Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference Between Turtles and Tortoises

turtleTurtle and tortoise are terms that are often used interchangeably by some, but there are some key distinctions. These insights may help you to more accurately identify and refer to these reptiles when you see them and when you talk to others about them. The term turtle is often inclusive of all turtle-like animals, but is technically used to distinguish those animals that live aquatic lives. Tortoise is used to refer to those that live terrestrial lives. Despite this distinction it is notable that all turtle breathe air using lungs.

Turtles live aquatic lives, but there are varieties that live in freshwater and other that live in salt water. With the exception of the marine leatherback turtle all turtles have hard shells which are considered among the most typical of the characteristics. They are adapted to aquatic life. They lack toes and have paddle-like feet that enable them to swim at speeds of approximately twenty miles per hour. Nearly all varieties of aquatic turtles are considered endangered at this time. The largest have been measured weighing as much as eleven hundred pounds.

Tortoises are adapted for living on land. They have large boxlike shells that extend upward further than the aquatic turtle’s more streamlined shape. They also have toes, though their toes are reduced compared to the pronounced fingers of other animals. Turtles in general have long lives, but tortoises have extraordinary life spans compared to humans. There have been instances of tortoises living as long as one hundred and fifty years. They have been recorded with shells larger than four feet.

Both tortoises and turtles have been hunted for game, food and for their shells. The island tortoises including the Galapagos Tortoise have suffered from this extremely. Comparable to the travesty of the American Buffalo these tortoises were hunted and slaughtered nearly to extinction by sailors as they passed by the island. With increased extinction and endangerment it is becoming evident these ancient species need our help and much is being done to help protect them and their habitats from far away islands to the habitats that are literally in our own backyards.


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