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(also land turtle), a general name for tortoises that live on dry land and in freshwaters, as contrasted with sea turtles. In a narrower sense, the name is used to designate turtles of the family Testudinidae of the order Testudinata.
Land tortoises range in length from 10 cm to 1 m and greater (for example, elephant tortoises). The extremely strong shell is usually high and spherical. The upper shell, or carapace, is firmly joined with the lower shell, or plastron. Both shells are covered with thick, large horny shields; the head and feet are covered with small shields. The toes have been fused together so that only the short claws move separately. The head can be retracted completely into the shell. The flat African turtle (Malacochersus tomieri) of Kenya and Tanzania has a soft, flattened shell, which makes hiding under rocks and in rock crevices possible.
There are more than ten genera of land tortoises, comprising about 40 species. Most species are found in Africa, but some are also encountered in Asia, southern Europe, and America. Although the animals are slow moving, they are very hardy in unfavorable environmental conditions. Some land tortoises have a life-span of 100 years or more. The animals are primarily herbivorous. Their eggs have a calcareous shell. Two species of land tortoise are found in the USSR. The European tortoise (Testudo graeca), which has a spherical shell and is five-toed, is found on the Black Sea coast and in eastern Transcaucasia and Dagestan. The tortoise Agrionemys horsfieldi, which has a.flattened shell and four toes on the front legs, is found in southern Kazakhstan and the plains of Middle Asia.
L. I. KHOZATSKII