What’s the Difference Between a Turtle and a Tortoise?

What is a tortoise anyway? Is it just a fancy way to say turtle? Well, actually, theres a meaningful difference between tortoises and other turtles. All tortoises are in fact turtlesthat is, they belong to the order Testudines or Chelonia, reptiles having bodies encased in a bony shellbut not all turtles are tortoises. If tortoises are turtles, why not just call all turtlelike creatures turtle? Because if the animal youre referring to is a tortoise, some wise guy is going to correct you every time.

Do turtles turn into tortoises?

Well, actually, there’s a meaningful difference between tortoises and other turtles. All tortoises are in fact turtles —that is, they belong to the order Testudines or Chelonia, reptiles having bodies encased in a bony shell—but not all turtles are tortoises.

Which is more friendly turtle or tortoise?

While both species do not love handling, turtles are less comfortable with humans and are not as social as some tortoises can be. Both also require regular cleanings of their habitat, but since turtles require water, the day-to-day cleaning and care can be more extensive.

Can tortoises swim?

Tortoises cannot swim. At most, they can float and drift, and if they’re lucky they’ll bump into land. Some species of tortoises can swim poorly, but most will simply sink and drown. While it is sad that so many people throw tortoises into the water believing they’re saving a baby turtle, the viral video did help.

Tortoises and turtles are both reptiles from the order of Testudines, but in different classification families. The major difference between the two is that tortoises dwell on land, while turtles live in the water some or nearly all of the time.

The carapace and the plastron are attached by a bridge, which means that though the head and limbs of a turtle or tortoise may be withdrawn from the shell, the whole body can never be totally detached from it. Tortoise versus Turtle comparison chartTortoiseTurtleDefinitionA Tortoise is a reptile from the Chelonian family and dwells well on land.A Turtle is a reptile from the Chelonian family and dwells well in the water.DistributionFound mostly in Asia and Africa but some species exist in Americas too.Africa, America.Shape of the shellMostly large dome shaped shells (with bumps on the top in some species).Mostly flat, streamlined shells.Weight of the shellThe shells are heavier.Generally light-weight shell.LimbsFeet are short and sturdy with bent legs.Webbed feet with long claws.DietMost are herbivores, but some species prefer live food.Eats fruits, veggies, leafy vegetation and meat, hence they are omnivores.BirthTortoise hatchlings move from their nest to the mothers burrow soon after birth.Turtle hatchlings stay in their nest on their own for 90-120 days.Lifespan80-150 years.

The future hatchlings will stay inside the egg for 90 to 120 days, incubating on their own. A turtle has a flat, streamlined shell and limbs that are quite similar to a tortoise‘s, but the turtle‘s feet are webbed and have long claws which provide a good grip upon floating logs and help the reptile climb onto riverbanks. As turtles generally prefer to live in water, the shell of a turtle is flat and streamlined to aid in swimming and diving, while the shell of a tortoise, which lives on land, is rather large and dome-shaped to provide protection from predators.

While it is sometimes reported that tortoises have lived for over 200 years in captivity, confirming the validity of these claims has been difficult. Turtles are primarily found in tropical and semi-tropical climates, similar to those preferred by most lizards , as they require warmer external temperatures to maintain proper body warmth. Tortoises are not known for hibernating, as their habitats are almost entirely warm, though some species can greatly limit their metabolism during periods of little or no food and water.

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Want to know the difference between turtle and tortoise? Whilst there are a handful of obvious distinctions between the two, the turtle vs tortoise debate can be quite complicated.

Whereas when it comes to a scientific definition, turtle is the name for the Testiduines order which contains all 14 families and around 200 species of reptiles with shells on their back. As might be expected, as closely related reptiles both turtles and tortoises have plenty of physical traits in common.

Are encased in a bony shell with scutes (thickened horny or boned plates) made of keratine. With these similarities in mind, lets now turn to look at the physical, behavioural, and geographic differences between tortoises and turtles that apply generally. Although theyre most commonly found in semi-arid habitats, they are able to live in a variety of diverse environments, including deserts , grasslands, scrub, and evergreen and wet tropical forests.

As turtles generally live or spend lots of time in water their shells are relatively flat, thin, and streamlined, to help them swim and dive. If this doesnt do the job, turtles can sometimes be seen rubbing their shells on trees or rocks to try to scrape the scutes off. A snapping turtle (left) with webbed and clawed feet, vs the giant tortoises padded legs with elephantine toenails.

Turtles on the other hand with their sleek body and shell shapes, and webbed feet or flippers are built for aquatic life, and are excellent swimmers. Turtles and tortoises are found primarily in tropical and semi-tropical climates as they all require warm external temperatures. Both tortoises and turtles need plenty of nutrients and minerals to promote healthy shell growth, but have evolved to have different diets.

Tortoises are primarily herbivores, with their diet varying depending on specific species and age. They tend to have a wide diet, slowly covering large distances, grazing on leaves, weeds, grasses, fruit, and vegetables as they come across them. Turtles are omnivores, eating a similar variety of plants to tortoises, and supplementing this with protein sources ranging from worms and insects to jellyfish and small fish.

At some point let’s just say around 260 million years ago Earth got turtles. They look strange in these modern, mammalian times when lots of things are squishy and unarmored. But during the Late Permian Epoch, the early turtles were dressed in all the latest fashions: short, sturdy legs, bony plates and a stiff, splayed, crawling strut.

“Turtles have a really successful body form that hasn’t changed all that much over time,” says Lora Smith, a research scientist who specializes in herpetology at The Jones Center at Ichauway , an organization in Newton, Georgia, that promotes excellence in natural resource management and conservation, in an email interview. All the animals alive today that protect themselves with a shell basically just a modified rib cage are in the order Testudines .

In general, both turtles and tortoises (as well as other reptiles) lay their eggs on land it’s what makes them different from amphibians, which need water for egg-laying and at least part of their life cycle. Compare that to a Galpagos tortoise ( Chelonoidis nigra ), whose body can weigh up to 920 pounds (417 kilograms), with stocky, elephantine legs, a high-domed shell and big scales on their exposed skin to protect them from predators.

Differences in Habitat

Turtles live some or most of the time in the water, while tortoises live on land. Both turtles and tortoises lay eggs on the ground. The mother will dig a burrow and lay two to twelve eggs there. The future hatchlings will stay inside the egg for 90 to 120 days, incubating on their own. Once the incubation process is complete, they dig their way to the surface. Tortoise mothers provide protection to the hatchlings for about 80 days, after which they survive on their own, but turtle hatchlings are on their own from birth.

Differences in Physical Characteristics

A tortoise has a dome-shaped shell and short and sturdy feet. Its legs are bent instead of being straight and directly under the body. A turtle has a flat, streamlined shell and limbs that are quite similar to a tortoise‘s, but the turtle‘s feet are webbed and have long claws which provide a good grip upon floating logs and help the reptile climb onto riverbanks. Some turtles might even have flippers, as is the case for the pig-nosed turtle.

Tortoise vs. Turtle Shell

The shells that cover the body of these reptiles are very important as they give researchers a fair idea of how these reptiles live. As turtles generally prefer to live in water, the shell of a turtle is flat and streamlined to aid in swimming and diving, while the shell of a tortoise, which lives on land, is rather large and dome-shaped to provide protection from predators. Also, the shell of a tortoise is quite heavy when compared to a turtle‘s shell, which is lighter to avoid sinking and to increase swimming speed.

Differences in Diet

Most land-based tortoises are herbivores while turtles can be both herbivores and carnivores. This is a video of a turtle eating a pigeon.

Reproduction of Turtles vs. Tortoises

The eggs from a turtle are somewhat soft and leather-like, similar to the eggs produced by other reptiles. Turtle hatchlings stay in their nest on their own for 90-120 days.Female tortoises dig burrows in which they lay anywhere from 2 to 12 eggs. Hatchlings take approximately 90-120 days to incubate within the ping-pong-ball sized eggs.

Difference in Lifespan

Tortoises can live about as long as humans, around 60-80 years, but some have been known to live for over 150 years. The longest verified tortoise life span was 188 years.In contrast, the common lifespan of a turtle is about 20-40 years, while sea turtles average 60 to 70 years, with about 40 to 50 years of that required to reach maturity.While it is sometimes reported that tortoises have lived for over 200 years in captivity, confirming the validity of these claims has been difficult. Most tortoises can live over 100 years in captivity, but living beyond that age requires carefully controlled, nurturing environments.

As Pets

Both are kept as pets, though small turtles are more commonly owned. Tortoises are actually easier to care for, but more expensive to own. Both require owners who are willing and able to keep a very long commitment. As such, neither is recommended as a pet in many cases.

Geographical Distribution

Tortoises are found mostly in Asia and Africa, while turtles are found in Africa and America. Turtles are primarily found in tropical and semi-tropical climates, similar to those preferred by most lizards, as they require warmer external temperatures to maintain proper body warmth. However, some turtles are known for hibernating during colder weather, usually alongside riverbanks. Tortoises are not known for hibernating, as their habitats are almost entirely warm, though some species can greatly limit their metabolism during periods of little or no food and water.

Related Comparisons

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Shelled Survivors

Shortly after turtles arrived here, a fairly standard Earth thing happened: a mass extinction event. Although mass extinctions have happened with some regularity on our planet, this one was a doozy, and it wiped out almost all the life in the oceans and over two-thirds of the vertebrates on land. The things that survived had to have been pretty good at survival. Turns out, turtles were.”Turtles have a really successful body form that hasn’t changed all that much over time,” says Lora Smith, a research scientist who specializes in herpetology at The Jones Center at Ichauway, an organization in Newton, Georgia, that promotes excellence in natural resource management and conservation, in an email interview. “They’ve retained the primitive shell, which is a really protective, safe body design. Also, turtles live in a lot of different habitats — they’re aquatic and also terrestrial, so living in a lot of different habitats has allowed them to persist.”Advertisement

Tortoises ARE Turtles

All the animals alive today that protect themselves with a shell — basically just a modified rib cage — are in the order”They say that not all turtles are tortoises, but all tortoises are turtles,” says Smith. “The turtles are organisms with a shell, which might be in water or might be on land. A tortoise is a type of turtle.”In general, both turtles and tortoises (as well as other reptiles) lay their eggs on land — it’s what makes them different from amphibians, which need water for egg-laying and at least part of their life cycle.Because tortoisesAdvertisement

How To Tell Them Apart

“Turtles and tortoises look different because of where they live,” says Smith. “A sea turtle is only found in the ocean — the females are the only ones that come on land, and it’s just to lay eggs. They have four legs, but the front legs are almost like wings or paddles — they’re not great for moving around on land at all because they’re adapted for swimming quickly. Their shells have a low, flat profile for cutting through the water.”Compare that to a Galápagos tortoise (“For the most part, there’s not really one characteristic that tells you whether something is a tortoise or a turtle,” says Smith. “But it’s pretty clear if you see a little turtle on the side of the road and it has a sort of flattened shell profile, webbed feet in the back, smooth skin and some brighter colors, that’s going to be a turtle. Tortoises have a heavier, more domed shell and subdued colors.”As usual, terminology is confusing. Box turtles, for instance, which are widespread in the United States and Central America, don’t really swim or spend any time in the water, but they’re still considered turtles rather than tortoises. And then there are terrapins, which is the name given to aquatic turtles in the U.K. In the U.S., aquatic turtles are just called “turtles,” with the exception of the diamondback terrapin (Advertisement