Turtle vs Tortoise: 10 Important Difference Between Turtle and Tortoise

What is the difference between Turtle and Tortoise?

Are you really interested to know the difference between turtle and tortoise? If yes, then you have reached at the right place.

There are at least 300 species of turtles and tortoises in this world. They can be found on all continents except Antarctica regions and Australia. They come in various colors, design, shapes and sizes but they all have one thing in common: protective shells made of a special bone called the dermal scutes.

Turtles and tortoises are amphibians who live on land and water. They are found in the seas, oceans, lakes and ponds as well as on land. 

Both are reptiles that come from the same reptilian family. They are part of the order Testudines meaning “turtle like” in Latin.  Turtles and tortoises belong to a family known as the Chelonids which contains 13 other families.

One might wonder, why should we care about turtles and tortoises? Well, for starters, they are some of the oldest living creatures on Earth – with recorded ages as old as 176 years! 

Some final points of difference are that turtles have flippers and webbed feet, their eyes are always on the side of their head, while tortoises have longer necks and legs, plus they don’t share the same habitat as their watery friends.

World Turtle Day is celebrated on 23rd of May.

What is Turtle?

Turtles are reptiles of the order Testudines (or Chelonii) characterized by a special bony or cartilaginous shell developed from their ribs and acting as a shield. “Turtle” may refer to fresh-water and sea-dwelling testudines.

Turtles are omnivores, which means they will eat a wide variety of plants and animals. Their diet includes both living and dead prey. For example, a snapping turtle may eat crayfish, snails, clams and frogs. A water turtle may eat duckweed, algae or worms.

turtle swimming underwater near bottom of sea
Photo by Lachlan Ross on Pexels.com

 Many turtles have webbed feet for swimming.  They cannot pull their head or legs into their shell like a tortoise.

The order Testudines includes both extant (living) and extinct species. The earliest known members of this group date from 220 million years ago, making turtles one of the oldest groups of reptiles. Of the 300 known species alive today, some are highly endangered.

Turtles are ectotherms—turtles’ internal temperature varies according to the ambient environment, commonly called cold-blooded. However, because of their high metabolic rate, leatherback sea turtles have a body temperature that is noticeably higher than that of the surrounding water. Turtles are classified as amniotes, along with other reptiles, mammals, birds, and dinosaurs. Like other amniotes, turtles breathe air and do not lay eggs underwater, although many species live in or around water.

The largest turtles are aquatic. The largest chelonian is the leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), which reaches a shell length of 200 cm (6.6 ft) and can reach a weight of over 900 kg (2,000 lb). Freshwater turtles are generally smaller.

There are many kinds of turtles. Turtles are reptiles, like snakes and lizards. But unlike their scaly cousins, turtles have hard shells that protect them like a shield. Turtles are cold-blooded animals (they can’t regulate their own body temperature), they lay eggs, and they breathe through their lungs.

Most turtles have webbed feet or flippers, making them excellent swimmers but poor walkers on land. They have beak-like mouths — no teeth! — that help them grab food and tear it into bite-sized pieces which they swallow whole.

What is a Tortoise?

A tortoise is a land- dwelling reptile of the order Testudines. Tortoises can vary in size from a few centimeters to two meters.

Tortoises are usually slow-moving reptiles (with some exceptions like Galapagos tortoise). Tortoises are considered to be a long-living animal with a life span ranging between 80 to 150 years depending on species and habitat.

The oldest living tortoise recorded was Adwaita, an Aldabra giant tortoise who died at an estimated age of 255 years in India. This record has been disputed; other sources claim that Adwaita was only 130 years old when he died (in 2006). 

black tortoise standing
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Tortoises can live in arid climates, but they also like to stay moist, and many species will spend time in water.

Tortoises have been around for a long time, with the oldest fossil dating back 200 million years. They were among the only animals to survive the Jurassic period, and they are still recognizable today. 

Formerly, the term tortoise was used to refer to any terrestrial turtle. The testudinids are easily recognized because all share a unique hind-limb anatomy made up of elephantine (or cylindrical) hind limbs and hind feet; each digit in their forefeet and hind feet contains two or fewer phalanges.

Also Read: Difference Between Frog and Toad

Turtle Vs Tortoise: Infographics

turtle vs tortoise

Turtle VS Tortoise: Difference Between Turtle and Tortoise

Turtles and tortoises may look similar but they stand apart. They differ by their shape, habitat, diet, limbs, etc. In this article, let us explore the difference between turtle and tortoise.

Habitat (Turtle vs Tortoise)

Most of the turtles live in water, but the tortoise does not. Tortoises are land animals; they rarely venture into the water. Turtles can be both fresh and salty water swimmers. The sea turtles come to the beach only when they want to lay their eggs.

According to the National Wildlife Federation, there are more than 300 species of turtle in the United States alone. Of those 300 species of turtle, only 10 percent are classified as tortoises because they remain entirely on land.

Turtles that spend all or most of their time in water include snapping turtles (Chelydridae), softshell turtles (Trionychidae), sea turtles (Cheloniidae) and terrapins (Emydidae). Land-based turtles include box turtles (Terrapodidae) and pond or marsh turtles.

Shells (Turtle vs Tortoise)

The shells of turtles are lightweight and streamlined since they spend most of their time in water. The shells of tortoises are heavy and dome-like since they spend most of their time on land. The shell protects it from predators by allowing it to hide inside the shell by retracting its head, legs, and tail inside the shell.

They have no scales on their shells; instead, their shells are covered with leathery skin. Some turtles look similar to tortoises because they have high-domed shells and short necks, but they can be distinguished by their webbed feet (turtles) vs. stumpy elephantine feet (tortoises).

Temperature Regulation (Turtle vs Tortoise)

Turtles and tortoises have different ways of regulating their body temperature. Turtles regulate their body temperature by swimming in either warm or cold water depending on whether they need to warm up or cool down their body temperature. Tortoises, on the other hand, regulate their body temperature by changing the location they sleep depending on whether they need to warm up or cool down

Limbs (Turtle vs Tortoise)

The difference is that tortoises have land adapted limbs, while turtles do not. Turtles have webbed feet and flippers to let them swim in the water. Tortoises, on the other hand, have stumpy legs and large claws to help them dig in the dirt to find food.

Diet (Turtle vs Tortoise)

Turtles primarily eat sea food, such as algae, fish, etc; whereas tortoises eat vegetables and plants. And since they spend most of their time underwater, turtles need to breathe air once or twice a day, while tortoises can go a long time without breathing air.

Most species of tortoises are grazers and will spend most of their time eating low-lying plants or grasses that grow near ground level. But, there are also some species that prefer to browse for food in bushes or trees.

The diet of a tortoise depends on its location within a wide range from Africa to Asia to North America to Europe to Madagascar. Tortoises also depend on their environment for water as well as food.

Age (Turtle vs Tortoise)

Turtles and tortoises live a very long time. In fact, they can outlive some species of birds and mammals. But one of the most frequently asked questions is: how long do turtles live?

Tortoises are known for their longevity, with some specimens living over 150 years. Turtles by comparison have a much shorter lifespan, typically living between 20 and 40 years in the wild. But some species of turtle can live well over 100 years. The oldest recorded turtle was an Australian snake-necked turtle that lived to be 152 years old! This may have something to do with their diets; turtles eat meat which requires more energy for digestion than plants do.

Weight (Turtle vs Tortoise)

Turtles are generally smaller than tortoises. Tortoises weigh more than turtles because they have a solid shell. Tortoise shells can weigh up to 40 pounds, whereas the shell of a turtle only weighs about 10 pounds. Tortoises can weigh up to 550 pounds, while turtles usually top out at about 300 pounds.

The biggest land-living reptile in the world is the giant tortoise. It can weigh over 300 kg (660 lb). The largest freshwater turtle is the Asian softshell turtle; it can weigh over 135 kg (300 lb). The largest sea turtle is the leatherback turtle; it weighs over 900 kg (2,000 lb).

Turtles’ small size also means that they’re easier for humans to keep as pets. And because they aren’t as heavy or strong as tortoises, they usually don’t require very large enclosures or special habitats.

Size (Turtle vs Tortoise)

Turtles and tortoises vary in size. The largest species of tortoise measures up to five feet in length while the largest species of sea turtle can reach nine feet in length. Most species of turtles are smaller than that, however. There are many subspecies of each animal, too, and their sizes vary greatly even within those subspecies.

Breeding (Turtle vs Tortoise)

Breeding is also similar for turtles and tortoises. Both lay eggs in a nest on land or sand. Like other reptiles, they do not sit on the eggs to keep them warm while they incubate, as birds do. Instead, they simply choose a warm spot near the surface of the soil where they expect the eggs to hatch successfully when the time comes.

Turtles lay their eggs in nests dug in sand or mud near the water’s edge. Tortoises dig nests in soil or loose dirt.

The Key Difference Between Turtle and Tortoise Are Given Below: (Turtle vs Tortoise)

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The main difference between turtle and tortoise is that the tortoise is bigger in size. The turtles are smaller in size only and live in watery areas whereas tortoises don’t usually live in watery areas. Also, tortoises have domed noses and turtles have flatter noses and turtle tails are much more flexible.

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