BIG DO TURTLES GET?
by Whit Gibbons
July 27, 2008
I was asked recently fit together nicely: What are the largest living
turtles? What is the smallest species of turtle in the world?
not the largest turtles in the world, several terrestrial and freshwater
species from different regions of the world qualify for the Big Turtle
Hall of Fame. Confirming the record size for length or weight is difficult
because people often estimate, and therefore exaggerate, size instead
of using a ruler and scales. Because true measurements have sometimes
been difficult to obtain, several species have been declared to be the
largest freshwater turtle in the world.
largest freshwater turtle is the alligator snapper. Males commonly reach
shell lengths of two feet and weigh close to 100 pounds. However, shell
length records of two and a half feet have been verified. The heaviest
legitimate weight records are between 200 and 250 pounds, and possibly
one of 316 pounds. In South America, an Amazon River turtle known as the
arrau, may get even longer than alligator snappers. Big females have an
average shell length of more than two feet and a maximum of almost three.
Average body weight of these river giants is more than 50 pounds, with
the maximum being 160.
studies on freshwater turtles of Asia are sparse, but some of the softshelled
turtles have been reported to reach enormous sizes. Included among them
is what sounds like a sure candidate for a horror movie--Bibron's frog-faced
giant softshell turtle--at three and a half feet. The Southeast Asian
narrow-headed softshell turtle has been reported to reach a shell length
of almost four feet. The Shanghai softshell turtle, a very rare species
on the verge of extinction, is considered by some turtle biologists to
hold the record size for freshwater turtles. Adult females are typically
two and a half to four feet long, with one reported record being almost
six feet from front to back of the shell. The record weight reported for
the species is more than 400 pounds.
living land turtles are the giant tortoises that live on the Galapagos
Islands in the Pacific and the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean. (A tortoise,
by the way, is a turtle that lives on land.) The straight-line length
of their high-domed shells approaches four feet, and individuals often
weigh more than 400 pounds.
living turtle of all, both in length and body mass, is indisputably the
leatherback sea turtle. These giants are so large that if one were stood
on end in a normal room, the head would poke through the ceiling. The
record shell length reported for a leatherback was a male that washed
ashore in Wales, between the Irish Sea and North Atlantic. The animal
weighed more than a ton, and the length down the middle of the leathery
shell was eight feet, five inches. When the front flippers were extended,
they spanned over seven and half feet. No other living species of turtle
comes close to the size of the largest leatherbacks.
the smallest species of turtle is more problematic than stating that the
leatherback is the largest turtle in the world. The bog turtle is generally
considered to be the smallest species in North America, because the maximum
length is under four and a half inches. Most adults are less than four
inches long. The females of all other U.S. turtles reach larger sizes
than any bog turtles. However, the issue is confounded because adult males
of some of the map turtles, such as the Texas map turtle and Cagle's map
turtle, are smaller than either sex of adult bog turtles. These miniature
turtles normally do not reach a length of four inches.
the small size of even the largest bog turtles, the record for the smallest
turtle in the world in body length should probably reside with the speckled
padloper tortoise of South Africa. The species holds the uncontested record
for being the smallest tortoise in the world, and the maximum length of
females, which are slightly larger than males, is less than four inches,
thus qualifying the species as the smallest turtle in the world.
you have an environmental question or comment, email