Turtles and tortoises are remarkable organisms that are sometimes grouped owing to their similar traits, such as their hard shells and categorization as reptiles. Yet, while these two species of animals share certain similarities, they also have substantial variances in their habitat, feeding, and behavior.
We will explore the main distinctions between turtles VS tortoises and discover more about these unique animals below.
Left image credit: Wexor Tmg; Right image credit: Melissa Keizer
Key Differences Between a Turtle and Tortoise
- Size: Turtles are typically smaller, while tortoises are bigger.
- Shell shape: Turtles have a more streamlined, flat shell suited for swimming. Turtles have more rounded Shells to protect themselves from predators and the elements,
- Limbs and Feet: Turtles have webbed feet suitable for swimming, while tortoises have short, stubby feet, which are designed for walking on land.
- Behavior: Turtles are more active and curious than tortoises and are often observed lounging in the sun or exploring their habitat. Tortoises are more sedentary and prefer to spend much of their time in a single spot, nibbling on plants or resting in the shade of their shells.
- Diet: Turtles are omnivores and eat items including; vegetation, insects, and small animals. In contrast, tortoises are herbivores and mainly consume grass.
- Habitat: The habitat of each species is one of the fundamental distinctions between turtles and tortoises. Turtles have streamlined shells and webbed feet that enable them to swim effectively and are even adapted for life in water. In contrast, tortoises are designed for life on land and have thicker dome-shaped shells and sturdier legs that allow them to cross rugged terrain.
We’ll explore these differences and exciting facts about these creatures below.
The bone shell of turtles is created of a lower Shell called the Plastron and an upper Shell called the carapace. Their shell is joined to their ribs and spine, protecting their body.
Turtles also have broad, flat bodies with four legs, which are usually short and sturdy. Their claws are frequently sharp for digging and climbing, and their feet have webbed toes adapted for swimming.
Turtles eat a range of items, such as plants, insects, and other tiny creatures, with the help of their beak-like jaws, which are toothless. They also have long necks that they may retract within their shell for safety.
Being omnivores, turtles consume both plant and animal stuff. The actual food of a turtle might vary based on its species, age, and location.
Aquatic vegetation, insects, snails, and tiny fish make up the majority of the diet of sea turtles. If available, they can also consume fruit and vegetables.
More diverse food sources, such as insects, worms, snails, small animals, and even carrion, are consumed by semi-aquatic turtles. They also consume plant foods, including berries, fruits, and grasses.
Here are some concise descriptions of a few bog standard turtle species out of the many that exist:
- Red-eared Slider: Aquatic turtles with a distinctive red stripe behind each eye. They are common household pets and are indigenous to North and Central America.
- Painted Turtle: A common aquatic turtle found in North America with a distinctive red and yellow shell pattern.
- Box Turtle: A semi-aquatic turtle that may be found throughout North America is the box turtle. Domed-shelled box turtles have a lifespan of up to 100 years.
- Leatherback Turtle: The leatherback is a giant marine turtle, growing to a length of 7 feet and weighing up to 2000 pounds. They inhabit every ocean on the earth and are distinguished by their soft, leather-like shell.
- Loggerhead Turtle: Another giant sea turtle, the loggerhead can weigh up to 400 pounds and grow up to 3 feet long. The Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans are where they can be found.
- Green Turtle: A green turtle is a medium-sized sea turtle that may be found worldwide in tropical and subtropical waters. They get their name from the greenish hue of their fat, and in certain cultures, they are a primary source of sustenance.
All Turtle lays their eggs on land, and none care for their young. Reproductive activity is typically seasonal and coincides with yearly weather shifts for most species. Most temperate turtles can become reproductively active when the days get longer and warmer (i.e., in the spring), while tropical species can become reproductively active at the end of the dry season or the beginning of the wet season.
The sex of a hatchling is determined by the temperature of the sand where it nests. Nests that incubate at lower temperatures are inclined to generate more male offspring, whereas nests that incubate at higher temperatures tend to produce more female offspring.
The clutch releases hatchlings that are 1.5 to 3 inches long after more than sixty days of incubation. Each hatchling sprints for the ocean while thrashing its flippers. Female hatchlings will ultimately return to the same beaches or natal beaches to restart the cycle if they can evade predators, endure severe tropical weather, and stay away from human dangers, while male hatchlings will spend the remainder of their lives at sea.
There are several dangers for turtles both in the wild and in captivity. The following are some of the main threats affecting turtle populations:
- Hunting and poaching
- Climate change
- Invasive species
- Habitat degradation
- Unintentional capture
Tortoises are protected from predators by a domed shell formed of bone and coated with keratin. They have four robust legs with scaly skin and toes appropriate for walking on land. Their wrinkled features are characterized by a hooked beak used for biting and shredding plants, small spherical eyes, and a keen sense of smell. Tortoise’s skin color differs depending on species and environment, with some having a mottled pattern and others a uniform color. Many tortoises live for over 100 years.
Tortoises are herbivores, which means their diet consists mainly of plant material. Their diet may change depending on the species and environment they live in. Tortoises need to have a balanced diet that includes sources of calcium and other nutrients to maintain healthy shells and bones.
There are many species of tortoise, each with its unique characteristics and habitat. Some examples of tortoise species include:
- The Galapagos tortoise: One of the giant kinds of turtle, unique to the Galapagos Islands and renowned for its prolonged lifespan—some have been known to live for more than 170 years.
- The African Spurred Tortoise: A species of desert tortoise native to northern Africa, distinguished by its size, toughness, and characteristic golden-brown shell.
- Russian Tortoise: Tiny tortoise species discovered in Central Asia, notable for its unusual leopard-like shell pattern.
- Red-footed Tortoise: A South American species of medium-sized tortoise is distinguished by its swimming prowess and reddish-orange scales on its feet and legs.
- Sulcata Tortoise: A large species of tortoise endemic to the African Sahel area, renowned for its hardiness, longevity, and capacity to construct tunnels to protect itself from harsh temperatures.
Tortoises mature sexually between the ages of 10 and 20 when their carapace or upper shell reaches a length of 6 to 8 inches. They mate with several partners and practice polygamy. To fertilize her eggs for up to four years following copulation, the female tortoise may retain sperm in her cloaca.
Spring and summer are the seasons for courtship. Both male and female tortoises can be violent, and the female finally loses. The male approaches the female in a circle, frequently bowing his head and nipping at her legs and carapace margins. To trap her and mount her, he slams into her.
The female tortoise uses its front legs to dig a tunnel, then she moves backward and extends the egg chamber with her back legs. Before covering the nest, she lays 12 to 40 eggs there. To deter predators, she defecates on and around the nest. It typically takes 80 to 120 days for the eggs to hatch, during which time some females protect their nests. The young are not provided any parental attention.
Both in the wild and in captivity, Tortoises are subject to several dangers. The following are some of the greatest threats to tortoises:
- Habitat destruction
- Climate change
- Invasive species
What is the main difference between turtles and tortoises?
Their environment is the fundamental distinction between turtles and tortoises. Whereas tortoises are adapted for terrestrial areas, turtles are for aquatic or semi-aquatic situations.
Can turtles and tortoises interbreed?
Generally speaking, due to their distinct biological groupings, turtles and tortoises cannot interbreed. Nonetheless, a few hybrids of closely related species have been documented.
Are turtles and tortoises endangered?
Threats such as habitat loss, poaching, and climate change have led to the extinction of several species of turtles and tortoises. Conservation is crucial to protect the survival of these creatures and their habitats.