The Turtle Reunion
Copyright 2017 - Linda L. Rigsbee
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Written and illustrated by author Linda L. Rigsbee. Also available as a reusable coloring book. Use washable markers on this laminated book to color, then wipe clean and color again.
    Invitations to the turtle reunion were sent all over the world. Some family members arrived by land and some by water. Some called themselves turtles. Some were known as tortoises and some called themselves terrapins, but they were all the same family - chelonian.
Do people at your family reunions have different last names?
    The Chelonian family members lived in different environments, or habitats. Some countries do not separate them by habitat. In Spanish, Turtles, Terrapins and Tortoises are all called Tortugas, but in the United States, they are given names according to their habitat.
    Turtles are aquatic. They live in or near the water.
    Terrapins are semi-aquatic. They move from land to water
    Tortoises are Terrestrial. They live on land almost all the time.

Do members of your family live in different environments?
    Living in different habitats, turtles look different. Most turtles have five toes in front, but some only have 3 or 4 on their rear feet. Turtles that swim a lot often have webbed toes - skin between the toes that helps them swim. Some have no toes on front. They have flippers instead. Some turtles have long toenails.
Do you know someone with long fingernails?
    When turtles gather, it is called a bale of turtles or a creep of tortoises. Of course, in this case, it is called a reunion.
    Like all family reunions, the turtle family members look and act differently. Some are big; some are small; some are friendly and some are grouchy. All these family members are on different diets, so that means a lot of different food must be provided.
Is there a large variety of food at your family reunions?
All turtles have some sort of shell. The top part is called the carapace. The bottom is the plastron and the sides are called the bridges. Some turtles have hard shells, but some are soft and feel like rubber. The hard shells are made of the same kind of material as your fingernails. Hard shells often have a ridge at the top, called the keel. The sections on the turtle shell are called scutes, and they grow as the turtle gets bigger. The old part of the shell flakes off as they grow.

Have you ever seen a turtle with a damaged or flaking shell?

    Scientists believe that turtles are one of the oldest and most primitive groups of reptiles, and that they have been on earth over 200 million years. They probably had to be careful that dinosaurs didn't step on them! Back then turtles couldn't retract into their shells, but they had teeth, so maybe dinosaurs were careful not to step on turtles.
What things are you careful not to step on?
    There were no turtles with teeth at the reunion, but there were turtles that couldn't retract into their shells.
    Freddie Frog Faced Soft Shell Turtle made it all the way in from southeast Asia. He had a rubbery shell that he couldn't draw back into for protection. He probably didn't need to. Freddie could strike faster than a cobra and had a bite powerful enough to crush bones!
   Freddie spent most of his time hiding under the mud on the bottom of slow moving rivers with only his eyes, mouth and nose showing. He could hold his breath so long that he only came up two times a day to take a breath!

Can anyone in your family hold their breath a long time?
    Lute Leatherback Sea Turtle was the biggest turtle at the reunion. She was almost 6 feet long and weighed nearly 1,500 pounds!
Like all Leatherbacks, she was dark gray with white spots and had seven ridges along her back. Instead of having a hard shell, hers was soft and felt like leather or rubber. Instead of feet, she had long flippers with no claws.

    Lute was the reason they had the reunion on the beach. She was completely aquatic – she couldn’t live long out of the water. In fact, female Leatherbacks only come out of the water when they lay eggs - or in this case - attend a reunion. Of course, she couldn't stay long.

Are there people at your family reunions who don't stay long?
Lute wasn't the only kind of sea turtle in the ocean. Her cousins, the 
Loggerheads, Hawksbill, Flatback, Green, Kemp Ridley and Olive Ridley lived there too. It would be a big reunion if all our relatives got to attend, wouldn't it?
Lute was a gelatinivore. She mostly ate jellyfish and small gelatinous invertebrates (animals with no bones). Since those are considered flesh (meat) she might also be called a carnivore (meat eater). Lute sometimes ate seaweed, though. Wouldn't that make her an omnivore, (eats meat and plants)?
Do you see how complicated diets can get?
    Not all turtles are slow. Syble Spiny Softshell Turtle swam down from Missouri. She could travel up to 15 miles per hour! That may not seem fast if you are in a car, but the average human can only run 28 miles per hour and most of us walk about 3 miles per hour. It is unlikely that you will catch Syble, but if you do, be careful. She can twist her long neck around and bite you!
Do you have any relatives that can run faster than you?
Ima Indian Flapshell Turtle arrived from India as the last of the softshell turtles. Ima had flaps on her plastron to protect her tail and feet when she retracted them into her shell. It is thought that she has this adaptation to help her retain moisture during dry spells.

Can you think of anyone who has found ways to adapt to hard times?
The biggest tortoise at the reunion was Grandma Tortoise, who was over four feet long and weighed almost 500 lbs! Her home was in the Galapagos Islands of the Atlantic Ocean, near Ecuador in South America.
Grandma was over 100 years old but she still had a healthy appetite. Grandma Tortoise was herbivorous. She liked grass, weeds and cactus, but she also liked other plants, as well as fruit.

Who is the biggest person at your family reunions?

Grandma brought her cousin with her. Gladys' shell was different than Grandma's. Grandma lived in an area where she sometimes had to stretch her head up high for food. Gladys' carapace was shaped more like a dome.
Grandma and Gladys weren't good swimmers, so they took a boat to the mainland and walked from there. They were slow, but their stubby little feet were strong. Of course, they didn't have to rent a place to stay at night. They just drew back into their shells.

Do any of your family members bring their homes with them when they come to the reunion?
    The smallest tortoise at the reunion was Nano Tortoise. He was a Cape Speckled Padloper Tortoise from South Africa. He was only 3 inches long and weighed only 3 ounces! He liked to hide in rocky areas and eat plants that contained a lot of water. South Africa would be a long way for such a tiny tortoise to travel, but Nano lives in the herpetarium in the St. Louis, Missouri zoo.
If you're ever there, drop by to say hi to him.
    Twinkle Indian Star Tortoise came from Sri Lanka, an island in the Indian Ocean. Twinkle had a special skill. When someone flipped her over, she didn't get stuck on her back. She flipped right back up. That was due to the shape of her carapace (remember, that's the upper part of her shell).
Does someone in your family have a special skill?
    Leonard Leopard Tortoise was from the savannas of Southern Africa. He was only 14, but he might live to be 80 years old. His carapace was yellowish with black markings similar to a leopard. He weighed about 45 pounds and liked to eat grasses. He was herbivorous because he didn't eat meat.
Do you have any vegetarians in your family?
 If you do, they are herbivorous!
    Alex Alligator Snapping Turtle was the scariest one in the family. He hailed from down Texas way. He had spikes on his shell and his head was huge. He weighed over a hundred pounds and he was almost 30 inches long. He had a long nose and a sharp hooked beak. He had claws on his feet, but the strangest thing about him was the way he used his tongue to lure animals into his mouth. Alex was a carnivore and sometimes he even ate other turtles!
Do you think the other turtles were glad to see Alex?
Billy Box Turtle came from Arkansas. He had a hinged plastron that allowed him to completely pull within his shell and close it tight. Billy was an omnivore. He ate slugs, worms, insects, frogs, fish, berries, fungus, roots and even birds and their eggs. He was not a picky eater.

Is there someone in your family who likes almost everything?
Mark Mata-Mata Turtle came from the Amazon basin in South America. He was one strange looking dude. His head looked like a dead leaf. He would lay on the bottom of a shallow stream and wait for fish to come by. Then he would open his mouth wide, suck them in and swallow them whole!
He was able to lie still under water for a long time by using his long thin proboscis (that's a nose) like a snorkel to breathe. Looking like a leaf allowed him to hide in plain sight.

Do you know someone in your family who is good at hiding?
    Sam Snake Neck Turtle came from eastern Australia. Insects, worms, tadpoles, frogs and small fish were on his diet. He was sometimes called a stinker because if he was frightened, his musk glands could make an awful smell.
Ummm….are there stinkers in your family?
Jarvis Jardine River Turtle traveled from New Guinea. He had stripes on his face that made him look like he was wearing a mask. He looked comical, but, of course, you shouldn't laugh at people because of the way they look. His real name was Jarvis Red Bellied Short Neck Turtle. That was a lot to say, so people just called him Jarvis Jardine River Turtle.
Do some people in your family have nick names?
    Mary and Matt Map Turtle lived in a river and their family ranged all over central North America. They were named map turtles because their shells resembled the topography lines on a map. They were omnivorous and had the ability to absorb oxygen through their skin. This helped when they hibernated during the winter. They probably didn't need instructions to get to the reunion - or anywhere else, did they?

Do people need instructions on how to get to your family reunions?

    Pattie Pancake Tortoise came from east Africa. Her carapace was almost as flat as a pancake. It was flexible so she could wedge herself in between rocks and get away from predators. She was fast and a good climber.
Who is the best climber in your family?
Reeves Chinese Three-Keeled Pond Turtle came from Japan. In addition to having a keel in the center, like other turtles, she had one more on each side. Reeves was omnivorous. She liked aquatic plants and fruit as well as worms, frogs, fish and aquatic insects. Even though she was a turtle, Reeves wasn't a very good swimmer.
Are there members of your family who don't swim well?
    Everyone enjoyed the visit and all too soon the reunion was over. Everyone left for their long trip home. Maybe in the next year or so they would have another reunion. Maybe each turtle would tell others how much fun it was and there would be more next time. There are over 300 different kinds of turtles, terrapins and tortoises in the world, so it could get pretty crowded if one from every family attended. Just think of all the food they would eat, and what a mess there would be to clean up after they left!
Do you help clean up after your family reunion?

    If you are thinking about getting a pet turtle after reading this book, remember that, like you, they are happiest when they are free. The pet trade is one thing that has forced many turtles to near extinction.
    If you see a turtle in the road, help it across the road and don't keep it. Pick it up by holding the back of the carapace and plastron. Cary it across the road in the direction it was going and gently set it down. That's how you can be a friend to a turtle.
    Remember that turtles can have salmonella germs on them that could make you sick. Be sure to wash your hands with soap after you touch a turtle.
    Never pick up a snapping turtle. It could bite your finger off! Always be safe!
    If you leave turtles alone, you will probably see more of them in the wild. They are much more exciting to observe that way!
Dianne Diamondback Terrapin lived in a tidal marsh in Cape Cod. Diamondbacks are the only terrapins in the world that live only in "brackish water" (water that contains some salt, but not as much as in the ocean.) She liked to eat fish, snails, worms and clams. Her feet were webbed and she was a strong swimmer.
Does anyone in your family live near the ocean?
Raymond Red-Eared Slider Terrapin came from Mississippi, but some of his relatives were captured to use as pets and then released in places where they brought diseases to the native turtles. In those places they were put on the invasive species list.
Raymond doesn't like cold weather but he doesn't hibernate. He brumates - stays inactive during low temperatures.
Are there people in your family who don't like cold weather?

    This book is available in 6" x 9" print format at Amazon as well as 9" x 11.5" handcrafted laminated coloring book. Also available as an 5.5" x 8.5" handcrafted book.
    The laminated coloring book allows children to color with washable markers, wipe it clean and color again.
    The handcrafted books are purchased directly from the author. Click the purple button below to browse all formats and locations.
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Peter Painted River Terrapin came from a mangrove swamp in Borneo, southeast Asia. He liked plants and grasses and in the summer, he had a red cap on the top of his head. He liked plants and grasses. He uses his nose like a snorkel.
Does anyone in your family wear a hat during the summer?
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