Freshly Baked Science
29th October 2018
If you’ve ever been in a really embarrassing situation, I guarantee you wished you could be a turtle and retract your head into your body and hide away until everyone has left… just me? Ok. But seriously, a turtle’s ability to retract its neck and head into its shell for protection is a very unique and useful trait (especially for an animal so slow!).
Turtles haven’t always been able to retract their necks, as evidence from fossils show that the earliest turtle ancestors had rigid necks that couldn’t retract. More recent fossils show that the first adaption of a turtle’s neck was the ability to partially retract the neck, but not enough to get it inside the shell for protection.
As well as partially drawing the neck in, the turtle was able to quickly snap it back out again. This led scientists to believe that the reason for the retracting neck was to be able to shoot out their head to catch prey easily, much like modern turtles do!
Modern turtles are now able to completely retract their whole neck and head into their shell for protection, even though the original adaption was for hunting. The continued evolution changed the purpose of the adaption, improving the turtle's ability to survive!
A turtle’s shell is also made of multiple pieces, so despite its rigid looks, there is actually quite a lot of flexibility in it, allowing room for the turtle when it goes into hiding!
Do you have an embarrassing story, where you wished you could hide in your shell? Let us know via social media (@wonkscience) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org), for a chance to have your story in our magazine (let us know if you want to stay anonymous)!