difference between turtles and tortoises
Telling the Difference Between Turtles and Tortoises

How Do You Tell the Difference Between Turtles and Tortoises?

It’s happened to everyone. Who hasn’t mixed up turtles and tortoises before? They look and act so alike. It’s easy to see how the two can be interchangeable – but the fact is, there are ways to tell the difference between turtles and tortoises, just as there are characteristics that make them similar.

For example, both turtles and tortoises are reptiles from the order of Testudines. In fact, all tortoises are turtles, but not all turtles are tortoises. How crazy is that?

Habitats and Diets

The biggest difference between the two is the habitat. Tortoises live on land while turtles live in the water all or some of the time. This is particularly crucial, as some people find a tortoise, mistake it for a turtle and then put it in water where it can drown. Know your reptile before moving it.

Most tortoises are herbivores, meaning they prefer fruits, vegetables and plants, though some tortoises eat live food, making them omnivores. Turtles will eat it all: fruits, vegetables and meat, making them omnivores.

Shell Shape and Anatomy

Both have shells that they often recede into due to their shy nature. However, tortoises are known for their heavy dome-shaped shells, usually with bumps on top; this helps protect the tortoise from predators. Turtles have lighter, flat, streamlined shells that allow for swimming and diving.

Tortoises have short feet with bent legs that make crawling easy. Turtles have webbed feet with long claws, which are perfect for swimming and climbing onto logs or river banks. Sea turtles even have flippers.

Turtle 1

Difference Between Turtles and Tortoises in Lifespan

Another significant detail is how long – or short – these creatures live. Tortoises, like the Galapagos tortoise, can live up to 80 to 150 years. The longest living tortoise is a Seychelles giant tortoise named Jonathan, and he is currently in his 180s. Turtles, on the other hand, can live up to between 20 and 40 years. Sea turtles usually average about 60 years.


Even though both lay their eggs on the ground, they have a difference in how long they stay with the young after hatching. Tortoise mothers do provide initial protection to the hatchlings before they go off on their own – the mothers will stay with their young for about 80 days – while the turtle hatchlings are on their own from the moment they hatch.

Turtle 3

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