What is the difference between a turtle and a tortoise? Many people use the terms interchangeably, but there are actually some key differences between these two creatures.
In this blog post, we will discuss the differences between a tortoise (Testudinidae) and a turtle (Testiduines) and provide information on which one might be best for you. So, what are the differences? Keep reading to find out!
Turtle vs. tortoise – Lifespan
Tortoises have an exceptionally long life span; they live significantly longer than turtles.
Turtles can live up to 80 years in captivity, with larger sea turtles living an average of 65 years.
By contrast, the average lifespan of a tortoise is 90 years, and their size usually determines their lifespan. Giant tortoises are known to live well over 100 years, possibly even 200 years; Jonathan, a Seychelles giant tortoise on Saint Helena who is thought to be 188 years old, is the oldest currently living terrestrial animal.
Turtle vs. tortoise – Shell
Turtles are frequently mistaken for each other, and both types have features that may cause confusion. They include a shell on their back, a similar skeletal structure, and an overall appearance. Despite this, they have distinct physical structures that can aid identification, starting with their shells.
Turtles have more streamlined shells. They’ll be shaped more like a long oval and will be rather streamlined, allowing them to swim faster. Tortoises have larger, dome-like shells with more prominent scutes.
Scutes are the bumps on a turtle or tortoise’s shell, and they’re just scutes. We’ll get into them further later since how their scutes develop is another difference between the two species.
Turtle vs. tortoise – Size
Another difference between turtles and tortoises is their size. Tortoises are typically much larger than turtles, with some species reaching up to two feet in length.
Shell size difference may indicate whether an animal is a turtle or tortoise. Although their size range is smaller, tortoises are heavier than turtles of comparable dimensions. A typical tortoise weighs between 4 and 60 pounds (2 and 27 kg), whereas a typical turtle can grow up to 9 feet (2.7 m) long!
The Galapagos tortoise is the largest of the tortoise species and can reach a weight of over 800 pounds (360 kg). The largest sea turtles, like the leatherback, can reach weights of over 2,000 pounds (900 kg)!
Turtle vs. tortoise – Diet
Turtles and tortoises have very different diets, except for a few species.
Tortoises are almost always herbivores. Tortoises live on land, where there is more plant life available, so they’ll eat mostly leaves, grasses, fruits, and veggies. When they need specific minerals like calcium, they may swallow rocks.
Turtles are opportunistic omnivores. Fish, frogs, worms, butterflies, jellyfish, invertebrates, algae, plants, and occasionally larger animals are among their diet choices. This is because turtles live in water, where there is not a lot of plant life.
Turtle vs. tortoise – Feet
Turtles and tortoises also have different feet. Turtle feet are webbed and designed for swimming, while tortoise feet are stumpy and used for walking on land. This is another difference to keep in mind if you are looking for a pet that will be mostly living on land or in water.
Turtles and tortoises can be readily distinguished by their appearance. Tortoises live on land and are unable to survive in the water.
Check out the legs and feet to see whether it’s a turtle or a tortoise.
Tortoises’ feet are thick and stumpy, with horned, scaly toes that resemble tiny elephant feet. Their strong elephantine legs assist tortoises in carrying their weight on land.
A turtle’s feet are very different since they may be webbed with lengthy claws to allow them to cling to floating stuff and climb into and out of the water, or they may be genuine flippers rather than feet in the case of aquatic turtles.
Again, box turtles are the exception to the role here, without webbed feet or flippers.
Turtle vs. tortoise – Habitat
Turtles can be entirely aquatic or spend most of their lives in water, coming out only to sunbathe. Both reptiles are quite flexible and may dwell in a wide range of habitats.
Tortoises are most common in arid regions. They may be found in deserts, grasslands, scrub-brush, and wooded areas.
There are of course exceptions, such as the island-dwelling Galapagos tortoise, but one of the reasons they remain isolated is their inability to cross water.
Turtles are found more often in wet environments. Lakes, rivers, ponds, swamps, marshes, and even the open ocean are all places you’ll find turtles.
Sea turtles rarely leave the water, while freshwater turtles will be found along the banks of water sources or basking on land- hibernation.
The term “hibernation” is used to describe the condition in which these reptiles enter during winter, but neither turtle nor tortoise hibernates in the same way that mammals do.
This is how cold-blooded reptiles are able to survive when they would otherwise be unable to maintain their body temperatures.
Both of them are susceptible to freezing since they can’t regulate their body temperatures. Turtles and tortoises that develop ice crystals in their bodies eventually die. Species of both animals either slow down or cease many of their bodily processes and activities in order to combat this.
Tortoises can shut down their bodily functions and enter a state of brumation. It’s like they’re hibernating, just on a smaller scale. They may leave their burrows to get some sun or drink water on warm days.
Seasonally chilly places are home to certain tortoises that brumate, although most tortoises can’t do this and live in areas where it is unnecessary.
Turtles take various approaches to hibernation. Due to the increased insulation that water provides, they typically sleep underwater. It helps keep their body temperature constant throughout the winter.
There is a problem with hibernating underwater: turtles require air to breathe. Some species combat this in various ways, but the lengthy metabolic and functional declines require less oxygen.
Painted turtles and snapping turtles can physiologically adjust their metabolism to operate without requiring oxygen.
This has a time limit due to acid buildup in muscles, but it’s usually long enough to get through the winter. These turtles actively move calcium from their shells to neutralize the acid to ward off the acid.
Turtles may also breathe somewhat through their butts. This “butt-breathing” moves water over blood vessels, taking in tiny oxygen quantities for the turtle.
Threats to Turtles and Tortoises
One of the biggest threats to turtles and tortoises is habitat loss. As humans continue to develop land, these animals are losing their homes. In addition, turtles and tortoises are often hunted for their meat and shells. This can have a devastating effect on the populations of these animals.
Turtles and tortoises are susceptible to a variety of pollutants. Garbage is a serious concern for them, particularly sea turtles. Plastic pollution in the ocean is an important issue that requires attention.
Turtles feed on jellyfish all the time. Unfortunately for them, they don’t have great eyesight, and a floating plastic bag appears to be exactly the same as one of their favorite meals. Over time, eating plastic can cause the turtle’s death.
Turtles and tortoises can be seriously damaged or killed by other trash. Plastic rings from cans, shopping bags, cans, and bottles are a major source of pollution in their natural habitats. While the majority of it is due to a viral video that has gone viral, plastic straws may occasionally get trapped inside turtles.
Pollution’s overall impact on the environment is another issue. This leans toward habitat loss since trash and chemicals enter ecosystems and affect turtles and tortoises, but it also affects them.
Turtles and tortoises, like other animals, are affected by human encroachment. Animals are being forced to migrate as we divide and destroy chunks of territory. While both turtles and tortoises can relocate long distances, they aren’t safe while doing so.
Habitat loss may lead to population fragmentation. It’s when a species’ population is split into smaller groups and can’t travel through specific regions to meet up with one another. This lowers genetic diversity and the overall health of a population.
Turtles may live in one specific location their entire lives or return to the site of their birth to lay eggs. Sea turtles are an excellent illustration of this since they travel thousands of kilometers to visit the beaches where they were born.
When people build on that beach, it destroys the nesting ground, putting eggs and babies at risk and sometimes preventing turtles from laying eggs at all.
It would be simple to say they could just lay them somewhere else. Unfortunately, this behavior is hardwired in them, resulting in significant population decreases due to their inability to reproduce.
Humans consume turtles in huge numbers for food, medicine, and as pets.
Turtles are farmed or caught in the wild to become a meal worldwide, especially in Asia. Softshell turtles are sustainably fed and farmed. Turtle eggs have a high market value, especially among Asian consumers.
Turtles are also used for therapeutic purposes. When discussing hazards to numerous species, traditional Chinese medicine comes up frequently. Turtles are no exception.
In ancient times, people used the skin of various animals to make leather goods and clothing. Many creatures have been hunted for their skins throughout history, including elephants, rhinos, turtles, reptiles (snakes or lizards), tigers, and other large wild cats like leopards. This is because humans value these animals for various reasons.
Turtles have grown in popularity as pets. Thanks to their flexibility, small turtles are excellent pets. They’re entertaining to watch while they swim about or eat.
The problem is that increasingly rare and endangered species are becoming status symbols. Thousands of these turtles are discovered yearly in anti-smuggling operations targeting the illegal pet trade.
Why should we care about our consumption of turtles or keep them as pets? Aside from our harvesting rate being unsustainable, there are two main concerns.
Turtles have a high birth rate, but it is necessary to compensate for their extremely poor survival rate. They lay huge clutches of eggs, but only 80% to 90% of youngsters survive to adulthood. Raising the proportion will result in a population decrease.
Turtles can lay eggs their entire lives as long as they are healthy. They do not become unable to breed due to old age.
The high mortality rate of adult females also contributes to this. Thousands of potential eggs are lost when adult females are taken for food or pets, which helps maintain their population.
Invasive species cause a significant amount of harm to native creatures. They come in and out to compete with native species for food, don’t have natural predators to keep their population in check, and thrive due to these factors.
Turtles can face many issues due to invasive species. More predators imply that more turtles are eaten. This lowers the adult population of turtles that may reproduce and also raises the juvenile mortality rate.
Eggs aren’t safe either. Many animals already raid turtle nests and consume their eggs like raccoons.
Typically, there are enough turtles in an ecosystem to maintain a steady rate of new hatchlings and juvenile turtles. When an invasive species is introduced into the equation, the stress on turtle eggs rises to unsustainable levels.
By consuming them or out-competing them for food, turtle populations suffer and can even disappear because of invasive species.
Turtles are no different from other animals on the planet in that climatic shifts influence them.
In the short term, milder winters and increased temperatures would appear to extend turtles’ ranges and increase their feeding opportunities throughout the year.
From a short-term viewpoint, this isn’t entirely incorrect. Warm temperatures over greater areas enable reptiles to colonize new territories. The issue is that they will have to eat more to obtain the nutrients they require.
Higher temperatures mean turtles spend less time in a “hibernation” state where their metabolism is slowed. This can lead to declines in the food population and, subsequently a decline in the turtle population as food becomes more scarce.
In regions that are already hot or arid, they will become hotter and drier. This is also a problem for turtles and tortoises adapted to their average temperatures.
How You Can Help
There are many ways that you can help turtles and tortoises. One way is to support organizations that work to protect their habitat. Another way is to be careful about the products you buy; many products contain turtle shells or oil derived from turtles. You can also spread the word about these animals and why they need our help!