The Great Life of Turtles
Florida Sea Grant Extension Agent
Okaloosa & Walton Counties
Turtles are one of the oldest reptiles in Florida and have changed very little throughout history. They are typically recognized by the presence of shells and can be terrestrial, marine, or freshwater turtles. In the USA and Britain, terrestrial forms are referred to as “tortoises” and the aquatic forms as “turtles.” Turtles occur on every continent in the world except for Antarctica. Florida has 25 species of turtles representing 7 different families.
Juvenile diamondback terrapin. Photo Credits: Photo by Kirsten Dahlen
Florida’s only true tortoise is the Gopher Tortoise. This species digs long burrows around upland pine/oak/scrub areas. These burrows provide habitat for many other types of animals, which is why this tortoise is considered a keystone species and is protected by law. Some of the freshwater turtles include the Snapping turtle, Basking and Box turtles, Mud and Musk turtles, and the Softshell turtle. Florida even has one turtle that can live in both fresh and salt water, the diamondback terrapin.
Loggerhead sea turtle after nesting. Photo Credits: Photo by Andrew Diller
The marine turtle species are called sea turtles and are identified by their shells and modified limbs which are non-retractable flippers. The sea turtles spend their entire lives at sea, except for nesting season when the females return for a short period of time to lay eggs. During sea turtle nesting season, April through October, it is important to keep area beaches turtle friendly. This includes keeping lights off or using long wavelengths so the turtle does not become disoriented, keeping your distance if you encounter a sea turtle, and keeping beaches clear of holes and left over recreation equipment. The hatchlings crawl to the water on their own and can be disoriented by artificial lights as well. Hatchlings will imprint on their beach of birth and return in 20-30 years to lay their eggs.
Each species of turtle has a specific habitat and adaptation allowing for their survival. As one of our oldest, these reptiles have great stories to tell. For more information on marine science and natural resources information, email or call firstname.lastname@example.org or 689-5850.