Turtle Vs. Tortoise: What’s The Difference?

Here’s how to tell turtles and tortoises apart 🐢

turtle vs. tortoise

Turtles and tortoises look so similar that it can be hard to tell who’s who. But there are a few pretty big differences between these two reptiles.

We spoke with Kaitlyn Tullio, a veterinary nurse with DodoVet, to find out where exactly to begin in the turtle vs. tortoise debate.

Turtle vs. tortoise: the similarities

According to Tullio, all tortoises are considered turtles — the name “turtle” technically includes any animal in the testudines order. However, not all turtles are considered tortoises. That being said, these two do have a few things in common:

  • Both have hard shells
  • Both are cold-blooded
  • Both lay eggs on land and bury them

What’s the difference between a turtle and a tortoise?

Here are some key differences between turtles and tortoises.

They typically live in different environments

For the most part, turtles and tortoises have pretty different habitats.

“The main difference is all tortoises are land-based, and most turtles are aquatic,” Tullio told The Dodo. There are a couple types of turtles who are land-based, but the majority live in the water.

They have different feet

According to Tullio, a tortoise’s feet are “short and sturdy,” which makes a lot of sense since tortoises live on land. On the other hand, a turtle has “webbed feet with long claws,” which is fitting for a creature who spends most of his time in the water.

They have different diets

Turtles are more flexible than tortoises when it comes to the kinds of food they can eat.

“Turtles are omnivores, which means they eat both meat and vegetables,” Tullio said. “Tortoises are herbivores.”

They have different shell shapes

Because tortoises only live on land, their shells are pretty heavy and dome-shaped to provide plenty of shelter. Turtles, however, have flatter and thinner shells because they need to be hydrodynamic for swimming.

They have different life spans

Turtles and tortoises can live for literal decades, but one type of reptile lives significantly longer than the other.

“Both live a long time, so be prepared for a lifetime commitment,” Tullio said. “Turtles live an average life span of 20–40 years in captivity, and tortoises can live 50–100 years!”

It can be easy to confuse turtles and tortoises if you don’t really know how to spot the differences. But now that you know what sets them apart, it could help you have a better understanding of what it’s like to be a reptile pet parent.

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