Nauti-Lass Ponds & Critters, Inc. 

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There are two types of necks found on turtles and tortoises. The first type of neck is one that moves vertically and might also be able to retract into the shell given the turtle is a species that has that ability. This type of chelonian fits into the Cryptodira division. The other type of neck moves side to side. Instead of tucking in their heads in, they tuck them around the sides of their shells. These turtle types fit into the Pleurodia division.

Beak/Mouth
Like birds, turtles and tortoises have beaks too. The reason they are equipped with beaks are because they lack teeth. A beak acts as a tooth that helps a turtle rip and chew its food; whether that be green vegetation, a grub or a bug.Even with no teeth, a bite from a turtle can be painful. You might get a strong pinch from a box turtle that bites but if you were unfortunate enough to get a bite from a snapping turtle, you could lose a finger. If you find yourself with a finger trapped in the mouth of a turtle, submerge the chelonian under water; it will let go either because you caught it off guard or because it needs to breathe. 

Turtle Anatomy
Scutes
Scutes are protective plates that cover the shell of a turtle or tortoise. They consist of the same material that makeup finger nails, keratin. The top section of scutes are called the vertebral scutes; the outer most ones are called the marginal scutes and the ones right above the head are called the nuchal scutes. Turtles will shed their scutes as they grow much like a snake sheds its skin
Skin
Aquatic water turtles have softer skin that requires an external water sources to stay hydrated. Without water, the skin will dry up and create turtle health problems.  A tortoise’s skin is thicker and is designed to help retain water.The skin of a turtle looks scaly similar to their reptile cousins and like other reptiles, all tortoises and turtles shed their skin. The skin tends to come off in patches; so if you observe patches of skin falling off or floating in the water, don’t be alarmed, this is perfectly normal. 

Feet/Flippers
The feet of turtles and tortoises make telling the difference between them a bit easier.  Aquatic water turtles will either have webbed feet or even flippers in the case of sea turtles. These flippers and webbed feet make it easier for them to swim through the water. Even though their feet look more like they are made for swimming, they still have claws to some extent. These claws help the female turtles dig nests and get themselves onto basking sites. Box turtles and tortoises have thick rough looking skin on their feet. These turtles have short stumpy feet that keep them low to the ground. However, larger tortoise species on the other hand can have bigger feet that can look like tiny elephant feet, which of course are still pretty big. Instead of claws, these tortoises have toe nails which are meant for digging.


Neck
​Turtle necks come in a range of lengths. Some species have necks long enough to get them named snake necked turtles. A longer neck on a turtle allows it to reach up out of the water to breathe and also to grab an unsuspecting morsel as it swims by. A Long neck on a tortoise allows it to reach up and grab leaves on taller shrubs. This physical feature can become a necessity in geographic locations that have scarce vegetation.




Sexing your turtle Figuring out the gender of your turtle can be a little tricky.  Don’t let anyone tell you that you are getting a baby male or a baby female.  In most, if not all, species, it is impossible to determine the sex of your turtle if it is less than a year old and considerably older in many species.  An experienced reptile vet might be able to look inside the critter give you an educated guess if it is that important to you and you don’t care about the expense.  An interesting fact about many species is that the temperature at which the eggs are incubated, will determine the sex of the hatchlings.  At lower temps, you will get all males, at medium temps a mix and all females at the higher temps.  This way, a seller may tell you the animal is “temp sexed”. However, the process is not dependable so most of those sellers will have a disclaimer.
In general, with most species, the sex of a juvenile or adult turtle can be determined using the following guidelines:
  • ​The males will have substantially longer claws they use in courtship during mating season
  • The plastron of the male will be flat to concave while the female plastron is more convex allowing her more room to carry her eggs
  • The female will usually have a shorter tailwith the cloaca located close (almost under) her shell.  The male will have a longer tail and the cloaca further away from the shell

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