Turtles come in a variety of different sizes, from the minute to the enormous. These mind-blowing facts about large turtles will leave you astonished!
Around 60 million years ago in what is now South America roamed an animal was given the scientific name carbonemys cofrinii. It means “coal turtle”.
But what was so special about this animal?
It was the size of a small car.
The coal turtle was named as such as its fossilized remains were found in a coal mine in 2005.
In our modern era, we don’t need to watch out for coal turtles swimming about in lakes and rivers. Just you know, the usual; crocodiles, alligators and more. But it is nice not having to worry about one more goliath predator out there!
That said, there are still some pretty large turtles out there.
Let’s start with…
The Biggest Sea Turtle – The Leatherback
The Dermochelys coriacea, or leatherback sea turtle (also known as a lute turtle) is the largest of all chelonians. It weighs in at a monstrous 550 (250 kg) to 2,000 lbs. (750 kg).
Leatherbacks can grow up to more than 7 feet (2.2 m) in length. And counted with their front flippers they can reach lengths of up to nearly 9 feet (2.7 m).
Leatherbacks have the largest and widest distribution of any turtle, land or sea-dwelling. They are constantly traveling through the warm and temperate waters of the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans.
Although other sea turtles generally like to stay in warmer waters, leatherbacks have traveled as far north as Alaska and Norway and as far south as Chile and New Zealand in search of food.
As leatherbacks have a special internal body heat regulator that allows them to both spend and maintain heat, they are quite different from their other sea-faring cousins. For them, the outside environment plays a much bigger role in their internal body temperature.
This is in part what allows leatherbacks to travel and migrate much further distances than other types of sea turtles.
These large creatures feed mostly on jellyfish and can dive down further into the ocean than any other turtle. In fact, they can dive up to depths of 4,200 ft (1,280 m)! They can also hold their breath for nearly an hour and a half.
Although the modern leatherback turtle can trace back its lineage nearly 100 million years, its current population has been dwindling fast.
They are currently listed as an endangered species, and their numbers in the Pacific Ocean have plummeted fast. The biggest reason for many leatherbacks’ shortened lives is from human activity. Examples include harvesting leatherback eggs for exotic dishes and food or being struck by boats or caught in fishing nets.
The Biggest Land Dweller – The Galapagos Tortoise
Initially made famous from Darwin’s The Origin of Species, the chelonoidis nigra, otherwise known as the Galapagos tortoise, lives in the beautiful Galapagos Islands off the western coast of South America, is the largest land chelonian on record.
The Galapagos tortoise can weigh up to 920 lbs (417 kg) and reach lengths of over 5 ft (1.5 m). The Galapagos turtle has the oldest proven lifespan of all chelonians. One of these giant tortoises has even lived up to the ripe age of 152!
It is quite common for these creatures to live over a hundred years, and as such, studied quite intensively by the scientific community because of their longevity.
One possible reason for their longevity is their very slow metabolism, which refers to the rate at which an animal burns off energy. These creatures graze on grass as well as leaves and sleep for more than two-thirds of the day!
Unfortunately, like their sea-dwelling cousins the leatherback, they are also considered an endangered species. When Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos Islands way back in 1835, he counted 15 different varieties.
Today, only eleven now remain, unfortunately. Nearly all of them were hunted off through the ages by pirates, merchantmen and other passersby. As non-native species such as cats, dogs, and other feral animals have been introduced to the islands, the food supply of these native tortoises has diminished.
According to some estimates, around 100,000 Galapagos tortoises have been killed off over the past two centuries, leaving around 15,000 remaining.