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We all are familiar with the children's story, The Tortoise and the Hare. What we may not know is that there is more to tortoises and turtles than slow movement and a hard shell. Turtles are some of the oldest creatures, having been around since the days of the dinosaur, and even looking a bit prehistoric. There are many different types and varieties of turtles, classified in twelve biological families. Turtles generally can be divided between tortoises (the land variety) and marine turtles, which spend most of their time in water, though there are overlaps.
Common freshwater turtles form the largest family of turtles and can be found all over the world. They spend most of their time in ponds, lakes and slow moving streams. Most of the turtles we see in ponds or pet stores belong to this family, including diamondback terrapins and box turtles. Less common freshwater turtles include the soft-shelled variety. These turtles have a leathery covering rather than a hard shell.
Land tortoises form another large group of turtle classifications. Like other land reptiles, land tortoises live generally in warm areas of the world and are herbivorous. Unlike the fins on a marine turtle, tortoises have club-like feet and they travel slowly over land. Snapping turtles are large, carnivorous fresh-water turtles. While most turtles are quiet and fearful, snapping turtles are aggressive and are prone to attack just about anything.
Sea turtles are divided up among two classifications. The majority of sea turtles are of different families, but are closely related. Leatherbacks are the largest and heaviest of sea turtles, often weighing nearly 1100 pounds (500 kg). Sea turtles are much faster in the water than their land-loving counterparts—some sea turtles have reached speeds close to 20 mph (32 kph). Most sea turtles are endangered. Though they are sought for food, leather, and shell ornaments, catching sea turtles is illegal.