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Creation 21(2):28–31, March 1999

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Editor’s note: As Creation magazine has been continuously published since 1978, we are publishing some of the articles from the archives for historical interest, such as this. For teaching and sharing purposes, readers are advised to supplement these historic articles with more up-to-date ones suggested in the Related Articles and Further Reading below.


These uniquely designed creatures continue to defy evolutionary explanation …


With its armoured shell, thick leathery skin and slow movement, the turtle is one of the most easily recognized creatures on earth.


Generally, the marine-dwelling species are known as turtles, and their land-dwelling counterparts as tortoises. But in the United Kingdom almost all are called tortoises (terrapin is the name given to the smaller species commonly used for food). Those on land have short sturdy legs, while those living in marine environments possess powerful flippers, or paddles, for swimming.

Despite differences in size, diet, and shell design, there are really only two main types of turtles: the straight necks (Cryptodira) and side necks (Pleurodira),1 terms which refer to the way the turtle withdraws its neck into its shell. This suggests that turtles, all now classified in the reptile order Chelonia, were originally created in at least two separate basic kinds.

The protective shell, an integral part of the turtle’s anatomy, is a casing of bone covered by horny shields (except for the soft-shelled tortoise and the leatherback turtle). Plates of bone are fused with ribs, vertebrae and parts of the shoulder and hip. Although shells vary from family to family, the basic structure remains the same.

As such, because the turtle’s ribs are immovable, it is unable to breathe like other reptiles (or, for that matter, like man). Instead, abdominal muscles perform the function of the ribs: two muscles enlarge the chest cavity to breathe in, and others press the organs against the lungs to force the air out.2

The giant among the living turtles is the marine leatherback, which can grow up to about 2.7 metres long (8.9 feet) with a body mass of about 680 kilograms (1,500 pounds); the largest land turtle is the Galápagos tortoise at 255 kilograms (560 pounds).3

Although there are plenty of stories about the longevity of turtles, they do not need long periods of time to grow. They are generally fully grown within 10 years, and growth in a large species may be more rapid than in man.4 There is anecdotal evidence of turtles living for more than 150 years, though some experts consider this may be due to confusing two separate turtles whose periods of captivity overlapped.5

© Gary Bell, oceanwideimages.comturtle-eggs
The female turtles will often navigate unerringly over vast distances to return to the same beach, skillfully excavating depressions of sand in order to deposit, then cover, their precious load of fertilized eggs.

Young Loggerhead turtles have an amazing navigation system, involving detecting magnetic fields—see Turtles can read magnetic maps.

One of the most spectacular sights in the wild is that of a marine turtle laying its eggs on the beach at night, and the subsequent dash of the hatchlings to the water. The female green turtle (Chelonia mydas) crawls up the beach to a point above the high tide line and excavates a shallow depression, using all four flippers, then digs an egg pit in the bottom of the depression. The sand is removed by hind flippers, used alternately. Incredibly, the flipper is curved and gently lowered to get and transport its load, a feat often performed without loss of sand. A final flip sends the sand directly backward and clear of the hole.

The female then deposits the eggs, usually two at a time (a clutch, as the nest of eggs is called, can have between 100 and 200 eggs), and carefully covers them. Before leaving, she hides the evidence of her activity by flinging sand about with her front flippers. The whole process takes a few hours.4

The time needed for the eggs to hatch depends on the heat of the sun. When the tiny turtles finally emerge, they instinctively make their way to the water. However, a host of opportunistic predators ensures that only a few make it out to the safety of deep water. Fish hawks and sea birds somehow seem to know when the hatchlings are due and are ready when they make their appearance. Even at the water’s edge the ordeal is by no means over, with sharks and other predatory fish continually cruising the shallow water. The hatchling’s flippers are surprisingly long for its size, which heightens its chances for survival.

Given the incredibly specific features of turtle anatomy, it should be easy (if evolution were true) to trace its supposed evolutionary roots. The New Encyclopaedia Britannica boldly claims that ‘the evolution of the turtle is one of the most remarkable in the history of the vertebrates.’ However, in the very next sentence it states: ‘Unfortunately the origin of this highly successful order is obscured by the lack of early fossils, although turtles leave more and better fossil remains than do other vertebrates.’2


‘Living fossil’ turtle evidence—no evolution

The fossil turtle Allaeochelys crassesculptata shown at right is from Germany’s Messel oil shale.

Note how the two beautifully preserved fossil specimens appear to have been buried together catastrophically. They are practically identical with the living Carettochelys insculpta shown just below it (photo available in Creation magazine). This turtle, which has a slippery skin over its domed carapace, inhabits Papua New Guinea and the northern tip of Australia (the specimen shown is still alive at Joachim Scheven’s superb museum Lebendige Vorwelt, in Hagen, Germany. Photos and information were kindly supplied by Dr Scheven).

According to evolutionary belief, some 50 million years have supposedly passed between the two. The evidence indicates otherwise.

Evolutionists claim turtles first appeared during the Triassic Period (supposedly 200 million years ago), when they were ‘numerous and in possession of basic turtle characteristics.’ Turtles allegedly sprang from the ‘primitive’ reptiles called cotylosaurs, yet intermediates are ‘completely lacking.’2

Faced with this glaring lack of evolutionary evidence, Britannica asserts: ‘The turtles however, have plodded a stolid and steady course through evolutionary time, changing very little in basic structure [emphasis added].’6

Dr Duane Gish, in his book Evolution: The Fossils Still Say NO!7, says that given the amazingly unique structure of turtles, it should be a rather easy task to find the transitional forms to trace the evolutionary path from ancestral reptile to turtle, if that is in fact what has happened. He explains that the changes would not be subtle, but obvious, even to someone with no training in anatomy or paleontology.

Yet not one transitional form has ever been discovered. Dr Gish quotes a series of evolutionists, each freely admitting to this truth. One such comment comes from Colbert and Morales: ‘The first true turtles made their appearance by the late part of the Triassic period, by which time they were far advanced along the lines of adaptive radiation typical of modern turtles … .’8

Creationist Randall Martin also makes a valid point in questioning why a reptile would need to develop a protective shell on its back (if turtles really did evolve from non-shelled reptiles as claimed). Surely, he says, an incomplete shell would give little protection. Any tiny advantage would be far outweighed by the serious disadvantages of a cumbersome hindrance in getting away from predators.9

The biblical account of Creation in Genesis 1—animals created to reproduce after their kinds—would mean that turtles should be instantly recognizable as turtles, with the shell and other unique features fully formed from the start,7 and no series of ‘pre-turtle ancestors’ should be found. It is obvious that the fossil record of turtles gives powerful support to biblical Creation, and stands opposed to the idea of evolution.

Turtle tid-bits!

  1. The green turtle is the most widely eaten species of reptile (particularly popular as turtle soup), and the giant Galápagos tortoise almost became extinct in the 19th century, because it was popular food for seafarers.1 Turtles, except for several extinct species, lack teeth, having instead upper and lower horny plates that serve to bite off chunks of food.
  2. Even without teeth, turtles can be dangerous. Temminck’s Snapper (the snapping turtle) is renowned for snapping and biting viciously at everything placed within its reach, using its powerful cutting beak. Many cases of serious injuries have been recorded where people have happened to swim too near these snap-happy creatures. The larger ones of these have also been known to drag under and devour large ducks and even geese.2
  3. The shell of the box turtle (Terrapene) is so strong it can readily support a weight 200 times greater than its own; a man with proportionate supporting power could bear up two large African elephants!3
  4. Although they may be able to determine airborne sounds, turtles do not rely on hearing. Instead, they appear to depend heavily on their sense of smell, and they also see well. Turtles rarely emit sounds, except when mating, and probably communicate through visual signals. (Some tortoises have glands to secrete chemicals, which they use to mark their territories.)
  5. Land tortoises are vegetarian, eating leaves, grass, and in some cases even cactus. Turtles generally prefer small invertebrates such as worms, snails, slugs, and crustaceans, while the larger marine turtles are able to catch fish.
  6. Proverbially, the tortoise is one of the slowest animals alive today, but while this may be true for the land dwellers, aquatic turtles are known to travel quite a bit faster, even when on land.

References and notes

  1. The New Encyclopaedia Britannica 26:688, 15th Edition, 1992.
  2. Hutchinson’s Animals of all Countries, Part XXVI, Hutchinson & Co., London, p. 1224, 1924.
  3. The New Encyclopaedia Britannica 26:704, 15th Edition, 1992.
Posted on homepage: 16 July 2014

References and notes

  1. Wayne Frair, Original Kinds and Turtle Phylogeny, Creation Research Society Quarterly 28(1):22, June 1991. Return to text.
  2. The New Encyclopaedia Britannica 26:704, 15th Edition, 1992. Return to text.
  3. Ref. 2, p. 688. Return to text.
  4. Ref. 2, p. 703. Return to text.
  5. Ref. 2, p. 692. Return to text.
  6. Ref. 2, p. 705. Return to text.
  7. Duane Gish, Evolution: The Fossils Still Say NO!, pp. 112–115, Institute for Creation Research, California, 1995. An article in Nature magazine by Ren Hirayama, 392(6678):705, 16 April 1998 also mentions the lack of fossil evidence for turtle evolution, The fossil record of chelonioids before the Late Cretaceous has been poorly documented. Return to text.
  8. E.H. Colbert and M. Morales, Evolution of the Vertebrates, New York: John Wiley and Sons, p. 216, 1999, cited in Gish, Ref. 7. Return to text.
  9. Randall Martin, The Phantom Bridge Exposed: The Latest Turtle Attack, Creation Research Society Quarterly 33(1):17, 1996. Return to text.

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