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Turtles are reptiles of the order Chelonia, and have an armor-like shell, and strong, beaked, toothless jaws. They are found throughout most of the temperate and tropical world. The land-living species are commonly called "tortoises." The species of turtle that lives in freshwater or brackish water is called "terrapin."
There are 200 to 300 species of turtle, classified in 12 families. The largest family of the Northern Hemisphere is the family of common freshwater turtles (Emydidae). Turtles are the oldest living group of reptiles, dating back to the time of the earliest dinosaurs.
Turtles can be found in or near ponds, slow streams, and swamps. Tortoises are generally found in more arid regions.
Both can be caught by hand. Caution: Some turtles and tortoises bite. A turtle that is four inches across the shell can bite off your finger. Do not even think about trying to catch one of these by hand. Enlist the help of an adult, and catch the turtle in a large bowl, then transfer it to a cloth bag, and then to a more permanent enclosure after you get it home.
A further note of caution: some turtles and tortoises (such as the desert tortoise) are protected by law in some areas. Before you go around catching animals, you need to check to see if there are restrictions.
Most turtles can be kept in an aquarium tank filled with 3 to 4 inches of water. Include a flat rock or other ramp in the tank so the turtle can crawl on it.
Box turtles and tortoises can be kept in a terrarium; woodland for some, and desert for others. Embed a pan of water in the soil of desert terrariums. Set the terrarium where it gets some sunshine and some shade. Be sure it doesn't get too warm.
Feed turtles once a day with commercial turtle food, insects, earthworms, or bits of raw hamburger. Most turtles will eat out of the water, but the painted turtle must feed in water.
Tortoises are vegetarians and eat less often than turtles. They will feed on slices of apple, berries, leafy vegetables, and lettuce. Be sure to change the water twice a week, and clean out uneaten food regularly.
Some turtles carry diseases, such as salmonella. Wash your hands with hot, soapy water after each incident of handling a turtle or any of its' stuff. Turtles purchased in pet stores should be certified as healthy and free from salmonella.
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