Tortoises and freshwater turtles fulfill important roles in freshwater ecosystems and feature prominently in human culture – but environmental destruction and people's insatiable appetites put these creatures at risk.
There are some 350 species of tortoises and freshwater turtles on Earth. They represent a lineage dating back to the dawn of the age of dinosaurs.
And while they don't have the visibility of giant pandas or the ecological dominance of great white sharks, turtles often perform important roles in freshwater ecosystems like rivers, streams and lakes:
- Seed dispersal and vegetation management
- Control of insect and snail populations
- Keeping water clean for all animals – including humans – by scavenging dead animals and preying on weak or sick individuals
Yet nearly half of all tortoises and freshwater turtles are threatened with extinction. This makes them among the most threatened of any major group of vertebrate species – more than birds, mammals or amphibians.IN DEPTH: Learn more about the threats to freshwater and terrestrial turtles
The Red River giant softshell turtle may be the rarest and most threatened of all turtles, in addition to one of the largest – only four individuals are known remaining alive in the world.
Bog turtles can be identified by bright, colorful blotches on the sides of their heads.
The Central American river turtle hasn't changed much since the time of the dinosaurs.
The Southeast Asian giant softshell turtle is one of the largest turtles in the world.
The Coahuila box turtle is one of the few box turtles which lives permanently in fresh water; most box turtles are terrestrial.