Tortoise vs. Turtle


Tortoises and Turtles are both reptiles from the family of Testudines, the major difference being that the land dwelling ones are called Tortoises and water dwelling are called Turtles. The body of a tortoise and a turtle both is shielded by a shell, the upper part of which is called Carapace and the lower portion is called Plastron. The Carapace and the Plastron are attached at the end by a bridge which means that though the head and limbs may be withdrawn from the shell, the whole body can never be totally detached from it. These reptiles are generally reclusive and shy in nature.

The differences between turtle and tortoise are as follows:

Comparison chart




Definition A Tortoise is a reptile from the Chelonian family and dwells well on land. A Turtle is a reptile from the Chelonian family and dwells well in the water.
Distribution Found mostly in Asia and Africa but some species exist in Americas too. Africa, America.
Shape of the shell Mostly large dome shaped shells (with bumps on the top in some species). Mostly flat, streamlined shells.
Weight of the shell The shells are heavier. Generally light-weight shell.
Limbs Feet are short and sturdy with bent legs. Webbed feet with long claws.
Diet Most are herbivores, but some species prefer live food. Eats fruits, veggies, leafy vegetation and meat, hence they are omnivores.
Birth Tortoise hatchlings move from their nest to the mothers burrow soon after birth. Turtle hatchlings stay in their nest on their own for 90-120 days.
Family Chelonians Chelonians
Class Reptilia Reptilia
Kingdom Animalia Animalia
Crown Group Chelonia Chelonia
Lifespan 80-150 years. The longest living Tortoise is 326 years. 20-40 years. The oldest was 86 years.

Contents: Tortoise vs Turtle

Differences in Habitat

A Turtle lives in the water and a tortoise lives on land. Both turtle and tortoise lay eggs on the ground. The mother will dig a burrow and lay two to twelve eggs there but in the case of a Turtle, the hatchlings will stay inside the egg for 90 to 120 days while in a Tortoise, the hatchling will follow the mother to its own burrow. Turtle hatchlings incubate on their own and once the process is complete they dig their way to the surface but in the case of a Tortoise, the mother provides protection to the hatchling for about 80 days after which they survive on their own.

Differences in Physical Characteristics

Turtles have flat shells and webbed feet with long claws.
Turtles have flat shells and webbed feet with long claws.

A tortoise has a dome shaped shell with short and sturdy feet. It's legs are bent, instead of being straight and directy under the body. A turtle has a flat streamlined shell with webbed feet with long claws. In the case of a Turtle, the limbs are quite similar to that of a Tortoise but its feet are webbed and have long claws which provide a good grip upon floating logs and help clamber on to riverbanks. Some turtles might even have flippers as is, in the case of the famous Pig-nose Turtles.

Tortoise vs Turtle shell

A tortoise shell is shaped like a dome.
A tortoise shell is shaped like a dome.

The shells that cover the body of these reptiles are very important as it gives us a fair idea of how these reptiles live. As Turtles live in water, the shell of a turtle is flat and streamlined which aids in swimming and diving while that of a Tortoise, which lives on land, is rather large and dome shaped to provide protection from the predators. Also, the shell of a Tortoise is quite heavy as compared to that of a Turtle which is lighter to avoid sinking and help swim faster in the water.

Differences in Diet

Most land-based tortoises are herbivores while turtles can be both herbivores and carnivores. This is a video of a turtle eating a pigeon.

Reproduction of Turtles vs. Tortoises

The eggs from a turtle are somewhat soft and leather-like, similar to the eggs produced by other reptiles. Turtle hatchlings stay in their nest on their own for 90-120 days.

Female tortoises dig burrows in which they lay anywhere from 2 to 12 eggs. Hatchlings take approximately 90-120 days to incubate within the ping-pong-ball sized eggs.

Difference in Lifespan

Tortoises generally have lifespans comparable with those of human beings, and some individuals are known to have lived longer than 150 years. The oldest tortoise life recorded was of an animal that lived for 188 years.

Common lifespan of a turtle is estimated at between 20-40 years. Sea turtles requiring 40 to 50 years to mature have life spans reaching at least 60 to 70 years.

On occasion it has been reported that individuals of a few tortoise species have lived in captivity for 100 to 250 years. In many of these cases, the reported sex of the supposedly long-lived tortoise, or the species, or even both, have mysteriously changed during captivity, making it difficult to accept the reliability of such reports. It is likely that 100 years is not the maximum for a few species, especially sea turtles and giant tortoises, but, in order to surpass this age, an extremely nurturing, protective environment would be required.[1]

As Pets

Both are kept as pets; though turtles are more common. Tortoises are actually easier to care for, but more expensive. Unless you are an avid collector, willing and able to have a very long commitment neither is recommended as a pet.

Geographical Distribution

Tortoises are found mostly in Asia and Africa, while turtles are found in Africa and America.


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Comments: Tortoise vs Turtle

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Anonymous comments (15)

June 4, 2014, 6:48am

Does this mean that the TMNT are actually tortoises

— 27.✗.✗.29

March 21, 2014, 11:49am


— 223.✗.✗.251

February 28, 2014, 3:43pm


— 120.✗.✗.245

October 31, 2012, 1:13pm

Thanks a lot. This page helped me a lot in learning the differences between a tortoise and a turtle. I didn't realise that they had major differences like that. This is a very helpful page. Very helpful for students like me. Thank you once again.

— 124.✗.✗.19

August 22, 2010, 2:28pm

Isn't Testudines an order, not a family?

— 70.✗.✗.2

February 1, 2014, 5:05am

There's a snapping turtle is there a snapping tortoise? If so what's the defferences in there bites?(as far as damage is concerned. I told my female friend that a bite from the snapping turtle can hurt bu only break the skin. On the other hand the tortoises bite will sever the finger and or bigger limbs. An I correct?

— 107.✗.✗.46

February 13, 2013, 2:43pm


— 14.✗.✗.194

November 10, 2012, 8:12pm

Yes both can be pets but so can any wild creature and is not recommended. so as not to advertise or endorsing it, leave the statement as it is not.

— 166.✗.✗.30

February 26, 2014, 7:18am


— 204.✗.✗.86

February 15, 2014, 4:28am

Very helpful,thanks

— 27.✗.✗.148

December 20, 2011, 3:56pm

Does anyone know what the crown group for the Tortoise is?

— 216.✗.✗.31

November 21, 2011, 4:21am

Turtles are also in the Reptilia class. They can't be in the same Family and not in the same Class.

— 65.✗.✗.233

November 10, 2011, 9:12am

Someone needs to change the pet catagory. Many people have tortoises as pets!!! Actually much easier than a turtle.

— 69.✗.✗.211

May 17, 2012, 5:28am

i reckon i would want to be a turtle and live longer! ha ha!!!!

— 203.✗.✗.24

June 9, 2012, 5:49am

what is star tortoise? does it come from stars??? :O

— 121.✗.✗.112


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