Learning about wildlife native to your area can be a great summer activity to share with your children. This activity involves learning about a creature loved by most kids – the turtle. Turtles or tortoises (who live on land) are found in just about every region – forests, deserts, lakes, marshes, grasslands, coastal areas – there are about 50 different species of turtles in North America.
Observing Turtles in the Wild
Before going online to research turtles, see if you can actually find some to watch. Observation is an excellent way to learn about wildlife. A good time to try and spot a turtle is in late spring/early summer when they are building nests and preparing to lay eggs. Since turtles blend well with their surroundings, a pair of binoculars could be helpful. Look towards the center of a creek for a sunny spot. Turtles like to warm themselves on top of a log or rock. Don’t worry if you can’t find any. The fun is going out looking. Bring some snacks, make up some turtle stories, pretend you are on safari. Just have a good time…besides, I’ve got a few back-up plans.
Observing Turtles in Captivity
You might actually get a better look at a turtle in a pet store than you would in the wild. Call the store up first to make sure that they carry turtles (because it is illegal to sell them in many states). If they’ve got them, gather your turtle troop and head on over to get a good look at the little guys. If your state doesn’t allow turtles to be sold in pet stores, contact your local zoo to see if they have turtles. They may even have the really large ones! That would be a really fun and educational outing. You might even be able to ask the zookeeper questions about the turtles to learn more.
If both your local pet store and zoo come up empty, there is another option that won’t let you down – the Internet! Go on a virtual turtle expedition. You won’t even need the binoculars. I’ve gathered a few sites that I can recommend:
- Photo Gallery of Turtles offers a series of a dozen quality images of both turtles and tortoises. Beneath each picture you will find some information about that turtle. Profiled species include the Russian tortoise, the loggerhead turtle, the box turtle, the green sea turtle, and the giant Galapagos tortoise. This website also provides many links to articles about turtles.
- All About Turtles is a website produced by the Gulf of Maine Aquarium. The content is simple but informative. Web pages include: Turtle Parts (an introduction to the turtle’s fascinating anatomy) and Turtle Species (the low down on 7 types of turtles found in the northeast). My favorite page is called A Tale of Two Turtles, in which a snapping turtle and a loggerhead turtle write their autobiographies.
- History of Turtles is a web page by Kidipede which gives a nice overview of how the turtle, one of the oldest reptiles on Earth, developed over the last 225 million years. For instance, the turtle was around when all of Earth’s land existed in the form of a single giant continent called Pangaea. When Pangaea broke into large pieces and drifted apart to form today’s continents, there were turtles on each section. That’s why there are turtles in every part of the world (except Antarctica).
- Kids Questions about Turtles is a fun and interesting web page that answers the most common questions that children ask about turtles. Questions like: How many kinds of turtles are there? Where do turtles live? Do turtles have ears? What is the largest and smallest turtle? How long do turtles live? This site also has links to photos of turtles.
- Year of the Turtle is an intriguing article about how turtle conservation groups have designated 2011 to be the Year of the Turtle to call awareness to the many turtle species threatened with extinction.
Turtle Videos Online
There are many Internet sites that offer streaming videos of turtles which can be downloaded for free. Turtles is a video clip by PBS from their children’s science series, Dragonfly TV. It shows how two young environmentalists study different endangered sea turtles. The Difference Between Tortoises and Turtles is another video which focuses on these amazing reptiles. This two minute clip features a very cool leopard tortoise and a speaker from the Kansas City Zoo. The Giant Tortoise is a three and a half minute video that introduces us to Alex, the Aldabra Giant Tortoise who has lived at the Smithsonian National Zoo since 1956.
Online Activities about Turtles
We’re not done yet, turtle enthusiasts! There are still a lot more websites about turtles out there. The ones that I am going to highlight offer interactive experiences designed to get everyone into the action. The Sea Turtle Adventure is a great webquest, developed for 2nd or 3rd graders. The interactive challenge is to help the sea turtle find a safe place to lay her eggs. As the webquest progresses lessons are learned about marine creatures and how the presence of humans can affect their environment. Another educational online activity is the Sea Turtle Quiz, produced by the Sea Turtle Conservancy. This activity is for middle school children. Before your kids take the quiz, have them explore the Conservancy website to gather some information about the turtles. They’re free to jot down some notes. Whenever they’re ready, they can take the quiz. Finally, How to Draw a Turtle is a really fun art activity which yields some surprisingly good results. Don’t forget to hang up the pictures. Remember, if you want your summer to move along slowly, fill it with turtles.