SCCF Celebrates World Turtle Day
Today is World Turtle Day! We are celebrating the approximately 360 species of turtles, tortoises and terrapins found worldwide. There are fourteen taxonomic families, encompassing all known extant species, with half of those in the United States.
Sanibel Island is unique in having a representative of each of the seven U.S. families either existing or nesting on the island. Unfortunately, turtles are now considered the most at risk (for extinction) vertebrate group, surpassing primates.
Their main threats are habitat loss, climate change, illegal collection of food, traditional medicines and the pet trade, as well as disease. Biologists, land managers, state and federal agencies, non-profit organizations, conservation groups, and private individuals are working hard to protect turtle populations around the world.
SCCF is dedicated to the conservation of turtles by conducting several research and monitoring projects to ensure their survival. The sea turtle program began with Charles LeBuff in the 1960s, and was passed to SCCF in 1992. Gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) monitoring began in 2000 and the Florida Box (Terrapene bauri) Turtle Project began in 2002. Research on diamondback terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin macrospilota) and the two ephemeral species, the Florida mud turtle (Kinosternon steindachneri) and the Florida chicken turtle (Deirochelys reticularia chrysea), began in 2013.
With the data we are gathering, we have added greatly to the knowledge of these species as well as their conservation needs. With the help of countless volunteers and donors, we conduct this work to make sure our turtle populations endure into the next century and beyond.
All turtles in the world can be separated into two taxonomic suborders: Cryptodira refers to hidden neck turtles while Pleurodira refers to side-necked turtles. This pertains to how they pull their heads back into their shell. In the US, we are accustomed to Cryptodira turtles that pull their heads straight back, but the bones of the neck form an S-shape within the shell. This protects the entire neck and most of the head of the turtle from predation.
Side-necked turtles (Pleurodira) pull their heads to the side where the head and neck wrap around the underside of the carapace. This leaves one side of the head and neck exposed to predators. That side of the head and neck is hardened to protect the turtle as much as possible.
Side-necked turtles (Pleurodira) are only found in the southern hemisphere, whereas hidden-neck turtles (Cryptodira) are found in both the northern and southern hemispheres.
Wildlife Technician Kaity Seitz digs deep in the mud to retrieve a monitored Florida mud turtle with a radio transmitter attached.
SCCF Intern Justin Robbins releases a Florida box turtle back into the wild following a poaching confiscation in 2019.
Wildlife Intern Peyton Niebanck recently replaces a radio transmitter on a Florida mud turtle.
An ornate diamondback terrapin, which is a protected species in Florida, basks on red mangrove roots. Crab traps (without BRDs) and poaching for the international pet trade are major threats to this species.
Wildlife Biologist Mike Mills measures a diamondback terrapin as part of SCCF’s terrapin research.
An example of a Pleurodira (side-necked turtle) from the southern hemisphere. Branderhorst’s turtle (Elseya branderhorsti) is endemic to southern New Guinea.