If you are keen to know the turtle vs. tortoise differences, we list them down for you. The difference between these two species can be complicated as there are only a handful of differences between both the species.
The usage of the terms tortoise and turtle is mostly geographic, and they may not usually represent the scientific distinctions between them.
Turtles like the tortoise belong to the order from the reptile Testudines. The turtle may refer to the individual families that are a part of this order and are limited to the term’s usage only for the aquatic species. Tortoise, on the other hand, refers to the species that are non-swimmers.
So if you look at it, then this should mean that all the tortoises are turtles, but all the turtles are not tortoises.
The similarities between turtle and tortoise
Before we understand the differences between the two species, let us first understand the common traits. These are some of the physical characteristics that are found in both the turtle and the tortoise.
- Encased in a shell that is bony and has scutes or thickened boned plates that are made of keratin
- They have vertebrae and ribs that get fused to form their shell
- Have a pelvic girdle that sits on the rib cage
- They lay their eggs on land into nests that they excavate in the sand and on earth
- Are cold-blooded and their body temperature changes as per the environment
- Do not have teeth but have a hard beak
Now that we are aware of the similarities let us get into the differences between them.
Differences in their habitat
One of the most critical differences between a tortoise and a turtle is in their habitat. The tortoise is terrestrial, and turtles live in water or spend most of their time in the water.
Tortoises are not meant to stay in the water, so they live on land. The tortoise can be usually found in the semi-arid regions, but they can also live in a diverse environment. They can live in the grasslands, deserts evergreen and the wet tropical forests, and scrub.
Turtles, on the other hand, are aquatic. However, they lay their eggs on the land. They can also be semi-aquatic, but these cannot be terrestrial. The sea turtle will never leave the ocean.
The freshwater turtle’s species can live in or around the aquatic environment like lakes, ponds, and rivers.
The difference in their shell shape
The turtles usually spend a lot of time in the water, and thus, their shells are thin, flat, and streamlined. This helps them dive and swim. The tortoises stay on land, and therefore they have a heavy, dome-shaped, and round shell that gives them protection from their predators. The box turtle, however, is different, which has a dome-shaped shell.
The difference in how they shed their scute
Turtles will shed their scute to remove their old-growth; this will allow new scutes to grow underneath. They bask in the sun to keep their scutes dry, which helps them flake if easily. If that does not help, the turtle will rub its shell on rocks and trees to scrape off the scutes.
The tortoise, on the contrary, does not shed anything from its shells. The keratin keeps growing and does not shed. The old-growth, in turn, gives the shell a layered look. This compound growth, in turn, bulks their shell, which gives them protection from their predators.
The shape of their leg and feet
One of the best ways to understand if the species is a tortoise or a turtle is to look at their feet and legs. The feet of the tortoise are stumpy and paddy. They have scaled and horned toes that resemble the feet of a tiny elephant. Their elephant legs let the tortoise carry around its weight when they walk on land.
The feet of the turtle are different. These can be webbed and with long claws that let them latch to the floating object. It allows them to climb in and out of the water. In the case of the aquatic turtles, the feet will look like flippers instead of feet. The box turtle, however, does not have flippers or webbed feet.
Swimming ability of both the species
The tortoise will stay far from water until it has to drink or bathe. A tortoise does not know how to swim as the heavy and domed shell does not let them swim.
The turtle has a sleek body and shell shape. They have flippers or webbed feet, this is built to lead an aquatic life, and they are also great swimmers.
Range of movement
The turtles and the tortoises will be found in the semi-tropical and tropical climate because they need a warm temperature to survive. Turtles cannot be found in Antarctica, and tortoises are not found in Australasia and Antarctica. Else these are found everywhere.
Turtles and tortoises need a lot of minerals and nutrients that help to promote healthy growth. Tortoises usually are herbivores, and their diet changes depending on the species and their age. They live on a wide diet ranging from weeds, leaves, vegetables, fruits, and grasses.
Turtles are omnivores species and their eating habits are of the same kind that of the tortoises, plants. They also need a protein source that includes insects, worms, small fish, and jellyfish.
The lifespan of the tortoise is longer than that of turtles. A turtle lives for 30 years, and a large sea turtle may also live for 65 years. Tortoises have an average lifespan of 90 years. Their lifespan is dependent on their size. Some giant tortoises live beyond 100 years.
The above is a roundup of all the differences you should know about a tortoise and a turtle. This will help you to easily differentiate between the two species and next time if you spot one you should be able to say if that is a turtle or a tortoise.