Turtles vs Tortoise – What is the Difference

Turtles vs Tortoise – Many People are often confused between which one is which and what are the differences, we’ll clear this out!

Alot of people ask what is the difference between turtles vs tortoise, we’ll present the main differences and the minor ones.

Tortoises and turtles are very similar but and yet fall under different classification families.

The main difference is that tortoises are land creatures, while turtles live under the water most of the time.

This is the contrary of what most people think, there is a wrong assumption that there are turtles and sea turtles.

Due to this  major difference, Each specie has developed different characteristics and appearance.

African spurred tortoise
African Spurred Tortoise
Leatherback turtle
Leatherback Turtle


Turtles vs Tortoise – The History

In the Triassic, 260 million years ago, the turtle’s ancestor, the Captorhinus made his first appeared, was the first reptile to possess a shell that covered its thorax, organs, and that also covered its ribs.

This made it possible for some animals, such as the turtles, to develop a shell of bone.

Differences in terms of longevity

There is a great difference between the ages that a turtle can live according to its species.

The land turtles, for example, are the longest living to live more than 100 years.

In fact, the turtle that has lived the longest in history was a crashed tortoise from Madagascar that reached 188 years.

On the contrary, water turtles usually live between 15 and 20 years.

Case apart are the freshwater turtles, which can live up to 30 years if they receive good care.


Adaptation of the legs to the environment

The legs of the turtles is one of the most important elements when determining if you are facing a water turtle or before a land turtle.

Taking into account that sea turtles remain constantly inside the water it is logical that their legs are formed by a series of membranes that allow them to swim.

These membranes, called interdigital membranes because they are between the toes of the legs, are easy to detect with the naked eye.


In the case of land turtles do not have these membranes but their legs are tube-shaped and their fingers are more developed.

Another interesting difference is that sea turtles have long fingernails and pointed fingernails while those of land are shorter and atrophied.


The character –  Turtles vs Tortoise

The character depends a lot on the habitat in which they develop and if they are domestic or not

In this case, water turtles tend to have a very calm character even though their interaction if they are in captivity is very low.

However, the temperament of land tortoises is stronger and that is to live in freedom and have to protect their young is what makes them more irascible and always on the defensive.

An example of extreme aggressiveness can be seen in the tortoise aligator, a turtle that adapts wonderfully to live on land and in water.


Feeding and Nutrition

Both species are very similar when it comes to their eating habits. Theoretically, you can feed them with the exact same menu.

However, In reality, each of them lives in different environment thus finding different type of food.


Differences in the carapace

In the case of the carapace, the most important difference is that while the water turtle has a very smooth shell that helps it move through the water, the land turtle has a carapace full of wrinkles and a very irregular shape.

The last type of shell is very characteristic. for example, of the Leopard land turtle.

Leopard Tortoise
Leopard Tortoise



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