Tortoise or Turtle? What are the Differences

Tortoise or Turtle? Key Differences

There’s a lot of confusion when it comes to turtles and tortoise.

In fact, some weren’t even aware that there are actual differences between the two. However, for most pet owners, the difference between a tortoise and a turtle is an important one as they require very different things. Both of these reptiles are great pets, there’s no doubt about that but you should know the key differences between the two before you decide to make your decision.

Turtle (Left) vs Tortoise (Right)

In this article, we are going to explore the key differences between turtles and tortoises.

Both of them are reptiles that belong to Chelonian family, from the order of Testudines, but they are classified differently. The main difference is that tortoises are land dwellers, while turtles live mostly in water. 

Let’s first take a look at each one of them individually:



Tortoise is a reptile that’s comfortable on both land and water, however, it prefers to spend most of its time on land. The main difference is that Tortoise appears as a more robust, and durable reptile compared to turtles. Their shells and bodies have unique characteristics that make them tougher, which we will dive into later on.

Overall, Tortoise is a more hardy pet compared to a turtle so they are slightly more manageable for beginners.



On the other hand, a turtle spends most of its time underwater, although it can still come on land just like tortoise. Turtles are slightly more complex compared to a tortoise, which is completely normal for water primarily water-dwelling creatures. They are very unique in their own way, which gives them a special place in homes of most reptile pet owners.

For pet owners, turtles will require some more maintenance, however, they are still relatively beginner friendly and easy to take care of. On top of that, they are an excellent choice for your viewing pleasures due to their increased mobility and behavior inside of the aquarium.

With all that in mind, let’s take a look at specific differences between the two amazing creatures!

Specific Comparison Between Turtles & Tortoise Pets

First off, it’s important to note that every tortoise is a turtle, but not every turtle is a tortoise. Yeah – that can be very confusing! It mainly comes down to classification, and we can call all tortoise as a “turtle species” but the same can’t be said for turtles as “tortoise species”. It’s just a difference in classification and naming, so we won’t go too much into it.

Now, let’s take a look at specific differences between the two, mainly:

  • Habitat
  • Characteristics
  • Lifespan & Size
  • Diet
  • Reproduction


Let’s make it clear one more time – Turtles spend most of their time in the water, while tortoises prefer to live on the land. This is a very important difference since these habitats require completely different conditions. Depending on the habitat, your pet will require different care, diet and of course housing.

If you’re looking to get a turtle pet, you will have to provide terrarium with at least 10 gallons of water. You will also need to spend some time maintaining it, as well as taking care of your pets. Turtles are known to be very messy creatures, so you will have to provide a filtration system to your water tank, to make sure it stays as clean as possible.

On the other hand, a tortoise pet can be kept anywhere, even in your own backyard. Of course, you might want to take better care of your pet than that, so you should keep it indoors in some nice environment to make it happy. Tortoises are fun because they can easily be handled and played with since they are always available to you right there in your home.


When it comes to physical characteristics, there’s a lot of difference between a turtle and a tortoise.

Let’s start off with a shell, as it’s the most unique feature of turtles – it protects them from all kinds of threats and it allows them to survive for such long periods of their life.  A tortoise has a slightly harder, heavier shell that’s dome-shaped. This is necessary since they spend most of their time on land which makes them vulnerable. Turtle, on the other hand, has a somewhat lighter shell that allows it to swim more efficiently. Its shell is more flat looking so it’s easy to spot a difference.

Another important difference between the two is body shape, mainly the feet as you can’t actually see their body, hah! Tortoises have shorter but stronger legs that are more adapted to land environments, they look sort of like tiny elephant feet. Turtles, however, have webbed feet and long, flipper-like claws that allow them to easily navigate underwater.

Size & Lifespan

When it comes to size, a tortoise is a slightly more buff-looking pet with a larger body and shell.

There’s a big difference between turtles and tortoises when it comes to lifespan. Turtles live anywhere between 20 to 40 years, with sea turtles being able to live up to 70 years of age. An average tortoise, on the other hand, is known to live as long as humans. Some tortoises are known to live as long as 150 years. They are quite durable creatures, especially in captivity where they are protected from external threats.

If you’re looking for a cute pet for your grandkids’ kids, take your shot with a tortoise!


When it comes to their diet requirements, there’s also a big distinction between the two.

Tortoises are herbivores, turtles are omnviores. 

A tortoise is a herbivore that eats mostly plants. Pet tortoises typically require food such as wild grass, weeds, leafy greens like lettuce, and some flowers. Certain tortoise species can also be omnivores, eating worms & insects in their natural habitats, however, too much protein is harmful to herbivores species causing deformities and other health issues.

Turtles are omnivores that consume a lot of different things, depending on species. Turtles mostly eat aquatic plants, followed by insects, worms, and snails. Several freshwater species are known to be carnivorous – eating small fish and other small water inhabitants.  For juvenile turtles, protein is profoundly necessary and they are known to be fully carnivorous at that age. There are youtube videos of turtles eating birds that fell underwater, it’s crazy!


If you own a turtle pet, you can feed it pellet food, worms, insects, feeder fish, fruits and vegetables.


Like other reptiles, both of these reproduce by laying eggs that hatch into juveniles. Their breeding season is most often after the long rain periods post-summer, in which males will compete for the attention of the females.

Although turtles spend most of their time underwater, they come to the land in order to hatch.  Turtle eggs are soft and leathery, slightly weaker compared to those of a tortoise. Females will lay about 10 eggs in total. In both cases, eggs take about 3-4 months to hatch.

All turtle species are known to abandon their eggs after laying. Little hatchlings will often spend a few months on their own in their nest before they head out to the world.

Should You Get a Baby Turtle or an Adult?

Most of the pet owners ask this question and it’s completely reasonable! There are pros and cons to both hatchlings and adults, so let’s explore them in this section.

It takes some years before turtles reach maturity, and that’s an important one. If you decide to pick up a baby turtle pet, you might have to wait years before you find out which gender your pet belongs to. Also, hatchlings are overall harder to take care of as they’re more vulnerable compared to adults, and they’re also more expensive. Adults are easier to take care of. However…

If you’re looking to forge a strong emotional connection with your pet, it’s always the best to pick up a hatchling. As you take care of your new pet, you will experience amazing moments that will remain etched in your memory. But, be ready to take proper care of it!

Both of these pets are awesome and it’s really up to you to decide which one do you like the most. Both turtles and tortoises have their own unique advantages, so you won’t be making a mistake with either one of them.

Consider these differences and make your pick, or you can just flip a coin – either way works!



  • Habitat: Spends most of the time in the water
  • Lifespan: 20- 40 years
  • Shell: Light, Flat, Streamlined
  • Feet: Webbed with flippers, adapted for swimming
  • Diet: Omnivores
  • Maintenance: Slightly harder due to aquarium requirements


  • Habitat: Land-dwelling
  • Lifespan: 60-80 years, up to 150
  • Shell: Heavy, Dome-shaped
  • Feet: Elephant-like, Tiny but Strong
  • Diet: Herbivores
  • Maintenance: Slightly easier as pets