The Difference Between Turtle and Tortoise

The Difference Between Turtle and Tortoise

Turtles are part of the order of reptiles forming a group, that of ectothermic (cold-blooded) vertebrates. Some characteristics are inseparable from reptiles and therefore turtles such as: the presence of scaly skin and practicing thermoregulation – the use of external heat sources such as the sun to maintain a constant body temperature.


The shell of turtles is made up of various welded bones covered with scales, formed from the back part to the ventral part (plastron), more or less protecting the turtles depending on the species. The scales are made of keratin and are renewed every year. The head and the limbs are not necessarily retractable.


Some are omnivores but others exclusively herbivorous, the majority turtles being omnivorous . Their “beak” allows them to grind food. They have a slow metabolism, which allows them to live very long!


To reproduce, the males practice a courtship display before impregnating the females. This one will lay eggs in a buried nest. In many species of reptiles, temperature will determine the sex of the embryos .

We will now discover the different types of turtles and their characteristics.

The land turtle

These testudinids ( animals with a shell ) live exclusively on land and only need water to hydrate. They are recognizable by their dome-shaped shell , very rounded compared to freshwater or marine turtles. They can retract their limbs inside their shell. Completely adapted to their terrestrial life, they have massive legs provided with claws. The two largest species are the Galapagos giant tortoiseand the Seychelles giant tortoise. Essentially herbivorous, they feed on plants, plants, grasses but certain species sometimes feed on carrion such as the yellow-headed turtle or the tortoise of the tortoise. They lay hard-shelled eggs by burying them in the ground. These turtles can be found in very diverse natural environments across the globe.

The best known of the French land turtles is the Herman tortoise , present in the south of France and Corsica.

The land turtle lives on land and has a dome shaped shell.

The freshwater turtle

Aquatic or freshwater turtles live as their name suggests near a water point but can also move on land. Their shell is less rounded than that of land turtles and have more or less webbed legs.

Their diet is variable, carnivorous for some (three-banded box turtle) and omnivorous for others (Asian leaf turtle), these turtles will eat small fish, crustaceans, invertebrates but also in some cases plants. aquatic and fruit.

There is a very strong sexual dimorphism, females are larger than males.

The freshwater or aquatic turtle lives near a water point.

The sea turtle

These turtles live exclusively in the oceans , especially in coastal waters. They are adapted to their marine environment, possessing a streamlined body and fins . These have lost the ability to retract into their shell and must rise regularly to the surface to breathe.

Their diet consists of both plants and animals such as jellyfish, crustaceans and small fish. Chelonids come to the beaches to lay eggs.

The Leatherback Sea Turtle is the only species capable of maintaining a high body temperature while swimming in cold water. It is the biggest in the world with its 2m long, 1.50m wide and able to weigh 600kg.

It is present all over the globe, even in subarctic waters.

Almost all marine species are endangered and are subject to protection from poaching and pollution.

Observe the environment

See how long the reptile spends in the water. Sea turtles spend most of their life in the water. They can, depending on the species, live in fresh water (lakes and ponds) or in the sea.

See if the animal spends its time on earth. Land turtles are those that spend their lives on land. Some of them live far from the main water points as in the desert.

See if the reptile lives in swampy areas. Freshwater turtles live both in water and on land. However, they survive in brackish water such as marshes. Terrapene terminology is often used to refer only to certain species that live in the swamps of the southern and eastern United States. This is the malaclemys terrapin or the Florida turtle (also called trachemys scripta elegans). The latter is the species of turtle found in ponds and which is taken as a pet.

Pay attention to where and how the animal is basking. Freshwater turtles and sea turtles tend to leave the water to warm in the sun on rocks, sand, logs, and other surfaces. Sea turtles usually spend more time in the water, but sometimes they leave the water to bask in the sun on beaches, reefs and similar surfaces.

Observe the body type

Examine the paws. Freshwater turtles and sea turtles tend to have flattened, webbed legs that allow them to swim  [1] . Sea turtles have a lifestyle exclusively adapted to water and feature long, streamlined bodies and fin-shaped legs. As for earthly tortures, they have short, blunt legs that allow them to move around on earth. Their lower limbs are huge while the front legs are shovel-shaped, which allows them to dig.

Identify the type of shell. Sea, land and freshwater turtles have protective shells and scaly skin. With a few exceptions (such as the leatherback turtle), turtle shells are bony and hard. Those of land turtles tend to be rounded or dome shaped while those of freshwater turtles and sea turtles are more flattened.

Look for distinctive signs. If you are examining a particular species (sea, land, or freshwater turtle), look for signs on its body or shell that can help you identify the exact species of turtle you have. For example :

the tortoise malaclemys terrapin can be recognized by the diamond-shaped pattern on its shell;

the Florida turtle can be identified by the distinct red stripes on either side of its head;

the alligator turtle can be distinguished by the pointed plates that line its shell.

Observe the behavior of the reptile

Watch out for downturns. Sea turtles will huddle under the mud during cooler periods and enter torpor (a state similar to hibernation). During this period, the activity of the animal is reduced. It will remain in this condition until warm weather returns.

There is limited evidence that shows that freshwater turtles can also spend some time hibernating under mud or have slack periods.

Observe what the animal eats. The eating habits of sea turtles vary widely depending on the environment and species, but this can include insects, plants, and other small animals. Since they live on land, land turtles tend to feed on plants such as cacti, shrubs, and even grasses. As for freshwater turtles, their diet has not been studied in depth.

Observe the reptile’s nesting habit. Land turtles dig a hole in the ground to use it for shelter and to lay eggs. For spawning, freshwater turtles and marine tortures (which live in water and on land) will leave the aquatic environment to do so on land.


In Australia, only sea turtles can be referred to as chelonians (denomination of the order of reptiles with an elongated body, carapace and ventral plastron), although there are other species ( freshwater turtles and land turtles) which are also known as turtles. However, in French the name of these reptiles differs according to their living environment. We have for example, sea turtles, land turtles and freshwater turtles. The unscientific term commonly used in French to designate them all is tortoise .

Size is not a reliable clue that can help you identify a freshwater turtle, land turtle, or sea turtle, as there is variation within each species.

If you already have a reptile as a pet and can’t tell if it’s a freshwater turtle, sea turtle, or land turtle, then take the advice of a veterinarian.

Land turtles don’t have bright colors (like red), but it can be seen in sea turtles.

Do not take a wild turtle unless it is in danger. Sometimes they urinate to deter predators. So, they risk being dehydrated and eventually die in the absence of a water point in the vicinity.

Can you call a tortoise a turtle

Yes. American English often uses “turtle” for tortoise, in British English the two terms are not interchangeable, and (for what it’s worth) Indian English often uses tortoise as the generic term for both turtles and tortoises.

Which is bigger tortoise or turtle

Depends, both can be enormous. For clarity, let’s divide the Chelonians into three groups-Tortoises, Turtles, and Sea Turtles.

The largest tortoises are the Aldabra and Galapagos Giant Tortoises. Some Galapagos Giants can weigh up to 417 kilos (900-ish pounds), and Aldabra Giants reach a similar size.

The largest of the Sea Turtles is the Leatherback. Leatherbacks get up to 6 feet long and weigh over a ton.

Now, when we get to the largest freshwater turtles, that’s a little tricky. Maximum lengths and weights are heavily debated and very scattered

Are turtles faster than tortoise

Turtles are faster than tortoise. Tortoise are much slower than turtles cause even in land turtles can use their feet to move faster than tortoise.

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