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Not to be confused with the 1995 animated series.
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Mythical creatures of mystery: fish, whales, or turtles (there's a definite preference for turtles over any other animal) big enough to be mistaken for islands or even continents have shown up in Mythology and Legends for thousands of years. If it's a turtle, the proper term is Aspidochelone. They are often portrayed as being so large and ancient that soil and plantlife have grown on its back, sometimes ancient species containing something so rare that the hero (or villain) must marvel at it or try to obtain it. Often the hero gets only a brief opportunity to marvel at its existence, before it decides to set out and dive deep underwater, leaving the protagonist high and dry (or wet and drowning if he doesn't manage to get off in time). How the fauna and flora on its back can survive and grow when it frequently dives underwater is rarely addressed.

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A variant of this trope place the best on land rather than in the sea — a Turtle Hill, so to speak. In these cases, the creature may be mistaken for a regular hill or mountain, as soil and dirt may cover its body entirely and forests or villages grow on its back, until something prompts it to move and a piece of the landscape stands up and walks away.

A Sub-Trope of That's No Moon!. See also Kraken and Leviathan for other gargantuan sea creatures.

If Earth is one of these, there's a good chance it's Turtles All the Way Down. If it's a dead turtle, it's a Giant Corpse World.


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Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Detective Conan: A three part episode takes place in a turtle shaped island around Okinawa.
  • Digimon:
    • Digimon Savers: El Doradimon is a tortoise big enough to bear a temple and its surrounding jungle on its back.
    • Digimon Tamers has Ebonwumon, a two-headed turtle with a tree growing on its shell, as a downplayed example of this trope.
    • Digimon Xros Wars gives us KingWhamon, who carries the Island Zone on his head.
  • In Guardian Fairy Michel, Sitel is a fairy who happens to be one of these. And he can fly.
  • Kurohime: Genbu is a Spirit King who occasionally tromps around a nearby continent and is covered in ogres. He's also a Grumpy Old Man.
  • In Naruto, Naruto and Killer Bee hide and train on an island turtle (which has long since been guarded by the Cloud Village), which is a very good place to hide because they can get it to move if they need to. And apparently it's not a summon, unlike the usual giant beasts seen. Gai's personal summon is shocked by the size of one of the turtles who promptly informs him it's only a hatchling.
  • One Piece:
    • The Island Eater is a giant goldfish that eats islands. Its subsequent feces are mistaken for islands.
    • The Giant Mechanical Soldier of Karakuri Castle: Meka Island turns out to be the back of a gigantic turtle. Its Japanese name, read backwards, read as "Shimagame" — meaning, of course, "Island Turtle".
    • Another example appears at the start of the series twelfth opening. The Straw Hats only realize this after having been playing on the island for some time and end up fleeing.
    • A variation on this is the island of Zou, which is on the back of an ancient elephant.
  • In Toriko, one of the Gourmet World's residents is a tortoise that carries an entire fortress city is on its back.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh!: Capsule Monsters, the island the heroes first board without realizing is the back of an island turtle.
  • In Arabian Nights: Adventures of Sinbad, the main character encounters an island on the back of a whale.

    Art 
  • On the Carta Marina of 1539, the English ("Angli") have cast anchor on a giant whale and are in the process of boiling a kettle on its back.

    Card Games 
  • Magic: The Gathering:
    • The old card Island Fish Jasconius, based on the fish from Saint Brendan's legend under Mythology.
    • A more recent example is Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle a tremendous kraken with a city on its back that becomes both the site and the subject of a violent dispute between the sea god Thassa and the Planeswalker Kiora.
    • Hamletback Goliath depicts a couple of goblins living on the Goliath's back, and plant growth that makes it look like a mountain.
  • In Magi-Nation, the underwater civilization of Orothe builds some of their cities on the backs of giant sea turtles, as seen here. They're mostly mermaids and the turtles themselves usually stay submerged.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!: Island Turtle is, naturally, an example.

    Comic Books 
  • The Authority: Infinite City, the place where all the Jenny incarnations that have passed are placed, is a city on the back of a giant turtle.
  • In Forets D Opale, a series by the author of Lanfeust, a smaller and and land-based version exists, looking like a six-limbed sea turtle with trees on its back. It gets a Dying Moment of Awesome when it gets rid of an enemy ship by diving under it and ramming it from below, sinking soon after.
  • Lanfeust: The Magohamoth isn't exactly a turtle, and it's intelligent and speaks to people telepathically, but it fits this trope otherwise. The protagonists follow its trail to an island off the coast of a river delta, and after some bizarre hallucinations we get a Distant Reaction Shot, and the entire island is what they were looking for. Below the waterline it looks sort of like a manatee. With a volcano on its back.

    Fanfiction 
  • Kaiju Revolution: This incarnation of the lost continent of Mu is an utterly colossal filter-feeding anomalocarid Kaiju that has a unique ecosystem inside and outside its body and also serves as a nesting ground to other kaiju.
  • Monster Island, a Doctor Who fanfic, has an island called Monster Island which turns out to be a shapeshifting alien monster, one of the Volmiy-Shapebeasts.
  • Pokédex: Torterra are mentioned to have been mistaken for islands before when they grow large enough and hibernate. They usually get mistaken for hills or other parts of the landscape, but they are also noted to be naturally buoyant and good swimmers, and as such it's common for a sleeping Torterra adrift at sea to be mistaken for an island. It turns out that Sinnoh itself is a Torterra of tremendous size.

    Films — Animated 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Neverending Story: The giant turtle Morla, who lives in the Swamps of Sadness and is first perceived by Atreyu to be a hill of some sort.
  • In Pokémon Detective Pikachu, what the main characters think is a mountain range is actually a group of Torterra subjected to growth experiments, big enough to play this trope straight.

    Gamebooks 
  • Seas of Blood contains a sleeping Sea Monster mistaken for an island. Essentially, its only purpose is to rob you of some crew members, as the pirates who are exploring the island when it wakes up all meet a watery death.

    Literature 
  • Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox has krakens, which are described as like an "acorn barnacle, albeit a barnacle which could easily house an Olympic Stadium or two". They are often mistaken for islands.
  • Abarat Days Of Magic Nights Of War: Near the end, Candy Quakenbush washes up on the shores of an island and happily dozes. The island is not actually a turtle, but another kind of creature entirely, with a tree and other foliage growing straight out of its back. Interestingly, Candy first realizes she must be on a creature instead of an island because real islands in the Abarat are frozen at a single hour of the day, and she notices that the light has changed since she washed ashore.
  • Book of Imaginary Beings: The Fastitocalon, a great whale whose slumbering form can be mistaken for an island. When sailors land on it and kindle a fire on its back, the Fastitocalon awakes and dives back into the sea, dragging the sailors to their doom. In ancient times it was called the Aspidochelone and was described as a turtle, but the name became corrupted over time and one sea beast replaced the other. There is also the zaratan, which is much the same thing. The kraken is also often mistaken for an island.
  • Discworld:
    • Taken to extremes with Great A'tuin, a space-traveling star turtle that carries four less-giant elephants on its back, who in turn carry the Discworld itself on their backs. A Turtle Planet, if you like.
    • There's also a parody in Jingo: Leonard dismisses sailors' tales about giant turtles being mistaken for islands as obvious myths, on the grounds that "you don't get giant turtles that small".
  • Doctor Dolittle: A humongous sea snail appears in one of the later books.
  • Hungry Kid Island, by Shel Silverstein, about an island that's Exactly What It Says on the Tin: the scalp of a giant hungry child.
    Oh, I'm goin' to Hungry Kid Island,
    Way out in the shimmerin' sea.
    There's probably hungry kids out there
    Who'll share my lunch with me.
    But why call it Hungry Kid Island?
    There's no kids around that I see,
    So I'm goin' to Hungry Kid Island
    To solve this mystery.
  • Iron Council: A terrestrial variant appears, with an entire small city is built/carved into the back of a gargantuan tortoise that wanders the plains. People who step off it needn't worry about drowning, but might have to walk a ways to catch up to their home if they stay away long.
  • The Lord of the Isles: There's a Turtle Island in the first book. True to Drake's own brand of "realistic" fantasy, the only life present is sea plants.
  • The Neverending Story: When Atreyu heads into the Swamp of Sadness to look for Morla the Aged One, the oldest and wisest of Fantastica's mortal creatures, he's told to look for a hill named Turtle Rock. When he finds it, he also discovers that Morla doesn't live in Turtle Rock — she is Turtle Rock, as she a tortoise so vase that her shell is the size of a good-sized hillock.
  • Pagoo: In an already-submerged and miniature example, the baby hermit crab takes shelter in a tiny vacant shell that's attached to a cluster of stalked barnacles, only to be shaken about when his new home starts crawling. He's unwittingly become a tenant of "Traveling Towers", a barnacle-colony atop a snail shell which an adult hermit crab (Pagoo's "landlady") is wearing.
  • In The Reader (2016), Reed and his crew encounter one on their voyage to the end of the world.
  • Ringworld: In The Ringworld Engineers, Louis Wu discounts tales of such creatures, knowing the same stories had been told speciously by Earth sailors. Of course, the Great Ocean on Ringworld is many thousands of times bigger than the puny little puddles on Earth, so it's not wholly unexpected when it's confirmed such "islandfish" really do exist there.
  • The Saga of Arrow-Odd: Sailing past Greenland, Odd sights a small island covered with heather and sends five men to explore it. The island goes down, drowning the men. Afterwards Odd learns what looked like an island was the back of the sea-monster Lyngbakr ("Heather-Back").
  • Star Trek: Titan: Referenced in Over a Torrent Sea, when the characters observe floating "islands" in the ocean of planet Droplet. Torvig asks a Chelon crewman (as the name suggests, Chelon are turtle-men) if they're relatives of his.
  • Tolkien's Legendarium: The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, there is a hobbit rhyme about "Fastitocalon", a giant turtle mistaken for an island. Tolkien got the name from an Anglo-Saxon verse bestiary; it was a distortion of the Greek "aspidochelone" ("Shield-Turtle").
  • The Stormlight Archive: In a "making of" video by Brandon Sanderson about the writing process of the second book, it's revealed that there's a part of the world with several islands like this. Except, this being Roshar, the giant beasts in question are greatshells, not turtles. Words of Radiance itself reveals they are apparently at least near-sapient as after a minor heroine seriously impressed one of them (which is worshiped by its inhabitants) it gave her a a larkin (a crabdragonwasp thing) as a reward.

    Live Action TV 
  • Used in-Universe on one episode of Star Trek: Voyager. The crew encounters a traveler in a space-port bar who claims to have landed on a moon, started a fire, only for the "moon" to unfurl and start moving, sending him clamoring for his spaceship and barely escaping alive. Unsurprisingly, everyone else in the bar treats it as a ridiculous tall tale.

    Music 
  • The Italian singer Ligabue has a Fish Island on the cover of his album Arrivederci, Mostro!

    Mythology, Religion, and Legend 
  • The mythologies of several Native American cultures tell of a giant tortoise that rose out of the sea when animals needed land to live on. In fact, the Iroquois Creation Myth has the entire planet as just one really big turtle in an infinite sea. Some current-day Native Americans prefer to use "Turtle Island" instead of "North America".
  • One of the most famous early examples would be the island in the tales of Sinbad the Sailor, which he discovered was on the back of a whale. Before they realize what it is, the crew find many rare fruits and plants on the surface. Due to the fact that he's possibly the unluckiest man of his time, his entire crew manages to escape (the only time they ever, however), and he gets left behind when the whale submerges and is lost at sea for years.
  • Supposedly, the origin for the island of Bohol in the Philippines (you can find it as a little speck at the heart of the archipelago) is that a woman fell from the sky, so a turtle turned itself into an island that she could live on. Compare to the Native American story above.
  • There's a traditional belief among the people of Timor that their home island is actually a giant stone crocodile, its back protruding from the water.
  • In The Voyage of St. Brendan, Brendan and his companions make land on the back of the fish Jasconius at Easter and celebrate Mass. For seven years, Brendan and his companions return to Jasconius on Easter Sunday to celebrate Easter on its back.
  • The Leviathan (or, sometimes, the Kraken) is occasionally portrayed as such. One of the original myths of the Kraken was that it was simply a giant monster that would sleep at the surface for so long that plants would grow on it and ship crews would mistake it for an island. Anyone unfortunate enough to light a fire while ashore would wake the Kraken, which would then submerge and pull the ship down with it.
  • There's an extreme version of this in the pre-Islamic Arabian Mythology, in a turtles all the way down recursive cosmology sense. It's said that our world is located on the back of an angel of God, but he needs to step on a ruby so he won't fall down. This ruby is small enough to be placed on the back of a bull called Kujata, who in turn is small enough to be placed on the back of a fish called Bahamut (now you know where that name came from). And Bahamut is also swimming in an astral ocean. It's said that the true sight of the fish is so overwhelming that freaking Jesus fainted upon seeing a glance of it.
  • Russian folk tales have the Wondrous Whale Fish for this role.
  • Indian (Subcontinent Indian, not Native American Indian) Mythology has it that the world is carried on the backs of four elephants which in turn are carried on the back of a turtle named Akupara. This was likely the inspiration for Great A'Tuin and Torterra.
  • Aztec Mythology told that the land was created from the corpse of Cipactli, a gigantic crocodile. The gods Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca, who normally hate each others' guts, teamed up to kill the monster. Cipactli stayed at the bottom of the sea, so Tezcatlipoca lowered his foot to lure it to the surface. After getting it bit clean off, the two gods turned into snakes and strangled Cipactli, thus forming the North American continent.
  • Singapore has a particularly localised myth to explain the origins of its own turtle-shaped island, Kusu Island, which houses several temples and is visited more by devotees than tourists. The story goes that a turtle transformed itself into the eponymous island to save two drowning sailors.
  • Myth has it that Indonesia was a giant solidified crocodile, as told in an episode of the Crocodile Hunter.
  • Older Than Feudalism: Pliny the Elder in his Natural History describes a giant fish called pristis, which is so big that sailors have taken it for an island and landed on its back.
  • Several legendary creatures from medieval bestiaries fill this role. These are the Jasconius, Aspidochelone, and Zaratan. Depending on the story, the being is either portrayed as a turtle, a fish, or even a crab. Often in modern retellings, the creatures are all a single type of island beast with multiple names.
  • Ares magazine issue #4, "Facts for Fantasy" section. Anglo-Saxon legend calls the whale "Fastitocalon", a creature the color of uncut stone that sometimes sleeps on the ocean surface. Sailors would moor their ships to and land on the "island", even building fires and eating. When the activity woke the whale it would dive underwater, taking the sailors and their ship to their doom.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Atlantis The Lost World: Leviathans are giant marine turtles 200-400 feet long. Their shells are encrusted with corals, mollusks and seaweed, and when basking on the surface sailors often mistake them for small reefs or islands. If the sailors "go ashore" and are still there when the leviathan dives, the results are disastrous.
  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • Al-Qadim setting. The Zaratan, a huge turtle (200-350 feet across) with rock outcroppings on its shell and flippers that looked like small reefs. When asleep on the surface, it could be mistaken for a small floating island.
    • 1E Oriental Adventures setting adventure OA5 Mad Monkey Vs. Dragon Claw. An uninhabited island is actually a huge dragon turtle (100 yards across) sleeping on the ocean's surface.
    • Dungeon magazine #46 adventure "Floating Rock". The title wandering island is actually a Zaratan from the Al-Qadim campaign setting.
    • D&D Expert rulebook (1980). The dragon turtle monster is so large that sailors have mistaken their hard shells for islands and tied their ships up to them while they were floating on the surface.
    • Zaratans appear in the 5th edition sourcebook Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes are a type of Elder Elemental, a vast turtle made entirely out of stone and earth.
  • Fantasy Wargaming: The Kraken is a marine monster that floats just under the surface of the ocean and is large enough to be mistaken for an island. It doesn't notice people walking on it, but it does notice attempts to beach a ship on it.
  • Numenera: The granthu, a titanic crustacean that lives deep beneath the sea to the west of the main setting. It's big enough that a good-sized city, Joira, has been built on, in and beneath its carapace. The Fish People who inhabit it, who speak about the granthu like humans speak about the Earth, are firmly of the belief that the beast is not unique, and that there are more out there bearing their own cities on their backs.
  • Pathfinder:
    • The Aspidochelone is present as a high level monster; absolutely massive whales, often more than 500ft across, with rocky hides, they spend most of their lives hibernating between periods of ravenous hunger where they'll consume so much sea life — from schools of fish to giant sea monsters to ships — that they'll devastate the ecosystem for leagues around. While they sleep, dense jungle develops on their back.
    • The 2nd Edition bestiary mentions rumors of dragon turtles — a type of dragon resembling massive, heavily armored chelonians — of immense size, who spend centuries drifting across the seas while soil, vegetation and even small villages accrete on their backs.
    • One of the Plane of Water's settlements, City-on-Lure, is built on the back of the absolutely tremendous anglerfish that gives it its name.
    • The brine dragons of the Plane of Water sometimes reach such tremendous sizes that, when some are forced to take up nomadic lives for whatever reason, they often carry their entire kingdoms on their backs.
  • Space Master supplement Aliens & Artifacts. Living Islands, which can grow up to 2 kilometers in diameter. They can dive under the surface, leaving whatever was on top of them behind.

    Video Games 
  • Fe features a giant deer with trees growing on its legs and back. Later, the swamp area has what appears to be a large pulsating rock formation, which is actually the unconscious serpent queen/mother.
  • Final Fantasy: Oretoises seem to grow bigger with each installment. The one from Final Fantasy XV is in the running for the largest Boss in the series. It was mistaken for a mountain for a long time, and it boasts over 5 million HP.
  • Golden Axe: At least one of the games has a village on the back of a giant turtle, and it actually swims across the sea as you make your way through the level.
  • Katamari Damacy: In the final levels, when rolling up the entire world your Katamari will grow large enough to start snatching up entire islands and landforms by the dozen. Some of the islands will actually try to run away from you — not just because Katamari Damacy is really weird, it's also because those 'islands' are actually "Giant Sea Turtles".
  • Kingdom Hearts II: The Groundshaker boss is a huge quadrupedal Heartless which requires a small Colossus Climb to do anything more than chase after it, and it also has a small forest on its back.
  • In King's Bounty: The Legend, a scientist (the would-be king of the humans who gave up his throne For Science!, no less) hypothesizes that the world rests on the back of a giant turtle. He also remarks on how ludicrous an opposing hypothesis that says the world is a giant sphere orbiting a sun in a large void. He's right.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask has a giant friendly turtle of an island who takes Link to a dungeon in the middle of a maelstrom. He shows up in the Super Smash Bros. Melee level based on the area, too.
  • In Lunar: The Silver Star, the party hears tales about a moving island, which turns out to be a giant turtle.
  • Pirate 101 has Maruzame castle. The game being set in a World in the Sky, it's a flying turtle, but it still only appears when summoned.
  • In Pokémon, the Turtwig evolutionary family (Torterra especially) is based on the world-on-a-turtle mythology. Turtwig itself is just a large turtle with a leafy twig growing on its head, Grotle is a man-sized with two bushes growing on its back, and Torterra has a tree and a pair of small mountains on its back, and, while not island-sized, is large enough to be occasionally mistaken for a hill.
  • Rune Factory Frontier has the aptly-named Whale Island. It gets bonus points for being in the sky.
  • Scribblenauts Unlimited has Dot the Island, which has a village on it. You have to dive into the ocean below to see the turtle's head and fins.
  • Secret of Mana features an island (which you never have to visit) that is allegedly a turtle's back. It certainly looks like it from an overhead view, but nothing ever comes of this fact.
  • Skies of Arcadia: In an early sequence, Vyse and Aika briefly mistake the enormous arcwhale Rhaknam for an island. To be fair, it was pretty foggy at the time.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog:
    • Sonic Heroes has a stage called Ocean Palace, which has an area full of giant turtles the teams (other than Team Rose) have to go between via cannons and springs.
      "That turtle is swimming with a block on its back!"
    • In Sonic and the Secret Rings, Levitated Ruin is set entirely in an aerial version of this trope. The stage is a flock of Rukhs in flight (though reimagined as manta rays), each carrying a roughly block-sized chunk of civilization on its back. Sonic travels from one Rukh to another via flying gargoyles who still inhabit the ruins.
  • Subnautica has an underwater version in the Reefbacks, enormous leviathans that occasionally swim through the world, large enough that whole ecosystems have grown on their bodies.
  • Sunless Sea:
    • The Chelonate is the bony carcass of a long-dead zee-turtle that died centuries ago, and was then used by the Chelonites' ancestors to build their homes. It's notably bigger than some of the other nations you visit in terms of raw size.
    • The underwater city of Hideaway was built on the shell of titanic — and still living — crab named Temtum. The Admiralty is more than a bit shocked at these news when you turn in your report on it.
      A city on a WHAT?
  • Tales of Rebirth: The Sacred Beast of Earth, Randgriz, was initially big enough to be mistaken for an island while travelling the sea by the legendary pirate, Airfread. When the Sacred Beasts tell Eugene to find the "Isle of Illusion", the party obtains the pirate's map and realise the island is, in fact, Sunnytown. Randgriz's body became the foundation of the city.
  • World of Warcraft: The fourth expansion, Mists of Pandaria, introduces a massive Turtle Island named Shen-zin Su, the Wandering Isle, as the starting zone for the pandaren. The climax of the Pandaren starter story involves the player in a massive effort to save Shun-Zin Su's life.. It's revisited and established as the Order Hall for Monks in the sixth expansion Legion.

    Webcomics 
  • 70-Seas: Played for laughs in this comic, where, due to some tricky perspective at sea, what appeared to be a Turtle Island turns to be an entirely regular-sized turtle with a small shrub on its shell.
  • Dominic Deegan: Seen here with a gigantic mollusk-like creature with a mountain-like shell.
  • Sinfest: Here, what at first appears to a small hillock in the swamp turns out to be the coils of a sleeping dragon.

    Web Original 
  • Microsoft Windows: This Windows 7 wallpaper, with flying for added awesome.
  • SCP Foundation
    • SCP-169 ("The Leviathan") is a sea creature 2,000-8,000 kilometers long that has spent at least the last few millenia just below the surface of the ocean. The rock-like plates protruding from it constitute an archipelago of islands.
    • SCP-1585 ("Red Queen Island") is a giant jellyfish 544 meters across. It secretes calcium carbonate, which creates a rigid surface over the upper portion of its bell and causes it to appear to be an island. Many creatures and plants live on its top layer.

    Western Animation 
  • Adventure Time: In one episode, Finn and Jake visit the City of Thieves, which is built on the shell of a giant dead tortoise in the middle of the desert.
  • Alfred J. Kwak: In "A Turtle Island", heroes take advantage of the situation by coaxing the turtle to take the island out of the way of an incoming tropical storm.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender
    • In the original series, the Lion Turtle Aang meets near the end of his quest is an island with real trees and other plant life.
    • In the The Legend of Korra, we see that in the ancient past there were a number of Lion Turtles, each with a city of humans on their back that they protected from the dangerous spirits roaming the world. Whenever humans left the city, the lion-turtle would use energybending to give them one of the four types of elemental bending to defend themselves, and then they would return it when they came back to the city. The street-urchin Wan was the first to steal fire from a lion-turtle simply by not returning it when he was supposed to. When he was exiled for bringing fire into the city, the lion-turtle allowed him to keep it so he could protect himself in the wilds.
  • In The Deep, the Nektons come upon one of these.
  • Dragon Hunters: One of the "dragons" the titular characters face is actually shaped like one of the setting's floating islands, using gold nuggets (actually its boogers) to lure humans so that it can eat them. After they asphyxiate him with a boulder on each cavern/nostril, the corpse floats away and becomes another island, with Lian-Chu implying some of the islands had a similar origin.
  • The Ducktators: The Japanese duck mistakes a turtle for an island and places a Japanese mandate sign on its back. The turtle then goes out on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In "Between Dark and Dawn", Applejack's farm is invaded by a land-bound version in the form a hill-sized tortoise with a grove of trees growing on its back.
  • Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor: Sinbad lives, at leas according to his song, on an island on the back of a whale.

    Real Life 
  • The Turtle Island cosmology mentioned above in Mythology has become the basis for a famous often-cited "argument" or thought experiment in cosmology and metaphysics known as "Turtles All The Way Down":
    Man #1: If Earth is the back of a giant turtle, then what's holding up the turtle?
    Man #2: Don't be a fool. It's Turtles All the Way Down!
  • The Mary River Turtle and other species that actually grow algae on their shells.
  • The South American mata-mata is a predatory turtle that camouflages itself on the river floor. Its shell resembles a bunch of rocks and its oversized neck and head have skin prolongations that resemble algae (the shell sometimes grow actual algae). Its long, wormlike tongue is waved to bait fish that the mata-mata feeds on. The largest confirmed mata-mata is only 63 cm long, but there are unconfirmed estimations based on fossil shell fragments that are twice or even three times that.
  • It's actually not that uncommon for arrangements of this kind to form among sea life, especially when barnacles are involved. Barnacles will readily colonize any hard surface they can find, including sea animals of sufficient size. The best-known example would be the barnacles that settle on whales, anchoring themselves in the sea mammals' thick skin in an arrangement that benefits the barnacles (who gain regular access to food-rich water as the whales follow krill and plankton blooms) and doesn't much affect the whale one way or the other. Right and bowhead whales in particular are known to develop sizable barnacle "reefs" dotting their heads and jaws. In turn, these barnacle clusters provide home and refuge for other animals, including crustaceans known as whale lice, resulting in tiny floating ecosystems carried on the backs (or, well, faces) of much, much larger creatures.
    • Other barnacle species create similar colonies on the bodies of other sea animals — including, yes, sea turtles, whose shells often become colonized by barnacle reefs of their own.
    • The buoy barnacles of the genus Dosima are an unusual case of this: rather than settling a hard surface like other barnacles, they secrete a foam-like, buoyant float for themselves and spend their lives adrift in the open ocean. It is far from uncommon for multiple such buoys to merge together in a single large floater shared by multiple barnacles, resulting in a little living island that can often provide a home for multiple other organisms, ranging from seaweeds to worms to shrimp to even other barnacle species.
  • Sometimes when a large turtle (such as a snapper) comes out of winter hibernation, it'll still have a clump of dirt clinging its shell, sometimes complete with grass seedlings on top, as seen here. It all washes off the first time the turtle goes for a swim, but seeing this may have inspired the Native American myths regarding this trope.

Alternative Title(s): Whale Island

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