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Did you ever wonder what’s the difference between turtle and tortoise?

We get confused with multiple animals like hare and rabbit, mouse and rat, and alligator and crocodile.

One of such confusions in animal pairs is turtle and tortoise. Did you know that all tortoises are turtles, but all turtles are not tortoises? What does that mean?

We will find out in our article on the difference between turtle and tortoise. Are you ready? Let us begin…

But before we begin with the difference between turtle and tortoise, let us learn a little bit about these two reptiles and know their scientific classification. 

Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Reptilia

Clade: Perichelydia

Order: Testudines

Tortoises are a type of turtle. Turtles are present in two suborders – Cryptodira and Pleurodira. 

Cryptodira consists of terrestrial tortoises, marine turtles, some of the freshwater turtles. Pleurodira consists of side neck turtles. 


Turtles are members of the order Testudines or Chelonia. They have a cartilaginous or bony shell around their bodies which acts as a shield. Turtle word is generally used for the Testudines that are either sea-dwelling or freshwater dwelling. 

The order contains both extinct and extant (still living) species. The earliest members of the order date back to the Jurassic age which makes them more ancient than crocodiles and snakes

As of today, there are over 360 species of turtles and some of them are endangered. 


The tortoise belongs to the suborder Cryptodira, superfamily Testudinoidea, and family Testudinidae. They are land dwelling reptiles. 

Tortoises have a shell (either bony or cartilaginous) which protects their bodies. There are some tortoises which measure only a few centimeters and others measure up to two meters. 

They are the longest-living animals on the planet. On an average, they live for around 80-150 years. A male Aldabra giant tortoise named Adwaita (in Kolkata) lived for around 255 years!

We learnt briefly about turtle and tortoise, let us now move to the difference between turtle and tortoise.

Difference Between Turtle and Tortoise

Physical Characteristics

Turtles have a flat and streamlined shell that helps them in swimming. The legs are bent and not straight and are under the body. They have webbed feet and have long claws to grip on to logs in the water. Some of them may even have flippers like pig-nose turtles. 

Tortoises have a large, dome-shaped shell and the legs are bent (the same way as turtles) but claws and webbed feet are not present. 


The turtle’s shell is streamlined to help it to swim and dive. The tortoise’s shell is larger than the turtle’s shell. It is dome-shaped and is stronger to protect itself from predators. 

The tortoise’s shell is heavier than the turtle’s shell. The shell is lighter in turtles because to increase the speed of swimming and to avoid sinking. 


Turtles mostly live underwater whereas tortoises are terrestrial animals. Both of them lay eggs on the ground. The mothers dig a burrow and lay around 2-12 eggs per season. The incubation period is around 90-120 days. 

Once the incubation period is over, they dig the soil and reach the surface. Tortoises protect their offspring for 80 days and then they are on their own. However, turtle offspring are on their own from day one. 

Geographic Distribution

All turtles prefer warmer areas (including tortoises). However, turtles are mostly found in Africa and the Americas. Tortoises, on the other hand, are found in Asia and Africa. 

Some of the turtles hibernate in cold climates (near riverside) but hibernation is not seen in tortoises as they live in areas that are warm all round the year. However, tortoises decrease their metabolism when there is very little or no food available. 


The eggs of a turtle are leather-like and soft like the eggs produced by other reptiles. The eggs incubate by themselves for a period of 90 to 120 days. 

Female tortoises dig deep burrows and lay around two to twelve eggs. The eggs are of ping-pong ball size. The incubation period is around 90-120 days. 


Most of the tortoises are herbivores meaning they eat plants. Some species of turtles are herbivores and the others are carnivores meaning they feed on meat and some of them are omnivores – they eat both plants and animals. 


Tortoises are one of the longest living animals on the Earth. The average lifespan of a tortoise is 80-150 years. The lifespan of a turtle is just 20 to 40 years. 

Sea turtles can live for 60 to 70 years. It takes nearly 40 to 50 years to attain maturity. 

Most of the tortoises live for 100 years in captivity without any problem. But as they cross 100 years, their requirements like diet, exercise have to be under control. 


Small turtles and tortoises can be kept at home as pets. Small turtles need more care but are less expensive. Tortoises are pretty expensive but are easy to care. 

The owners should give long term commitment to take care of them. Hence, having turtles or tortoises as pets is not usually encouraged. 

Difference Between Turtle and Tortoise in a Nutshell

DistributionAfrica and the AmericasAfrica and Asia
Shell’s shapeFlat and streamlinedDome-shaped
Weight of the shellLighterHeavier
DietMostly omnivores i.e., they eat plants and animalsMostly herbivores
LimbsShort and sturdyWebbed feet with long claws
Lifespan80-150 years20-40 years
FamilyMultiple families of the order Testudines like Dermatemydidae, Carettochelyidae, Emydidae, etc. Testudinidae
BirthEggs are leather-like and incubation period is 90 to 120 daysEggs are laid in a burrow and are of ping-pong ball size. The incubation period is the same i.e., 90-120 days.

Hope you liked the article on the difference between turtle and tortoise, if you want to read more such articles on differences between animals or anything, keep browsing more. 

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