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Any of approximately 300 species (order Testudines) of reptiles that have a bony shell overlaid with horny shields and are found in most parts of the world. Turtles have existed for 200 million years, making them the oldest of all surviving reptiles. Most species are aquatic or semiaquatic; some are terrestrial. Turtles eat plants, animals, or both. They are toothless, have a horny beak, and range from less than 4 in. (10 cm) to more than 5 ft (1.5 m) long. They have sturdy, sprawling limbs with short feet or paddlelike flippers (marine turtles). Some species bend the neck sideways, but most pull the head and neck backward into the shell. Almost half of the known turtle species are rare, threatened, or endangered. See alsobox turtle; painted turtle; snapping turtle; softshell turtle; terrapin; tortoise.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on turtle, visit Britannica.com.