Turtles vs. Tortoises – A Detailed Differentiation + Pictures

Turtles vs. tortoises! Are they the same? Or are they different? Read ahead to find out!

I was going through my Instagram newsfeed when I came around a post about the differences between turtles and tortoises. My whole world fell into this black hole where the things I knew were not true. I always thought turtles and tortoises are the same. Now that I know the truth, my whole world has been turned upside down. It turns out there is a lot of difference between turtle and tortoise. So, how to tell the difference between tortoise and turtle?

Now that I know the differences between turtles and tortoises, I feel stupid for always calling all turtlelike creatures ‘turtles’. I know many people (including me) have always thought that any reptile with a shell on its back can be called a turtle or a tortoise since the two words mean exactly the same thing; this is not the case. An eye-opener here!

Here, I have put together some meaningful turtles and tortoise differences and some fun facts so that you may know how the two are different. So, let’s start with our turtles vs. tortoises:

Difference #1: All tortoises are turtles, but not all turtles are tortoises

 Yes. That’s right. In fact, ‘Turtle’ is an umbrella term that is often used for the family Testudine that covers nearly 200 species, including terrapins, turtles, and tortoises. So, think of tortoises as turtles belonging to the order Testudines (reptiles that have their bodies covered with a bony covering). But never think of turtles as tortoises!

Fun Fact: All the species under the term ‘Turtle’ have two distinct features: a pelvic girdle inside their rib cage and vertebrae and ribs fused to their shell.

Difference #2: Tortoise are exclusively land creatures, whereas turtles are not

This tortoise vs. turtle difference is a benchmark for separating the two. Tortoises exclusively live on water and are not equipped for water, whereas turtles can be aquatic, semi-aquatic, or terrestrial. Other than drinking water and occasionally bathing in it, there is nothing more than tortoises that have to do with water. Turtles, on the other hand, take to land only when they have to lay their eggs.

turtles vs. tortoises

Fun Fact: In 2015, The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission recorded three instances where people had released tortoise hatchlings into the ocean, mistaking them for turtles. Not so fun fact, I guess.

Difference #3: Anatomical features

This is one of the most prominent differences between turtles and tortoises. If you are looking for pet turtles or tortoises, make sure you confirm which category they belong to by looking at their feet. Tortoise has tiny elephant-looking feet specially designed so that they can easily track on land and carry the extra weight. The forelimbs of tortoise are not flipper-like and more club-like. You can even look underneath a tortoise since they have burrowers on their inner surface which turtles don’t have. On the other hand, turtles have webbed feet and flipper-like forelimbs, which aid them in swimming in the aquatic and semi-aquatic environment and make their cruse easier. If you cannot identify them based on this difference between turtle and tortoise, you can try feeding them meet.

turtles vs. tortoises

Difference 4: The shape of their domes

The shell of the tortoises is more rounded and domed, whereas turtles have thinner, more water-dynamic shells.  Most of the turtles have streamlined shells that aid in swimming. This difference between tortoises and turtles has a few exceptions to it, such as the box turtles and Sonoran mud turtles that have a domed shell.

Fun Fact: The color of the shell on a tortoise tells us about its origin. If you see a lighter shelled tortoise, it means it came originally from a warmer country.

Difference# 5: The food they eat

If you are wondering about turtle vs. tortoise pets, I think turtles are a better option since they are omnivorous. You can feed them almost anything from green leafy vegetables to leftover meat. On the other hand, tortoises are rather picky about their food and only like to eat vegetables and fruits. They are vegetarian. This difference between tortoise and turtle must be kept in mind while buying turtles and tortoises for sale.

Fun Fact: Since turtles and tortoises are known for their long lifespan, according to some, there will be turtles and tortoises when there will be no Homo Sapiens.

Leave a Comment