Difference Between Turtle and Tortoise

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: April 30, 2023


Difference Between Turtle and Tortoise

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Is there any difference or similarities between Turtle and Tortoise? Or is it just a fancy way to say turtle to a tortoise? Then, actually, there is a huge difference between these two creatures. There is an interesting fact, that all tortoises are turtles, but all turtles are not a tortoise, seems confusing! But don’t worry, that’s why we are here to tell you the difference between them. So, let’s start!

Turtle vs Tortoise

The main difference between turtles and tortoise is, tortoises are vegetarians while turtles are omnivorous. The most important thing is tortoises are land creatures while turtles like to live in the sea, but they came on land when they are lying eggs. Tortoises live in a variety of habitats, which include desert to wet tropical forests. Tortoises is a land animal that’s why their forelimbs are not flipper-like, and their hindlimbs are not webbed. While turtles have flipper-like forelimbs and webbed hind limbs.

Difference Between Turtle and Tortoise in Tabular Form  

Parameters of Comparison Turtle   Tortoise
  Definition A reptile that lives in the sea and has a thick shell covering its body into which it can move its head and legs for protection. A reptile that lives on the land with a hard shell that moves very slowly. A tortoise can pull its head and legs into its shell. 
Distribution Turtles are found in Africa and America. Tortoises mostly found in Asia and Africa region, but some are also existed in America.
  Diet Turtles are omnivores, that’s why they eat fruits, leafy vegetation, and meat too. Tortoises are herbivores. Hence, they eat fruits and leafy vegetation.
  Lifespan Their lifespan is short. Turtles can live 20-40 years. The oldest turtle lived was 86 years. Tortoises have a long life. They can live 80-150 years. The longest-living tortoise is 326 years.
  Birth Turtle hatchlings stay in their nest for 90 to 120 days. Tortoise hatchlings move from their nest towards their mother after birth.
  The shape of the shell Turtles have mostly flat, streamlined shape shells. Tortoises have large dome-shaped shells; some species have bumps on top of the shell.
  Limbs Their forelimbs are flipper and their hindlimbs are webbed feet. Turtles have claws.  The feet of the tortoise are short and sturdy. And their legs are bent.
  Weight of the shell The shell of the turtle is light weighted. The shell of the tortoise is very heavy.
  Family Turtle belongs to many families, including Carettochelyidae, Dermatermydidae,

Emydidae, etc.

Tortoise belongs to the Testudinidae family.
  Kingdom Animalia  Animalia 
  Phylum  Chordata Chordata
  Class Reptilia Reptilia
  Order Testudines Testudines

What is Turtle?

A turtle is a reptile that lives in the sea and has a shell for its protection. Turtles are an order of reptiles. Modern turtles are divided into two groups classification, first is the Pleurodira and second is the Cryptodira. Pleurodira means side-necked turtle and Cryptodira means hidden-necked turtle. There is a total of 360 living and extinct species of turtles. They are found on most continents. Turtles are reptiles, like other reptile turtles also breathe air and lay eggs on land.

Turtles have a shell for their protection. This shell is made mostly of bone. The upper part of the shell is domed, and the underside part of the shell is flat or belly plate. The outer surface is covered by scales that are made from keratin, as well as their claws too made from keratin. Turtles are ectothermic, meaning ectothermic are cold-blooded animals. Some species of turtles migrate short distances by season. Sea turtles are the only reptiles in the world that migrate long distances to lay eggs on the favored beach.

There are many reasons, why sea turtles are in danger. Turtles are hunted for their meat, for their shells, and traditional medicines. Sometimes sea turtles are killed accidentally because of fishing nets. Some freshwater species of turtles are kept as pets. The habitats of sea turtles are being destroyed around the world, and that’s why many species of turtles are extinct or threatened with extinction, some are endangered. 

Types of Turtles

There are over 350+ species of turtles are recorded in the world. Here we are discussing a few of them.

Loggerhead Turtle

This turtle gets its name because it has a large or log-like head. Loggerhead turtles have strong jaws. The carapace of this turtle is bony. An adult loggerhead turtle has a reddish brown color carapace. The loggerhead has a length of up to 3.5 feet and a weight between 70 to 170 kilograms. Turtles are omnivores; hence loggerhead eats shellfish, crabs, etc. 

Their jaws are capable to crush hard shells. They can lay eggs in 3-6 nests per season. There each nest contains 100 to 126 eggs. 

Green Turtle

The green fats are found under the shell of this turtle that’s why it is known as a Green Turtle. Their carapace is with zero ridges. It has single pair of scales. The Turtles have an oval-like body shape, but the Green Turtle has a flatter shape than other turtles. They can grow up to 4 feet in length and their weight is between 110 to 190 kilograms. 

Green turtles lay eggs after every 2 years. They can nest 3-5 times in a season. And each nest contains nearly 115 eggs.

Leatherback Turtle

This is the species of turtle that is a giant of all aquatic turtles. The leatherback turtle can grow up to 6 feet and this is the largest turtle on the planet. This is a turtle that travels farthest and swims deepest, reaching a depth of over 3000 feet. The weight of a leatherback turtle is 300 to 640 kilograms. Its shell has a thin layer of tough and rubber-like skin, hence it is known as a leatherback turtle.

It has very much strong jaws which can crush any type of shell. And this is the only turtle in the sea that doesn’t have a hard shell.

Red-Eared Slider Turtle

This turtle has an ear-like pattern of red color on its head, that’s why it is known as a Red-eared slider. It is the friendlier and more sociable species of turtle. A red-eared slider can grow up to a decent size, around 12 inches long. Their life span is around 20-30 years.

Hawksbill Turtle

This species of turtle’s head and hawk is pointed beak-like and have a beautiful shell that attracts traffickers. Hawksbill turtle has an elliptical carapace with four overlapping scales. Their carapace is covered with bright color, which includes yellow, orange, and brown color. They can grow up to 2.5 - 3 feet in length. The weight of the Hawksbill turtle is around 45 to 70 kilograms. 

Hawksbill turtle has a sharp beak, hence these species feed on coral reefs, shrimp, squids, jellyfish, and other small fishes. 

What is Tortoise?

A reptile that lives on the land with a hard shell that moves very slowly. A tortoise can pull its head and legs into its shell. Tortoise belongs to the family Testudinidae. Like turtles, tortoises also have shells for protection. But compared to a turtle, the shell of a tortoise is hard. They can retract their neck and head backward in a shell.

Tortoises vary in size, which means some have giant sizes while some have small sizes. The Galapagos Giant Tortoise can grow up to 1.2 meters in length, in feet it is 3.9 feet. The life span of tortoises is so long, they are longest living land animals on earth. Galapagos tortoises are noted to live around 150 years. The Aldabra Giant tortoise has lived 255 years (named Adwaita). The average life span of tortoises is 80 to 150 years.

We can find tortoises in southern North America to southern South America, in Southeast Asia, Madagascar, and some Pacific islands. Tortoises can live in diverse habitats, including grassland, wet evergreen forest, sea-level to the mountain, and desserts too. 

In Hinduism, Kurma was the second avatar of Lord Vishnu. Kurma belongs to the Satya Yuga. Lord Vishnu took the form of half man and half tortoise. This avatar of Lord Vishnu helps the Gods for Samudra Manthan, which is written in Vedas.

Types of Tortoises

There are around 49 species of tortoises are recorded in the world. Here we are discussing a few of them.

Aldabra Giant Tortoise

This species of tortoise has very large in size. The shell of a male Aldabra tortoise can reach a length of 4 feet, and the shell of a female has a length of 3 feet. These giant species of tortoise have a weight of around 300 kilograms, and a weight carapace is 250 kilograms. Aldabra Giant Tortoise can live up to 150 years.

Red-Footed tortoise 

This is a small species of tortoise that can grow up to 11-14 inches in length, and it has just 9-15 kilograms. This small tortoise has a dark brown shell, and its skin is rough, shell has a pattern that is a mark in shades of yellow, orange, and red. Red-footed tortoises are found in forests and grasslands of Central America, they are also found in South America, all way down to Argentina. Red-footed tortoises like fruits, grass, leaves, and green vegetation as a source of their food.

Yellow-Footed Tortoise

These are the closest relatives of red-footed tortoises. Yellow-footed tortoise is one of the largest species of tortoise in South America. They also have a pattern on their shell in the form of yellow patches. Yellow-footed tortoises can be found in rainforests, and grasslands, from Colombia to Savanah. Their length is nearly 14 inches, and few of them can reach a double length of it. The largest yellow-footed tortoise spotted was 37 inches long.

Russian Tortoise

This species of tortoise can be found at high altitudes in rocky deserts across Russia, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Russian Tortoise can grow up to 8-10 inches long. Their shell is hard with tan, greenish, and yellow color with brown and black markings. When the climate is too hot or too cold, they dig a burrow to hibernate for months. Russian tortoises can live more than 40 years.

Indian Star Tortoise

This species of tortoise is found in India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Their hard black shell has unique star-shaped markings in pale yellow color. The climate of habitats where this species is found is not constant. That’s why the Indian Star tortoise can live in hot, humid climates, and also in monsoon floods too. They like to eat fresh grass. 

Main Difference Between Turtle and Tortoise in Points

  • Turtles are reptiles that live in water, whereas tortoises are reptiles are live on land.
  • The lifespan of a turtle is short, whereas a tortoise can live 80-150 years.
  • The shell of a turtle is lightweight, whereas the shell of a tortoise is heavy and hard.
  • Turtles are omnivores, whereas tortoises are herbivores.
  • The shape of shell of a turtle is flat, whereas the shell of a tortoise is dome-shaped.
  • Turtles have claws, and their limbs are flipper-like and webbed, whereas the limbs of tortoises are short.


The conclusion is that tortoises and turtles both are reptiles from the same order named Testudines, but their family is different in classification. Turtles live in water and tortoises live on land. But turtles came on the land to lay eggs on the beach. Turtles and tortoises both have a shell to protect themselves from any kind of attack. But the shell of a tortoise is harder than the shell of a turtle. Turtles eat grass as well as small fish and other aquatic animals too, hence they are omnivores. While tortoises only eat grass, fruits, leaves, and green vegetation, therefore they are herbivores. 

They both are shy in nature. Turtles and tortoise both can pull their limbs and head into the shell for protection. The shell of these reptiles cannot be detached from their body. The life span of tortoises is greater than that of turtles. Turtles can live 20-40 years. The oldest turtle lived was 86 years. Whereas tortoises can live 80-150 years. The longest-living tortoise is 326 years. In the starting, we said that All tortoises are turtles, but all turtles are not a tortoise. Because, turtles also eat grass and tortoise only eat grass, both have shells, and both are reptiles. This criterion proves that all tortoises are turtles, but all turtles are not a tortoise.


  • Turtle Taxonomy Working Group 2017
  • How Strong Is A Tortoise? a book by Harris Samantha
  • https://en.m.wikipedia.org


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"Difference Between Turtle and Tortoise." Diffzy.com, 2023. Mon. 05 Jun. 2023. <https://www.diffzy.com/article/difference-between-turtle-and-tortoise-1242>.

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