By Stacey Venzel
Determining the biggest and smallest of turtle species can be difficult. Is it based on length or weight? Body or shell size? Male or female? Average or record holder?
Most scientists take into account measurements of both length and weight to award titles of smallest and largest species. Conveniently, species with record holding individuals generally happen to take home the trophy when biologists base their findings on averages for both sexes.
The South African speckled padloper tortoise wins the gold for smallest living turtle. Both females and the slightly smaller adult male can fit in your palm at a body length of less than 4 inches (10 cm). A number of freshwater species are close contenders, including the male Texas map turtle and Cagle’s map turtles, both of which rarely grow longer than 4 inches.
The leatherback sea turtle towers over any other turtle in weight and length. The largest adult on record reached a length of 8.5 feet (2.5 m) weighing in at more than 2,000 pounds (907 kg) —about the size of a modern smart car! Galapagos and Aldabra tortoises are tied for a far distant second place with the largest being measured at 4 feet (1.2 m) and up to 900 pounds (408 kg).
Whit Gibbons, Judy Greene, Turtle: The Animal Answer Guide (Baltimore, The John Hopkins University Press, 2009), 12, 15-16.