Where Do Turtles Live?

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Turtles inhabit virtually every terrestrial, aquatic and marine habitat in the world that is warm enough to permit activity. Turtles are residents of every continent except Antarctica and of all the world’s temperate and tropical oceans.

The 327 living turtle species exhibit remarkable diversity, and they have colonized most available habitats. Some species live in deserts, while others live in rainforests, temperate forests, grasslands, lakes, ponds, rivers, swamps and coral reefs. Some turtles, particularly the wide-ranging sea turtles, have huge ranges that span thousands of miles. By contrast, some species inhabit only a small geographic area or a particular body of water.

Some of the areas with extraordinary diversity include the rivers, lakes and streams of the southeastern United States, the rainforests of Southeast Asia, central Africa and the Amazon basin. The Galapagos Islands are home to the largest terrestrial species, Chelonoidis nigra, while southern Africa is home to the smallest species, Homopus signatus.

Turtles may eat plants, animals or both. While most have relatively flexible diets and will concentrate on abundant prey, some turtles and tortoises specialize on a particular type of prey. For example, snapping turtles may consume ducks, plants, birds, snakes, fish, insects or other turtles, while the hawksbill turtle primarily consumes immobile animals called sponges.