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Cheat Sheet

Turtles and Tortoises For Dummies

Your shelled pet may not have the warm fuzzies of more ordinary choices, but turtles and tortoises definitely have a cool factor that mammals can’t touch. As the owner of a turtle or tortoise, you enter a world with a whole new vocabulary and a different set of records to keep.

Words Related to Your Pet Turtle or Tortoise

Turtles and tortoises are not your run-of-the-mill pets, and if you choose to add a chelonian (a turtle or tortoise) to your family, you may want to broaden your vocabulary beyond what you need when talking about more, uh, ordinary pets. The terms here are some of the words used in reference to turtles and tortoises:

  • Aquatic turtle: A turtle that spends all or the majority of its time in the water

  • Basking site or basking area: An area for a turtle or tortoise to absorb warmth from sunshine or another heat source

  • Brackish water: Fresh water that receives some salt water from the ocean during high tides, making it more salty than fresh

  • Carapace: The top shell covering the back

  • Carnivore: A meat eater

  • Carrion: Decaying flesh that may be used for food

  • Chelonians: All turtles and tortoises

  • Clutch: A nest of eggs

  • Estivates: Hibernates in summer

  • Hatchlings: Baby turtles or tortoises

  • Herbivore: A plant eater

  • Keel: A ridge in the carapace, usually from front to rear so that it is over or parallels the spine

  • Omnivore: Eats both meat and plants

  • Plastron: The lower shell

  • Scute: A single surface section of the shell; each shell is made up of many scutes with underlying skeletal bone

  • Semi-aquatic turtle: A turtle that spends about half of its time in the water and half of its time on land

  • Semi-terrestrial turtle: A turtle that spends most of its time on land but also goes into the water once in a while

  • Side-necked turtle: When this type of turtle shelters its head, the neck folds to the side but does not disappear into the shell

  • Terrarium: An aquarium or cage that contains live plants, a higher humidity, and no swimming water

  • Terrestrial turtle: A turtle that lives on land but bathes or soaks in water or goes into the water to escape predators

  • Tortoise: A land-based chelonian that can’t swim and only goes into shallow water to drink or soak; a tortoise never voluntarily enters water over its head

  • Vent: Equivalent to an anal opening

  • Vivarium: An aquarium divided into two sections — one for water and one for land

Records to Keep on Your Turtle or Tortoise

Keeping records on your turtle or tortoise is a necessity. Do you remember exactly when you bought your pet? When were those eggs laid? In addition, with so many species protected by law, you need to be able to show where, when, and from whom you got each pet. Records and photographs can also help you identify your pets if one is stolen or escapes.

The essential information to keep about your turtle or tortoise includes

  • Name, number, and identification

  • Species common name and Latin name

  • A detailed physical description

  • The date you acquired your pet and from whom

  • Your pet’s age at time of acquisition

Write down any other relevant information regarding how and where you acquired your pet and his condition when you got him.

Keep track of other pertinent information, including illnesses, injuries, changes in habits, sexual maturity, breeding information, and anything else that’s important to you. Weigh your hatchlings and measure their lengths weekly; weigh and measure adults monthly. Attach up-to-date photographs of your pet to your pet record as well.

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