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Turtles in Trouble

Turtles for sale in an Asian market - William McCord More than a third of the world's freshwater turtles are threatened with extinction. All seven species of sea turtles are endangered.

Turtles are collected for pets, food, and folk medicine; their shells are sold as aphrodisiacs; their habitats are disappearing; and pollutants contaminate their eggs. Sea turtles face the additional threats of marine debris, collisions with ships, and becoming entangled in fishing nets and other equipment.

End of the Line?

Turtle basking on log Freshwater turtles have existed for nearly 300 million years.

Ironically, many traits that made them an evolutionary success—like long lifespans and slow reproduction—make them vulnerable to human pressures today.

Fealing the Heat

As turtles feel the heat of climate change, they could go the way of the dinosaurs. Most turtles have environmental sex determination—the temperature during an egg's incubation determines whether the turtle will be male or female. A global temperature increase of just a few degrees could eliminate males of many turtle species, and then the species themselves.

Saving Turtles

green turtleTurtle conservation comes in a variety of forms. International agreements, such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, and state and federal laws, such as the United States' Endangered Species Act, offer protection to dozens of turtle species and their habitats. Nonprofit organizations' protective measures include: working with villagers to curb egg and turtle collection, restoring wetlands, raising public awareness, and attaching satellite-tracking devices to sea turtles so that we can learn more about their migration.

National Zoo scientists have been involved in tracking olive Ridley and green sea turtles, monitoring and assessing turtle health, and contributing to international treaty development.

Danger Ahead: People!

Living close to people can be dangerous for many animals. Enlarge this picture of a forest scene to see if you can identify the danger spots for box turtles, which are native to the East Coast and some Midwest states. They may live more than 100 years.

Box turtle live in dangerous habitats - Timothy Knepp

Danger Spots in the Forest Scene

  • Road: Cars can easily crush a box turtle's shell, killing the turtle.
  • Person: Taking box turtles from the wild for pets is a major threat to the population.
  • Yard: Lawn mowers and weed killers can harm box turtles.
  • Pet: Roaming cats and unleashed dogs can hurt and kill box turtles.

See the forest scene with danger spots highlighted.

African pancake tortoise
African pancake tortoise
Malacochersus tornieri
Aldabra tortoise
Aldabra tortoise
Geochelone gigantea
Alligator snapping turtle
Alligator snapping turtle
Macroclemys temminckii
Australian snake-necked turtle
Australian snake-necked turtle
Chelodina longicollis
Black ratsnake
Black ratsnake
Elaphe obsoleta (obsoleta)
Boa constrictor
Boa constrictor
Boa constrictor
Brazilian rainbow boa
Brazilian rainbow boa
Epicrates cenchria (cenchria)
Burmese python
Burmese python
Python molurus (bivittatus)
Cottonmouth
Cottonmouth
Agkistrodon piscivorus
Cuban crocodile
Cuban crocodile
Crocodylus rhombifer
Eastern box turtle
Eastern box turtle
Terrapene carolina
Emerald tree boa
Emerald tree boa
Corallus caninus
Emperor newt
Emperor newt
Tylototriton shanjing
European glass lizard
European glass lizard
Ophisaurus apodus
Everglades ratsnake
Everglades ratsnake
Elaphe obsoleta rossalleni
Eyelash palm pitviper
Eyelash palm pitviper
Bothriechis schlegelii
Florida softshell turtle
Florida softshell turtle
Apalone ferox
Gaboon viper
Gaboon viper
Bitis gabonica
Gharial (Gavial)
Gharial (Gavial)
Gavialus gangeticus
Gila monster
Gila monster
Heloderma suspectum
Grand Cayman iguana
Grand Cayman iguana
Cyclura lewisi
Greater siren
Greater siren
Siren lacertina
Green anaconda
Green anaconda
Eunectes murinus
Green iguana
Green iguana
Iguana iguana
Green tree python
Green tree python
Morelia viridis
Inland bearded dragon
Inland bearded dragon
Pogona vitticeps
King cobra
King cobra
Ophiophagus hannah
Leopard gecko
Leopard gecko
Eublepharis macularius
Mangrove snake
Mangrove snake
Boiga dendrophila
Matamata turtle
Matamata turtle
Chelus fimbriatus
Northern blue-tongued skink
Northern blue-tongued skink
Tiliqua scincoides
Northern pine snake
Northern pine snake
Pituophis melanoleucus
Oriental fire-bellied toad
Oriental fire-bellied toad
Bombina orientalis
Red-tailed ratsnake
Red-tailed ratsnake
Gonyosoma oxycephala
Timber rattlesnake
Timber rattlesnake
Crotalus horridus
Tokay gecko
Tokay gecko
Gekko gecko
Veiled chameleon
Veiled chameleon
Chamaeleo calyptratus
White's tree frog
White's tree frog
Pelodryas caerulea
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Snake Habitat
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Lizard Defense
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Snake Skin
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Reptile Diet
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Crocodilian
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Reptile Moves
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Gharial Conservation
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Zoo Breeding
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Crocodile Conservation
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Reptile Vision
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Boas
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Iguana Conservation
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Constriction
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Reptile Conservation
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Venom
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Turtle Conservation
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Amphibian Conservation
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Aldabra Tortoise
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Water Quality
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