Turtles, Tortoises and Terrapins: A Natural History
Turtles, Tortoises and Terrapins: A Natural History
Turtles, Tortoises and Terrapins: A Natural History Turtles, Tortoises and Terrapins: A Natural History Turtles, Tortoises and Terrapins: A Natural History Turtles, Tortoises and Terrapins: A Natural History

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Not Available Online
Publisher: Firefly Books

Edition Notes: Revised, Expanded and Updated, ebook
Author Statement: Ronald Orenstein
Audience: Trade
Specs: more than 300 full color photographs, range maps, bibliography
Pages: 448
Trim Size: 9" X 11"
Language code 1: eng
Publication Date: 20120817
Copyright Year: 2012
Price: Select Below

Turtles, Tortoises and Terrapins: A Natural History

Praise for the first edition:
With deft prose and engaging anecdotes, Mr. Orenstein takes us skillfully through a vast amount of information....[his] treatment is nothing short of masterly.
--Science Books and Films

Abounds with excellent color photographs. Recommended for all public and academic libraries.
-- Library Journal

The remarkable adaptations of turtles, tortoises and terrapins have helped them survive for over 200 million years. They are the most wide-ranging of reptiles, found in deserts, forests and the open ocean. But they are also among the world's most endangered animals. They face the multiple threats of habitat destruction, poaching, overhunting (for food and traditional medicines), deadly tangles with fishing lines and capture for the international pet trade. Around the world, turtle populations are under attack on land and sea. Many species are close to extinction and efforts are underway to save them. It is among the main goals of this book to foster awareness about these unique and threatened creatures.

In this new edition, zoologist Ronald Orenstein describes the astonishing ways that turtles cope with their environment. He updates readers on the latest discoveries and explores the debate on origins of the turtle. Every aspect of their evolution, life history and conservation status is presented in 250 photographs and lively text supplemented with numerous maps and a bibliography.

The battle to save turtles goes on. Turtles, Tortoises and Terrapins is fascinating, informative and essential for anyone interested in these amazing creatures and concerned about their precarious future.


Ronald Orenstein is a zoologist, lawyer and wildlife conservationist who has written extensively on a wide range of natural history issues.


PREFACE: Why Turtles Matter

"Turtles," Anders Rhodin of the Chelonian Research Foundation wrote over ten years ago, "are in terrible trouble." I began the preface to the first edition of this book with his words. For the second edition I can do no better than quote him again, this time from a statement he made in 2011: "Turtles are in serious trouble. They are some of the world's most endangered vertebrates, more than mammals, birds, or even highly endangered amphibians."

Few herpetologists--the scientists who study reptiles and amphibians--would disagree with him. His 2011 statement was made upon the release of a multi-authored report, Turtles in Trouble: The World's 25+ Most Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles--2011, detailing just how bad things are. Half of the turtle species in the world are threatened with extinction. There is hardly a place left on earth, land or sea where turtles are safe. In some places, most particularly in southern Asia where forests and rivers are being swept clean of turtles to supply growing and voracious markets for food and pets, their situation is little short of desperate. Some species have probably already disappeared; more will almost certainly do so, or be reduced to an existence in captive colonies, despite efforts we make to save them. Pollution, habitat destruction, overhunting, climate change and disease strike at species after species. During the last five years of the 20th century, populations of the largest turtle in the world, the Leatherback Sea Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), collapsed throughout the Pacific Ocean. Poachers are stealing the beautiful Radiated Tortoise (Astrochelys radiata), even from national parks. The unique Central American River Turtle (Dermatemys mawii), the only living representative of its family, is being eaten out of existence.

There is more to turtles than most of us know. We think of them as the quintessence of slowness. When Camille Saint-Sa‘ns assigned music to the tortoise in Carnival of the Animals, it was Jacques Offenbach's famous cancan--played at a glacial pace. But anyone who lets a careless hand get too close to an angry snapper or softshell will learn just how rapidly a turtle can move. The Big-headed Turtle (Platysternon megacephalum) of Southeast Asia can scale a slippery boulder or even climb into a tree. The Pig-nose Turtle (Carettochelys insculpta) of Australasia can dart away at four times the speed of a swimming human, and a sea turtle can fly through the water with balletic grace.

Imagine if turtles had vanished long ago, with the dinosaurs, and we knew them only from fossils. Surely we would be amazed that such bizarre creatures, sealed in bone, ribs welded to their shells, had existed; had ranged successfully almost throughout the world, in deserts, rivers, and forests, and far out into the open sea; had dug burrows that became homes for other creatures; had a role to play in the habitats where they lived. We would regret that we had missed the opportunity to see them plodding their way through ancient forests, beneath the feet of monsters.

But turtles, unlike so many other reptiles of past ages, did survive, and for many of us they are a commonplace. Some of us think of them with amusement, as comic-strip characters, plush toys for children, or dancing, top-hatted figures on a box of candy. For others, turtles are a source of food and income, whether from selling a tortoise as a pet or showing tourists a sea turtle laboriously digging its nest in the sand. For some, turtles are even an object of veneration, to be protected and fed on the grounds of a temple. Humankind sees turtles as anything but what they really are: highly evolved, remarkable creatures, necessary components of their shrinking and ever more degraded ecosystems. We in the West have ceased to be amazed by them.

I have written this book because turtles do amaze me. I am not a herpetologist but an ornithologist, a student of birds, and turtles were always on the periphery of my attention. I could not help, though, collecting bits and pieces of information about them, and the more I learned the more astonished I became at the sheer range of adaptation in such superficially humble creatures.

As I have gone on from ornithology to a career in wildlife conservation, lobbying against the excesses of the international wildlife trade, turtles have come more and more into the center of my vision. In recent years, I have supported the ban on international trade in tortoiseshell, the beautiful scutes of the Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), and joined efforts to regulate the almost uncontrolled turtle markets of eastern Asia. I have tried to become not just an admirer of turtles but one of their advocates.

If you are not one already, I hope that this book will make you, too, their admirer and advocate. Turtles should fill you with a sense of wonder, and our treatment of them should fill you with a sense of concern. I know it is entirely unscientific to ascribe human qualities to the processes of evolution, but it is hard not to admire turtles for their sheer doggedness in having successfully made it this far; that they are here for us to wonder at means that we should wonder at them, and make sure that our children and grandchildren have the chance to do the same.

In 1953, the authors of Reptiles and Amphibians: A Guide to Familiar American Species wrote that turtles (and lizards, and snakes) "are interesting and unusual, although of minor importance. If they should all disappear, it would not make much difference one way or the other." Although we know better today, it is our generation that is presiding over their disappearance.

It is up to us to rescue turtles from the terrible trouble in which we have placed them. Turtles matter because of what they are; because of the path they have taken; because of their role in the natural world; because of their impact, over the centuries, on our society, culture and even our religions. They matter because it would be shameful if their long tread through 200 million years of evolutionary history should end through our negligence, our greed and our failure to act.



A Word about Words
Preface: Why Turtles Matter

Part I: What Turtles Are
Chapter 1: The Essential Turtle
Chapter 2: Turtles in Time
Chapter 3: Turtles Around the World I: Sidenecks and Hidden Necks
Chapter 4: Turtles Around the World II: Terrapins and Tortoises

Part II: How Turtles Live
Chapter 5: Under the Hood
Chapter 6: Life as a Turtle
Chapter 7: 'Twixt Plated Decks
Chapter 8: The Endless Journey

Part III: Will Turtles Survive?
Chapter 9: Peril on Land
Chapter 10: Peril at Sea

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