Are you confused about the differences between Tortoise vs Turtle? You’re not alone! At a glance, both creatures appear to have lots of similarities. It’s easy to assume that you can use the words “tortoise” and “turtle” interchangeably, but that isn’t the case. In reality, although both creatures belong to the same kingdom, phylum, class, and order, tortoises exclusively belong to the Testudinidae family while turtles span an array of families. They share many physical similarities, but turtles and tortoises also have several physical differences, and these differences make it reasonably easy to tell them apart. For example, tortoises’ carapaces, or upper shells, are heavy, large, and domed; turtles’ carapaces, on the other hand, are lightweight, streamlined for speed, and flat.
If you look at Tortoise vs Turtle, they exhibit distinct behaviors that also help to differentiate them from each other. Upon being born, for instance, tortoise hatchlings leave the nest immediately while turtle hatchlings remain in the nest independently for 90 to 120 days. Tortoises are almost exclusively herbivores, but turtles are true omnivores, regularly consuming both plants and animals. Another critical difference between tortoises and turtles is that the former lives for 80 to 150 years while the latter has an average lifespan of 20 to 40 years.
Comparing Tortoise vs. Turtle
|Habitat||On land most of the time||In water some or all of the time|
|Distribution||Asia, Africa, Americas||Africa, America|
|Climate||Tropical and sub-tropical||Mostly tropical and sub-tropical, but many species can hibernate over long winters.|
|Limbs||Short, sturdy, bent legs that look like an elephant’s||Streamlined legs, webbed feet, and long claws|
|Shell Shape||Large, heavy, and dome-shaped||Streamlined for speed, lightweight and flat|
|Lifespan||80 to 150 years||20 to 40 years|
|Diet||Mostly herbivorous, but some eat live food||Omnivorous|
|Birth||Hatchlings move from the nest quickly||Hatchlings remain in the nest on their own for 90 to 120 days|
|Hibernation||Do not hibernate||May hibernate in cold climates|
The 10 Key Differences Between Turtles and Tortoises
1. Tortoise vs Turtle: Classification
One factor that causes a lot of confusion between tortoises and turtles is how they are classified. In terms of similarities, both creatures belong to the Animalia kingdom, the Chordata phylum, the Reptilia class, and the Testudines order. Tortoises belong exclusively to the family Testudinidae, but turtles belong to numerous different families. Therefore, if you are certain a creature is a tortoise, you can be equally certain that it belongs to the Testudinidae family, which spans 11 genera and 40 to 50 species.
2. Tortoise vs Turtle: Habitat
Tortoises live exclusively on land. Turtles, on the other hand, are in the water some or all of the time. Therefore, you are unlikely to find turtles far from water, but it’s not unusual to find tortoises in more land-locked areas.
3. Tortoise vs Turtle: Distribution
Turtles are primarily found in Africa and America. Tortoises, however, are mostly found in Asia and Africa. Many tortoise species are found in the Americas too. Most famously, tortoises are found in the Galapagos Islands, which are off the coast of South America.
4. Tortoise vs Turtle: Climate
Tortoises are almost exclusively found in tropical and sub-tropical climates. However, some species can limit their metabolisms to cope with temperature drops. Turtles are also overwhelmingly found in tropical and sub-tropical climates. Because they hibernate, however, they tend to do well in a greater variety of climates than tortoises.
5. Tortoise vs Turtle: Limbs
The limbs on a tortoise look remarkably similar to those of an elephant. They are sturdy and short, and they bend. Meanwhile, turtles, which spend lots of time swimming, have streamlined legs with webbed feet and long claws. These features allow them to attain higher speeds in the water.
6. Tortoise vs Turtle: Shell Shape
Turtles’ shells help them move well in the water, so they are lightweight, flat, and streamlined. Tortoise shells, on the other hand, are designed more for protection on land. Therefore, they are heavy, oversized and concave, or dome-shaped.
7. Tortoise vs Turtle: Lifespan
Tortoises are among the longest-living creatures on earth. Depending on species, they can live anywhere from 80 to 150 years. The average lifespan for a turtle is significantly less at 20 to 40 years.
8. Tortoise vs Turtle: Diet
9. Tortoise vs Turtle: Birth
10. Tortoise vs Turtle: Hibernation
Some species of turtles hibernate through the winter in cold climates – typically along riverbanks. Meanwhile, because they live almost exclusively in tropical and sub-tropical climates, tortoises do not hibernate. However, they may limit their metabolisms in case of cold or otherwise harsh weather.
Tortoise vs Turtle: 10 Biggest Differences Explained FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Are tortoises and turtles related?
Yes, tortoises and turtles are related. Both creatures belong to the kingdom Animalia, the phylum Chordata, the class Reptilia and the order Testudines. However, tortoises exclusively belong to the family Testudinidae while turtles belong to numerous different families.
Why do Americans call tortoises turtles?
Technically, the word “tortoise” refers to any species that belongs to the family Testudinidae. Testudinidae is just one of many families belonging to the order Testudines, however, which includes turtles. For this reason, it can be said that all tortoises are turtles, but all turtles are not tortoises. Since neither tortoises nor turtles are found in Europe, the terms tend to be used interchangeably in many parts of the world.