Turtle Tortoise Terrapin Whats The Difference

Turtles, tortoises, and terrapins may look alike, but they are not the same. These reptiles have some distinct features that set them apart from each other. If you’ve ever wondered about the differences between them, then this article is for you.

While all three belong to the same family of reptiles, they have varying characteristics that make them unique. From their habitat to their physical features, we’ll explore the differences between turtles, tortoises, and terrapins. So, let’s dive in and discover the distinctions between these fascinating creatures.

turtle tortoise terrapin whats the difference

Turtle, Tortoise, Terrapin: What’s the Difference?

If you’re a fan of reptiles, you’ve probably heard the terms “turtle,” “tortoise,” and “terrapin” thrown around interchangeably. However, these three animals are not the same, and they have distinct characteristics that set them apart from one another. In this article, we will take a closer look at the differences between turtles, tortoises, and terrapins.

Physical Appearance

Turtles, tortoises, and terrapins all belong to the same family of reptiles, but their physical appearance differs. Turtles are aquatic, and their bodies are streamlined to help them swim. They have webbed feet or flippers and a shell that is flatter and more streamlined than that of a tortoise. Tortoises, on the other hand, are land-dwelling creatures with short, sturdy legs and a dome-shaped, heavy shell. Their shells have a higher, more pronounced shape than those of turtles. Terrapins are semi-aquatic and have a shell that is similar to that of a turtle, but their legs are more like those of a tortoise.

When it comes to size, turtles are usually the smallest of the three, while tortoises are the largest. Terrapins fall somewhere in between.


Turtles are found in all types of aquatic environments, including oceans, rivers, and lakes. They need water to survive and will only come onto land to lay their eggs. On the other hand, tortoises are land-dwelling and can be found in deserts, grasslands, and forests. They prefer dry, warm climates and do not need to be near water to survive. Terrapins are semi-aquatic and can be found in both freshwater and brackish water environments.


Turtles are generally docile and spend most of their time swimming and basking in the sun. They are not particularly social animals and will usually only interact with others during mating season. Tortoises, on the other hand, are solitary creatures and spend most of their time on land. They are often territorial and will defend their territory against other tortoises. Terrapins are more social than turtles and can often be found in groups.

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Turtles are omnivores and will eat both plants and animals. They have a varied diet that includes insects, fish, and aquatic plants. Tortoises are herbivores and feed mainly on grasses, leaves, and other vegetation. Terrapins have a diet that is similar to that of turtles, but they also eat crustaceans and mollusks.


The lifespan of turtles, tortoises, and terrapins varies depending on the species. In general, turtles have the shortest lifespan, living anywhere from 10 to 80 years. Tortoises can live up to 150 years, with some species living even longer. Terrapins have a lifespan that falls somewhere in between the two, living anywhere from 20 to 40 years.


Turtles, tortoises, and terrapins are all fascinating animals that make great pets for the right person. They can be entertaining to watch and are relatively low-maintenance. Turtles and terrapins can help keep a pond or tank clean by eating algae and other debris. Tortoises are great for those who want a pet that doesn’t require a lot of attention and can live for decades.


When it comes to choosing between a turtle, tortoise, or terrapin as a pet, there are a few things to consider. Turtles and terrapins require a tank or pond with a water filtration system, while tortoises require a large, outdoor enclosure. Turtles and terrapins are also more social than tortoises and may require a companion. Tortoises, on the other hand, are easier to care for and do not require as much attention.


In conclusion, while turtles, tortoises, and terrapins may look similar, they are very different animals. Turtles are aquatic, tortoises are land-dwelling, and terrapins are semi-aquatic. They have different physical appearances, habitats, behaviors, diets, and lifespans. If you’re considering getting one of these animals as a pet, be sure to do your research and choose the one that best fits your lifestyle and living situation.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some common questions and answers about the differences between turtles, tortoises, and terrapins:

What is a turtle?

A turtle is a reptile that lives in water and on land. They have webbed feet and a flat, streamlined shell that helps them swim. Some species of turtles, like the sea turtle, spend most of their lives in the water, while others, like the box turtle, live mostly on land.

Turtles are often kept as pets and can make great companions. However, it’s important to do your research and make sure you can provide the proper care and environment for your pet turtle.

What is a tortoise?

A tortoise is a reptile that lives primarily on land. They have short, sturdy legs and a high-domed shell that provides protection from predators. Tortoises are herbivores and eat mostly plants and grasses.

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Tortoises are not good swimmers and prefer to live in dry climates. They are often kept as pets, but require a lot of space and a special diet to stay healthy.

What is a terrapin?

A terrapin is a freshwater turtle that lives in slow-moving rivers, streams, and marshes. They have webbed feet and a flat, streamlined shell that helps them swim. Terrapins are omnivores and eat both plants and small animals.

Terrapins are not commonly kept as pets, but they are an important part of many ecosystems. Unfortunately, many species of terrapins are threatened or endangered due to habitat loss and other human activities.

What are the main differences between turtles, tortoises, and terrapins?

The main differences between turtles, tortoises, and terrapins are their habitats and diets. Turtles live in water and on land, while tortoises live primarily on land and terrapins live in freshwater. Tortoises are herbivores, while turtles and terrapins are omnivores.

Another difference is their shell shape. Turtles have a flat, streamlined shell that helps them swim, while tortoises have a high-domed shell that protects them from predators. Terrapins have a flat, streamlined shell similar to turtles but are smaller and have a less pronounced beak.

Can turtles, tortoises, and terrapins interbreed?

No, turtles, tortoises, and terrapins cannot interbreed because they are different species. While they may look similar, they have different genetics and behaviors that prevent them from mating and producing viable offspring.

It’s also important to note that interbreeding can have negative consequences for the health and survival of wild populations, so it’s best to keep these species separate in captivity and in the wild.

turtle tortoise terrapin whats the difference 2

In conclusion, while turtle, tortoise, and terrapin may seem like interchangeable terms, there are actually distinct differences between the three.

Turtles live primarily in water and have webbed feet, while tortoises are land-dwelling and have stumpy, elephant-like legs. Terrapins, on the other hand, live in both water and land habitats and have feet that are somewhere in between those of turtles and tortoises.

It’s important to know these differences in order to properly care for these unique creatures as pets or to appreciate them in their natural habitats. So, the next time you spot a turtle, tortoise, or terrapin, you’ll be able to identify which one it is and appreciate its unique characteristics.

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