In search of ponies: Time to unshell some facts

There aren’t many critters so cool they have their own candy named after them — and a good candy at that.

It’s not just candy that bears their name; they have also come to be synonymous with slowness.

Sharna Johnson

Sharna Johnson

And as if candy and a metaphor weren’t enough, Turtles also have their very own special day.

Set some time aside Friday — also known as World Turtle Day — to honor the shelled ones.

A tradition of 14 years, American Tortoise Rescue designated May 23 as a way to increase respect and knowledge of turtles hoping to raise awareness and sensitivity to the plight of turtles and tortoises around the world.

At the mercy of habitat destruction, smuggling, the exotic food industry, climate change and the pet trade, turtles and tortoises are rapidly disappearing from their natural habitats, ATR founder Susan Tellem said in a recent press release.

She also said biologists predict within 50 years they will have completely been depleted from the wild.

Some interesting facts about turtles and tortoises from the San Diego Zoo:

• Living dinosaurs – Turtles are estimated to have been around for about 220 million years.

• Turtles are the only living creatures with a backbone to also have a shell.

• Constructed out of the same material as human fingernails, turtles can feel pressure and pain through their shells.

• There are as many as 61 bones supporting the plates that make up a turtle’s shell.

• In order to fit inside their shells, some turtles make room by letting the air out of their lungs, which sounds like hissing.

• There are 328 recognized species of turtles hailing from every corner of the globe with the exception of Antarctica.

• Some land turtles can live more than 150 years, about 70 years for sea turtles.

• There are species of turtles that can lay up to 200 eggs, while others lay only one.

• The largest turtle is the leatherback, with a shell of up to eight feet and weighing in at up to 1,800 pounds (about the weight of two average size horses). Leatherbacks can also dive as deep as 3,000 feet into the ocean aided by a soft, leathery covering that protects them from the pressure.

•  Turtles don’t have teeth; they have a hard, sharp edge in their mouths used to bite their food.

• Different turtles have different diets. Some are strict herbivores, while others eat fish, insects and other creepy crawlies in addition to plants.

• The name they share is “chelonian” but turtle, tortoise and terrapin are names specific to where the creature lives. Turtles are water dwellers and usually have webbed feet or flippers. Tortoises are land dwellers that come with stubby feet for walking on earth. Terrapins enjoy both worlds, never straying far from water, but content to live on land.

• After laying eggs, mothers don’t hang around to take care of the young, who are on their own when they hatch.

• Warmer eggs mean more female babies and colder nests equal more males for some species.

With such diversity in geography and species, it is hard to imagine turtles being in trouble, yet being too slow to outrun most predators, dependent on their environment and desired as pets and delicacies makes them a lot more vulnerable than their tough exteriors imply.

Friday gives an excuse to enjoy a tasty turtle of the chocolate caramel variety, take a slow walk around the neighborhood and appreciate a couple hundred million years of living history while we still have it to appreciate.

Sharna Johnson is a writer who is always searching for ponies. You can reach her at: insearchofponies@gmail.com or on the web at: www.insearchofponies.blogspot.com