Turtles are an order of reptiles known as Testudines, characterized by a shell developed mainly from their ribs. Modern turtles are divided into two major groups, the side-necked turtles and hidden neck turtles which differ in the way the head retracts. There are 360 living and recently extinct species of turtles, including land-dwelling tortoises and freshwater terrapins. They are found on most continents, some islands and, in the case of sea turtles, much of the ocean. Like other reptiles, birds, and mammals, they breathe air and do not lay eggs underwater, although many species live in or around water. Genetic evidence typically places them in close relation to crocodilians and birds.
Turtle shells are made mostly of bone; the upper part is the domed carapace, while the underside is the flatter plastron or belly-plate. Its outer surface is covered in scales made of keratin, the material of hair, horns, and claws. The carapace bones develop from ribs that grow sideways and develop into broad flat plates that join up to cover the body. Turtles are ectotherms or "cold-blooded", meaning that their internal temperature varies with their direct environment. They are generally opportunistic omnivores and mainly feed on plants and animals with limited movements. Many turtles migrate short distances seasonally. Sea turtles are the only reptiles that migrate long distances to lay their eggs on a favored beach.
Turtles have appeared in myths and folktales around the world. Some terrestrial and freshwater species are widely kept as pets. Turtles have been hunted for their meat, for use in traditional medicine, and for their shells. Sea turtles are often killed accidentally as bycatch in fishing nets. Turtle habitats around the world are being destroyed. As a result of these pressures, many species are threatened with extinction.
Turtles are widely distributed across the world's continents, oceans, and islands with terrestrial, fully aquatic, and semi-aquatic species. Sea turtles are mainly tropical and subtropical, but leatherbacks can be found in temperate areas of the Atlantic and Pacific. Living Pleurodira all live in freshwater and are found only in the Southern Hemisphere. The Cryptodira include terrestrial, freshwater, and marine species, and these range more widely. The world regions richest in non-marine turtle species are the Amazon basin, the Gulf of Mexico drainages of the United States, and parts of South and Southeast Asia.
For turtles in colder climates, their distribution is limited by constraints on reproduction, which is reduced by long hibernations. North American species barely range above the southern Canadian border. Some turtles are found at high altitudes, for example, the species Terrapene ornata occurs up to 2,000 m (6,600 ft) in New Mexico. Conversely, the leatherback sea turtle can dive over 1,200 m (3,900 ft). Species of the genus Gopherus can tolerate body temperatures from below freezing to over 40 °C (104 °F), though they are most active at 26–34 °C (79–93 °F).