Turtle vs Tortoise Differences and Comparison

Difference Between Turtle and Tortoise

Overview: Turtle Vs Tortoise Vs Terrapin

Turtle and Tortoise are often used as interchangeable words but they both belong to wholly different animals. Turtles and Tortoises are hard-shelled reptiles of the Testudines order but belong to different families. The major dissimilarity between these two is that turtles live in water (most of the time) whereas tortoises usually live on land.  But what will happen when these two animals face-off, who would win?? To determine over winner we have to look closely at their physical characteristic, behavioral traits, etc. Let’s know about them.

Physical Traits:

As the turtles and tortoises are hard-shelled reptiles their major portion of the body is covered by the shell. The upper portion is called the carapace whereas the lower portion is called the plastron. The upper and lower portion is attached by a bridge. The anatomy of turtle and tortoise is such that even if the head and limbs are removed from the body it is not possible to remove the other parts of the body.

The shape of the turtle’s shell is flat and streamlined which assists in swimming and diving whereas the tortoise has a dome-shaped shell to protect it from predators. Tortoise’s shell is quite heavy while turtles have a light-weighted shell to improve their swimming speed and to avoid drowning. Limbs of turtle and tortoise are somewhat similar; turtles have webbed limbs while tortoises have short and sturdy limbs. Limbs of tortoises are bent and rest directly under body whereas turtle has long claws to provide them good grip while climbing upon floating logs.


Tortoises are land-dwelling creatures, they live in varied habitats form desert to wet tropical forests whereas turtles live in water either fresh or saltwater. Both of them lay eggs on the ground. Tortoises usually are found in the warm climate of Asia and Africa whereas turtles are found in sunlight-rich zones of tropics and sub-tropics. Like other reptiles, they also need the external warm temperature to maintain their body heat as they are cold-blooded. Some turtles hibernate during cold weather but tortoises don’t hibernate as they mostly live in a warm climate.  


Female tortoise and turtle dig burrows and lays 2-12 eggs; hatching period of eggs is between 90 -120 days. Eggs of turtles are leather-like and soft like other reptiles whereas tortoises have comparatively hard eggs.


The tortoises have a similar lifespan as of humans; they live around 60-80 years but under captivity, they can live for as long as 100 years.The lifespan of turtles varies depending on species; a common turtle can live for about 20-40 years while sea turtles have an average lifespan of 60-70 years.

Battle: Duel: Who would win?

Both turtle and tortoise live in different habitats; the possibility of the natural battle between these two is almost nil. However, if in a situation they encounter each other it would be hard to get them fight as they are slow-moving reptiles. Even if one attacks another, then one being attacked will retract in its shell to protect itself. Hence, there would be no battle between them and we declare this duel, a draw.

Comparison Chart: Turtle,Tortoise or Terrapin

Comparison HeadsTortoiseTurtle
FamilyTestudinidaeFamilies vary depending on species such as  Carettochelyidae (pig-nosed turtle), Dermatemydidae (Central American river turtles), Emydidae (pond/water turtles), etc.
Shape of the shellGenerally, dome-shaped shellsMostly flat and streamlined shells.
Weight of the shellShells are heavyLight-weight shell.
LimbsShort, sturdy, and bent legsWebbed feet with long claws
DietHerbivores, but some species are omnivores too.Omnivores.
Lifespan80-150 years. The longest living Tortoise was 326 years old.20-40 years. The oldest turtle was of 86 years of age.

Turtle vs Tortoise Infographic:

Comparison Video: Turtle,Tortoise or Terrapin?

FAQ’S: Frequently Asked Questions

Why do Americans call tortoises turtles?

American English often uses “turtle” for tortoise. While British English have separate meaning for both.

Can you breed tortoise and turtle ?

They are genetically different hence, cannot mate to produce healthy offspring’s.

Do turtles have teeth?

No, Like birds, they have beaks.which is hard enough to crush the shells of their prey.

What turtle has the shortest lifespan?

Pankcake Tortoise. usually around 30 years.

How can u tell if a turtle is a boy or girl?

We can determine gender in a turtle looking at its tail length.
Female turtles have short and skinny tails while Male turtles have sport long and thick tails.

How can u tell a turtle’s age?

By counting Rings on the turtle’s scute can help determine its age.