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Differences between Turtles and Tortoises

Blog | September 6th, 2017

For over 10 years Black Snake Productions have provided educational, fun, and interactive wildlife presentations with the help of our amazing animals, at schools, corporate events, shopping centres, country shows, and festivals across the country. We also provide informative blog articles that also help people to better understand native Australian animals, such as turtle and tortoises.

One question many people have asked is about the differences between turtles and tortoises. So, what is the difference between turtles and tortoises?

Turtle or Tortoise?

Is it a turtle or a tortoise? Definitely not both! These two, similar looking creatures are often mistaken for one another even though they’re different. Sure, they’re both reptiles and may belong to the same family of Testudines or Chelonia. However, turtles and tortoises are completely unique animals with distinct features.

When you look at a turtle and tortoise from afar, you can hardly tell them apart. But if you get a closer look at their shells, you’ll immediately notice that turtles have flatter and more streamlined shells. Tortoises tend to have large, dome-shaped shells which are sometimes covered with bumps.

The weight of their shells are also different. Turtle shells are usually lightweight to accommodate swimming. Tortoise shells are heavier because it keeps them protected from predators. Going back to their appearance, turtles have webbed feet and long claws. Tortoises have short and stubby legs that bend so they can easily traverse on land.

Another major differences between the two is their natural habitat. Turtles are known water-dwellers even though they breed on land. Depending on their species, they can live in oceans, lakes, ponds, swamps, and rivers. Tortoises, on the other hand, are land-dwellers. They live in prairies, grasslands, savannas, and deserts.

Due to their unique habitats, you can expect different eating habits from the two. Turtles eat a greater variety of food and are able to survive on fruits, vegetables, vegetation, and meat – which makes them omnivores. Tortoises are mostly herbivores, although there are some species that eat live prey.

Turtles take a longer time to mature, but have a shorter lifespan. Turtle hatchlings do not leave their nest until they are 90 to 120 days old, and can live for an average of 20 to 40 years. The oldest living turtle recorded was 86 years. Tortoises mature faster and enjoy a longer life, and their hatchlings leave the nest soon after birth to join their mother’s burrow. They live between 80 and 150 years, with the oldest recorded living tortoise reached a ripe age of 326 years!