoises have stubby Elephant-like feet and heavier, domed shells. A GROUP OF TORTOISES IS CALLED A CREEP Although the name may sound creepy, a group of Tortoises is called a creep. Creeps are not a common sight. This is because Tortoises are solitary creatures, and they tend to roam on their own. In fact, while mothers are known to be protective of their eggs, they don’t show any further concern for their young once the eggs hatch. It’s therefore not surprising that Tortoises aren’t found in large groups, making a “creep” an uncommon and interesting phenomenon to observe. TORTOISES INSPIRED THE ANCIENT ROMAN MILITARY The ancient Roman military was inspired by the protective nature of Tortoises. During sieges, soldiers would get in testudo formation, named after the Latin word for Tortoise. The men would form rows and hold shields in front or above them to completely shelter the unit. TORTOISES HAVE BOTH AN EXOSKELETON AND AN ENDOSKELETON The shell of a Tortoise is not just a simple outer covering. It is composed of three main parts: the top carapace, the bottom plastron, and the bridge that fuses these pieces together. But what you can’t see is the fact that every Tortoise has ribs, a collarbone, and a spine inside their shell, which make up their endoskeleton. THE SCALES ON THE CARAPACE ARE CALLED SCUTES The scutes on the carapace of a Tortoise are made of the same keratin that is found in fingernails and hooves. These scutes protect the bony plates of the shell from injury and infection. The growth rings around scutes can also be counted to determine the approximate age of wild Tortoises. THE LIGHTER THE SHELL, THE WARMER THE ORIGIN Tortoises from hot places tend to have lighter-colored shells than those from cooler areas. For example, the light tan Sulcata Tortoise originates from the southern part of the Sahara Desert. It’s thought that the lighter shells found in Tortoises from hotter climates help to reflect the sun’s rays and keep them cooler. On the other hand, Tortoises from cooler regions tend to have darker shells that absorb heat more effectively. This is just one of the many fascinating adaptations that tortoises have developed to survive and thrive in their environments.