Turtles, Tortoises and Terrapins: Survivors in Armor

Overview

Turtles, almost alone among reptiles, have earned both human interest and affection. Our fascination with turtles, though, has not helped them much. Sought after for food, as pets, and for tortoiseshell, their habitats under attack on land and sea, turtle populations are in decline around the world. Understanding turtles is not only interesting, but also important.

Turtles, tortoises, and terrapins have been on earth since the Triassic Period, approximately 200 million years ...

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Overview

Turtles, almost alone among reptiles, have earned both human interest and affection. Our fascination with turtles, though, has not helped them much. Sought after for food, as pets, and for tortoiseshell, their habitats under attack on land and sea, turtle populations are in decline around the world. Understanding turtles is not only interesting, but also important.

Turtles, tortoises, and terrapins have been on earth since the Triassic Period, approximately 200 million years ago. Their exact origins are uncertain, though - it is still unclear from which group of reptiles turtles sprang. Although the earliest fossils are clearly turtles, their anatomy has changed dramatically over time. In addition, turtle species vary greatly in such basic characteristics as anatomy and habitat preferences. Turtles, Tortoises and Terrapins surveys the myriad of turtle anatomy, habitat, and life cycles throughout the ages.

Human activities on the land and at sea pose the greatest threat that turtles have faced in the last 200 million years. The battle to save turtles goes on, and this book provides an important voice in turtle ecology. Turtles, Tortoises and Terrapins is the perfect resource for anyone interested in all facets of these amazing and diverse reptiles.

Contents include:

  • What Turtles Are
  • How Turtles Live
  • Will Turtles Survive?
  • Turtles of the World
  • Turtle Watching
  • How to Help Conserve Turtles
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Editorial Reviews

Science Teacher - Amanda Ziglinski
This book is a great secondary teaching resource for harnessing students' natural curiosity. It's not only for enthusiasts but can also provide research material for motivated biology students.
Science Books and Films - John Matthew
With deft prose and engaging anecdotes, Mr. Orenstein takes us skillfully through a vast amount of information packaged to be remembered without undue effort. ... In essence, Mr. Orenstein's treatment is nothing short of masterly.
Nature
Comprehensive coverage ... their evolution, life history and conservation.
Turtle and Tortoise Bookshop Newsletter - John P. Level
[Orenstein's] accurate and fact-filled text, while easily readable by the most casual of turtle observers, will almost certainly provide some unknown tidbit of useful information to just about everyone regardless of expertise.
Nature
Comprehensive coverage ... their evolution, life history and conservation.
Library Journal
The book does a good job ... abounds with excellent color photographs. Recommended for all public and academic libraries.
Nature
Comprehensive coverage ... their evolution, life history and conservation.
Amanda Ziglinski
This book is a great secondary teaching resource for harnessing students' natural curiosity. It's not only for enthusiasts but can also provide research material for motivated biology students.
The Science Teacher
John P. Level
Accurate and fact-filled text ... easily readable by the most casual of turtle observers. . .
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781552096055
  • Publisher: Firefly Books, Limited
  • Publication date: 10/6/2001
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 8.50 (w) x 11.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Ronald Orenstein is a zoologist, lawyer, and wildlife conservationist who has written extensively on a wide variety of ecology and conservation issues. He is currently the project director of the International Wildlife Coalition.

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Read an Excerpt

Preface

Why Turtles Matter

"Turtles," writes Anders Rhodin of the Chelonian Research Foundation, are in terrible trouble."

Few herpetologists — the scientists who study reptiles and amphibians — would disagree with him. There is hardly a place left on earth, on land or sea where turtles are safe. In some places, most particularly in southern Asia where forests and rivers are being swept clean of turtles to supply growing and voracious markets for food and pets, their situation is little short of desperate. Some species have probably already disappeared; more will almost certainly do so, despite efforts we make to save them. Pollution, habitat destruction, overhunting, climate change, and disease strike at species after species. Populations of the largest turtle in the world, the leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), collapsed throughout the Pacific Ocean during the last five years of the 20th century. Poachers are stealing the beautiful radiated tortoise (Geochelone radiata), even from national parks. The unique Central American river turtle (Dermatemys mawii), the only living representative of its family, is being eaten out of existence.

There is more to turtles than most of us know. We think of them as the quintessence of slowness. When Camille Saint-Saëns assigned music to the tortoise in Carnival of the Animals, it was Jacques Offenbach's famous cancan — played at a glacial pace. But anyone who lets a careless hand get too close to an angry snapper or softshell will learn just how rapidly a turtle can move. The big-headed turtle (Platysternon megacephalum) of Southeast Asia can scale a slippery boulder or even climb into a tree. The pig-nose turtle (Carettochelys insculpta) of Australasia can dart away at four times the speed of a swimming human, and a sea turtle can fly through the water with balletic grace.

Imagine that turtles had vanished long ago, with the dinosaurs, and we knew them only from fossils. Surely we would be amazed that such bizarre creatures, sealed in bone, ribs welded to their shells, had existed; had ranged successfully almost throughout the world, in desert, river, and forest, and far out into the open sea; had dug burrows that became homes for other creatures; had a role to play in the habitats where they lived. We would regret that we had missed the opportunity to see them plodding their way through ancient forests, beneath the feet of monsters.

But turtles, unlike so many other reptiles of past ages, did survive, and for many of us they are a commonplace. Some of us think of them with amusement, as comic-strip characters, plush toys for children, or dancing, top-hatted figures on a box of candy. For others, turtles are a source of food and income, whether from selling a tortoise as a pet or showing tourists a sea turtle laboriously digging its nest in the sand. For some, turtles are even an object of veneration, to be protected and fed on the grounds of a temple. Humankind sees turtles as anything but what they really are: highly evolved, remarkable creatures, necessary components of their shrinking and ever more degraded ecosystems. We in the West have ceased to be amazed by them.

I have written this book because turtles do amaze me. I am not a herpetologist but an ornithologist, a student of birds, and turtles were always on the periphery of my attention. I could not help, though, collecting bits and pieces of information about them, and the more I learned the more astonished I became at the sheer range of adaptation in such superficially humble creatures.

As I have gone on from ornithology to a career in wildlife conservation, and a lobbyist's role in dealing with the excesses of the international wildlife trade, turtles have come more and more into the center of my vision. In recent years, I have found myself supporting the ban on international trade in tortoiseshell, the beautiful scutes of the hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), and trying to fathom the almost uncontrolled turtle markets of eastern Asia. I have tried to become not just an admirer of turtles but one of their advocates.

If you are not one already, I hope that this book will make you, too, their admirer and their advocate. Turtles should fill you with a sense of wonder, and our treatment of them should fill you with a sense of concern. I know it is entirely unscientific to ascribe human qualities to the processes of evolution, but it is hard not to admire turtles for their sheer doggedness in having made it this far, and this successfufly. That they are here for us to wonder at means that we should wonder at them, and make sure that our children and grandchildren have the chance to do the same.

In 1953, the authors of Reptiles and Amphibians: A Guide to Familiar American Species wrote that turtles (and lizards and snakes) "are interesting and unusual, although of minor importance. If they should all disappear, it would not make much difference one way or the other." Although we know better today, it is our generation that is presiding over their disappearance.

It is up to us to get turtles out of the terrible trouble we have placed them in. Turtles matter because of what they are, because of the path they have taken, because of their role in the natural world, because of their impact, over the centuries, on our society, culture, and even our religions. They matter because it would be shameful if their long tread through 200 million years of evolutionary history should end through our negligence, our greed, and our failure to act.

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Table of Contents

  1. Acknowledgements
    A Word About Words

    Preface: Why Turtles Matter

  2. The Essential Turtle
  3. Turtles in Time
  4. Turtles Around the World I: Side-necks and Hidden Necks
  5. Turtles Around the World II: Terrapins and Tortoises
  6. Under the Hood
  7. Life as a Turtle
  8. Twixt Plated Decks
  9. The Endless Journey
  10. Peril on Land
  11. Peril at Sea

    Bibliography
    Index


Read More Show Less

Preface

Preface Why Turtles Matter

"Turtles," writes Anders Rhodin of the Chelonian Research Foundation, "are in terrible trouble."

Few herpetologists — the scientists who study reptiles and amphibians — would disagree with him. There is hardly a place left on earth, on land or sea where turtles are safe. In some places, most particularly in southern Asia where forests and rivers are being swept clean of turtles to supply growing and voracious markets for food and pets, their situation is little short of desperate. Some species have probably already disappeared; more will almost certainly do so, despite efforts we make to save them. Pollution, habitat destruction, overhunting, climate change, and disease strike at species after species. Populations of the largest turtle in the world, the leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), collapsed throughout the Pacific Ocean during the last five years of the 20th century. Poachers are stealing the beautiful radiated tortoise (Geochelone radiata), even from national parks. The unique Central American river turtle (Dermatemys mawii), the only living representative of its family, is being eaten out of existence.

There is more to turtles than most of us know. We think of them as the quintessence of slowness. When Camille Saint-Saëns assigned music to the tortoise in Carnival of the Animals, it was Jacques Offenbach's famous cancan — played at a glacial pace. But anyone who lets a careless hand get too close to an angry snapper or softshell will learn just how rapidly a turtle can move. The big-headed turtle (Platysternon megacephalum) of Southeast Asia can scale a slippery boulder or even climb into a tree. The pig-nose turtle (Carettochelys insculpta) of Australasia can dart away at four times the speed of a swimming human, and a sea turtle can fly through the water with balletic grace.

Imagine that turtles had vanished long ago, with the dinosaurs, and we knew them only from fossils. Surely we would be amazed that such bizarre creatures, sealed in bone, ribs welded to their shells, had existed; had ranged successfully almost throughout the world, in desert, river, and forest, and far out into the open sea; had dug burrows that became homes for other creatures; had a role to play in the habitats where they lived. We would regret that we had missed the opportunity to see them plodding their way through ancient forests, beneath the feet of monsters.

But turtles, unlike so many other reptiles of past ages, did survive, and for many of us they are a commonplace. Some of us think of them with amusement, as comic-strip characters, plush toys for children, or dancing, top-hatted figures on a box of candy. For others, turtles are a source of food and income, whether from selling a tortoise as a pet or showing tourists a sea turtle laboriously digging its nest in the sand. For some, turtles are even an object of veneration, to be protected and fed on the grounds of a temple. Humankind sees turtles as anything but what they really are: highly evolved, remarkable creatures, necessary components of their shrinking and ever more degraded ecosystems. We in the West have ceased to be amazed by them.

I have written this book because turtles do amaze me. I am not a herpetologist but an ornithologist, a student of birds, and turtles were always on the periphery of my attention. I could not help, though, collecting bits and pieces of information about them, and the more I learned the more astonished I became at the sheer range of adaptation in such superficially humble creatures.

As I have gone on from ornithology to a career in wildlife conservation,
and a lobbyist's role in dealing with the excesses of the international wildlife trade, turtles have come more and more into the center of my vision. In recent years, I have found myself supporting the ban on international trade in tortoiseshell, the beautiful scutes of the hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), and trying to fathom the almost uncontrolled turtle markets of eastern Asia. I have tried to become not just an admirer of turtles but one of their advocates.

If you are not one already, I hope that this book will make you, too, their admirer and their advocate. Turtles should fill you with a sense of wonder, and our treatment of them should fill you with a sense of concern. I know it is entirely unscientific to ascribe human qualities to the processes of evolution, but it is hard not to admire turtles for their sheer doggedness in having made it this far, and this successfufly. That they are here for us to wonder at means that we should wonder at them, and make sure that our children and grandchildren have the chance to do the same.

In 1953, the authors of Reptiles and Amphibians: A Guide to Familiar American Species wrote that turtles (and lizards and snakes) "are interesting and unusual, although of minor importance. If they should all disappear, it would not make much difference one way or the other." Although we know better today, it is our generation that is presiding over their disappearance.

It is up to us to get turtles out of the terrible trouble we have placed them in. Turtles matter because of what they are, because of the path they have taken, because of their role in the natural world, because of their impact, over the centuries, on our society, culture, and even our religions. They matter because it would be shameful if their long tread through 200 million years of evolutionary history should end through our negligence, our greed, and our failure to act.

Read More Show Less

Introduction

Preface

Why Turtles Matter

"Turtles," writes Anders Rhodin of the Chelonian Research Foundation, "are in terrible trouble."

Few herpetologists -- the scientists who study reptiles and amphibians -- would disagree with him. There is hardly a place left on earth, on land or sea where turtles are safe. In some places, most particularly in southern Asia where forests and rivers are being swept clean of turtles to supply growing and voracious markets for food and pets, their situation is little short of desperate. Some species have probably already disappeared; more will almost certainly do so, despite efforts we make to save them. Pollution, habitat destruction, overhunting, climate change, and disease strike at species after species. Populations of the largest turtle in the world, the leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), collapsed throughout the Pacific Ocean during the last five years of the 20th century. Poachers are stealing the beautiful radiated tortoise (Geochelone radiata), even from national parks. The unique Central American river turtle (Dermatemys mawii), the only living representative of its family, is being eaten out of existence.

There is more to turtles than most of us know. We think of them as the quintessence of slowness. When Camille Saint-Saëns assigned music to the tortoise in Carnival of the Animals, it was Jacques Offenbach's famous cancan -- played at a glacial pace. But anyone who lets a careless hand get too close to an angry snapper or softshell will learn just how rapidly a turtle can move. The big-headed turtle (Platysternon megacephalum) of Southeast Asia can scale a slippery boulderor even climb into a tree. The pig-nose turtle (Carettochelys insculpta) of Australasia can dart away at four times the speed of a swimming human, and a sea turtle can fly through the water with balletic grace.

Imagine that turtles had vanished long ago, with the dinosaurs, and we knew them only from fossils. Surely we would be amazed that such bizarre creatures, sealed in bone, ribs welded to their shells, had existed; had ranged successfully almost throughout the world, in desert, river, and forest, and far out into the open sea; had dug burrows that became homes for other creatures; had a role to play in the habitats where they lived. We would regret that we had missed the opportunity to see them plodding their way through ancient forests, beneath the feet of monsters.

But turtles, unlike so many other reptiles of past ages, did survive, and for many of us they are a commonplace. Some of us think of them with amusement, as comic-strip characters, plush toys for children, or dancing, top-hatted figures on a box of candy. For others, turtles are a source of food and income, whether from selling a tortoise as a pet or showing tourists a sea turtle laboriously digging its nest in the sand. For some, turtles are even an object of veneration, to be protected and fed on the grounds of a temple. Humankind sees turtles as anything but what they really are: highly evolved, remarkable creatures, necessary components of their shrinking and ever more degraded ecosystems. We in the West have ceased to be amazed by them.

I have written this book because turtles do amaze me. I am not a herpetologist but an ornithologist, a student of birds, and turtles were always on the periphery of my attention. I could not help, though, collecting bits and pieces of information about them, and the more I learned the more astonished I became at the sheer range of adaptation in such superficially humble creatures.

As I have gone on from ornithology to a career in wildlife conservation, and a lobbyist's role in dealing with the excesses of the international wildlife trade, turtles have come more and more into the center of my vision. In recent years, I have found myself supporting the ban on international trade in tortoiseshell, the beautiful scutes of the hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), and trying to fathom the almost uncontrolled turtle markets of eastern Asia. I have tried to become not just an admirer of turtles but one of their advocates.

If you are not one already, I hope that this book will make you, too, their admirer and their advocate. Turtles should fill you with a sense of wonder, and our treatment of them should fill you with a sense of concern. I know it is entirely unscientific to ascribe human qualities to the processes of evolution, but it is hard not to admire turtles for their sheer doggedness in having made it this far, and this successfufly. That they are here for us to wonder at means that we should wonder at them, and make sure that our children and grandchildren have the chance to do the same.

In 1953, the authors of Reptiles and Amphibians: A Guide to Familiar American Species wrote that turtles (and lizards and snakes) "are interesting and unusual, although of minor importance. If they should all disappear, it would not make much difference one way or the other." Although we know better today, it is our generation that is presiding over their disappearance.

It is up to us to get turtles out of the terrible trouble we have placed them in. Turtles matter because of what they are, because of the path they have taken, because of their role in the natural world, because of their impact, over the centuries, on our society, culture, and even our religions. They matter because it would be shameful if their long tread through 200 million years of evolutionary history should end through our negligence, our greed, and our failure to act.

Read More Show Less

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