Turtles occur on all continents except Antarctica. Over 240 species occur worldwide but turtles are most abundant in eastern North America. Most turtles have good field characteristics that are visible and can be easily identified. Some species, however, require close examination of the shields on the plastron (underside shell) for a positive identification.
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General Biology, Reproduction, and Behavior
Any permanent body of water is a potential home for turtles. Some species will also tolerate brackish water, but the sea turtles are the only true saltwater species.
Unlike most other turtles, including soft shells, snapping turtles rarely bask. Turtles feed on a combination of plant and animal material that includes items such as aquatic weeds, crayfish, carrion, insects, fish and other small organisms. The diet of snapping turtles, however, usually includes a relatively high proportion of fish. They are relatively aggressive predators, occasionally known to take fish off fish stringers.
All turtles reproduce by laying eggs in early spring. Hatching begins in late summer and extends into the fall, depending on summer temperatures associated with the climate of the range. During winter, turtles usually bury themselves in soft mud or sand in shallow water with only the eyes and snout exposed.
Turtles are easy prey for a number of predator species such as alligators, otters, raccoons, and bears. Humans are probably the greatest threat to turtle populations, particularly for the most commercial species, such as snappers and soft shells.
Damage and Damage Identification
Turtles are seldom a pest to people. Turtles are very beneficial and of economic importance, except in certain areas such as waterfowl sanctuaries, aquaculture facilities, and rice fields in the south. Indiscriminate destruction of turtles in strong discourages, and every effort should be made to ensure that local populations are not exterminated unless it can be clearly demonstrated that they are undesirable.
Some species of pond and marsh turtles are occasional economic pests in rice fields in the south. Their feed activity on young rice often results in significant yield reductions in local areas.
In farm ponds, turtles undoubtedly compete with fish for natural food sources such as crayfish and insects. turtles, however, are valuable because they kill diseased and weakened fish, and clean up dead of decaying animal matter.
In commercial aquaculture production ponds, turtles can eat fish that are being grown. They also eat fish food. Aquaculture ponds are not the preferred habitat of turtles, however. The heavy clay soils required for pond construction are not conducive to the turtles laying of eggs.