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Turtle vs. Tortoise: Know the Difference

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By Shumaila Saeed || Updated on December 25, 2023
Turtles are generally aquatic or semi-aquatic, with webbed feet and streamlined bodies, while tortoises are land-dwellers with rounded, dome-shaped shells and stumpy, non-webbed feet.
Turtle vs. Tortoise

Key Differences

Primarily aquatic creatures, turtles are well-adapted to life in water. They have webbed feet or flippers and a streamlined body shape to aid in swimming. Turtles spend most of their life in water, coming onto land primarily for nesting. Their diet varies from algae and aquatic plants to small fish and insects, depending on the species.
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On the other hand, tortoises are exclusively land-dwelling animals. They possess dome-shaped shells and sturdy, elephantine legs. Adapted to life on land, tortoises generally have a herbivorous diet, consuming grass, leaves, and fruits. They are not adept swimmers and avoid water except for drinking or bathing.
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Turtles lay their eggs in sand or mud near water bodies. Their shells are generally flatter and more streamlined, an adaptation for swimming. In terms of habitat, turtles can be found in oceans, rivers, and lakes, depending on the species.
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Tortoises, in contrast, lay their eggs on land. Their shells are heavier and dome-shaped, providing protection against predators in their terrestrial environment. They are often found in dry, hot habitats but also inhabit a variety of other environments.
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Many turtle species are omnivorous, adapting their diet to their environment. Turtles also tend to have a longer lifespan, with some sea turtles living for more than 50 years. In terms of behavior, turtles are generally more adaptable to various environments.
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Tortoises are predominantly herbivorous and have a reputation for being slow-moving due to their heavy, sturdy shells. They often live longer than turtles, with some species reaching over 100 years in age. In behavior, tortoises are known for their solitary and less adaptable nature.
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Comparison Chart

Habitat

Aquatic or semi-aquatic
Terrestrial
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Shell Shape

Streamlined, flatter
Dome-shaped, heavy
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Feet

Webbed for swimming
Stumpy, non-webbed for walking
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Diet

Omnivorous (varies by species)
Mainly herbivorous
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Lifespan

Generally long, varies by species
Often longer than turtles
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Egg Laying

Near water bodies
On land
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Swimmer

Good swimmers
Poor swimmers, avoid water
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Turtle and Tortoise Definitions

Turtle

Turtle, informally, refers to someone who moves or acts very slowly.
He was nicknamed 'turtle' for his leisurely pace on the track.
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Tortoise

In literature, tortoise symbolizes wisdom and patience.
In the fable, the tortoise won the race due to his steady approach.
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Turtle

A turtle is a reptile with a hard shell that lives in or near water.
The turtle swam gracefully in the pond.
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Tortoise

A tortoise is a land-dwelling reptile with a heavy, dome-shaped shell.
The tortoise ambled through the garden, munching on leaves.
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Turtle

In computing, turtle is a robotic device or cursor used in graphics or educational software.
The programming class used a turtle to learn basic coding concepts.
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Tortoise

In decorative arts, "tortoise" refers to a motif or material resembling tortoise shell.
The antique comb was made of tortoise shell, with intricate designs.
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Turtle

In finance, a "turtle" is an investor who takes a slow and steady approach.
As a turtle in the stock market, she favored long-term investments.
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Tortoise

Tortoise, in a metaphorical sense, refers to a person who is slow but steady.
In his career, he was a tortoise, making gradual but consistent progress.
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Turtle

Any of various aquatic or terrestrial egg-laying reptiles of the order Testudines (or Chelonia), having horny toothless jaws and a bony or leathery shell into which the head, limbs, and tail can be withdrawn in most species.
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Tortoise

Tortoise, in a playful sense, can refer to someone very reclusive or introverted.
She was a tortoise, preferring the comfort of her home to social gatherings.
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Turtle

Any of various members of this order that live in fresh or brackish water, in contrast to the terrestrial tortoises.
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Tortoise

Any of various terrestrial turtles, especially one of the family Testudinidae, characteristically having thick clublike hind limbs and a high, rounded carapace.
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Turtle

Chiefly British A sea turtle.
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Tortoise

One that moves slowly; a laggard.
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Turtle

The flesh of certain turtles, used for food.
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Tortoise

Any of various land-dwelling reptiles, of the family Testudinidae or the order Testudines , whose body is enclosed in a shell (carapace plus plastron). The animal can withdraw its head and four legs partially into the shell, providing some protection from predators.
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Turtle

A turtledove.
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Tortoise

Synonym of {{en
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Turtle

A turtleneck.
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Tortoise

Any one of numerous species of reptiles of the order Testudinata.
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Turtle

To hunt for turtles, especially as an occupation.
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Tortoise

Same as Testudo, 2.
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Turtle

(Nautical) To capsize.
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Tortoise

Usually herbivorous land turtles having clawed elephant-like limbs; worldwide in arid area except Australia and Antarctica
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Turtle

Any land or marine reptile of the order Testudines, characterised by a protective shell enclosing its body. See also tortoise.
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Turtle

A marine reptile of that order.
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Turtle

An Ancient Roman attack method, where the shields held by the soldiers hide them, not only left, right, front and back, but also from above.
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Turtle

(computing) A type of robot having a domed case (and so resembling the reptile), used in education, especially for making line drawings by means of a computer program.
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Turtle

(computing) An on-screen cursor that serves the same function as a turtle for drawing.
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Turtle

The curved plate in which the form is held in a type-revolving cylinder press.
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Turtle

(comptheory) A small element towards the end of a list of items to be bubble sorted, and thus tending to take a long time to be swapped into its correct position. Compare rabbit.
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Turtle

(dance) A breakdancing move consisting of a float during which the dancer's weight shifts from one hand to the other, producing rotation or a circular "walk".
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Turtle

(television) A low stand for a lamp etc.
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Turtle

A turtle dove.
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Turtle

(intransitive) To flip over onto the back or top; to turn upside down.
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Turtle

(intransitive) To move along slowly.
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Turtle

(intransitive) To turn and swim upside down.
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Turtle

(intransitive) To hunt turtles, especially in the water.
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Turtle

To build up a large defense force and strike only occasionally, rather than going for an offensive strategy.
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Turtle

The turtledove.
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Turtle

Any one of the numerous species of Testudinata, especially a sea turtle, or chelonian.
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Turtle

The curved plate in which the form is held in a type-revolving cylinder press.
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Turtle

Any of various aquatic and land reptiles having a bony shell and flipper-like limbs for swimming
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Turtle

Overturn accidentally;
Don't rock the boat or it will capsize!
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Turtle

Hunt for turtles, especially as an occupation
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Turtle

In nautical contexts, turtle refers to a type of boat or ship with a turtle-shaped hull.
The old sailor reminisced about his time on a turtle during the war.
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Repeatedly Asked Queries

What environments do tortoises prefer?

Tortoises prefer dry, terrestrial environments but can be found in diverse habitats.
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Can turtles breathe underwater?

Some turtles can absorb oxygen through their skin in water, but they cannot breathe underwater like fish.
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Do tortoises hibernate?

Many tortoises undergo a form of hibernation called brumation in cold climates.
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Can turtles survive in both salt and freshwater?

Some turtles are adapted to saltwater, while others live in freshwater; few can thrive in both.
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Are all turtles able to retract their heads into their shells?

Most turtles can retract their heads, but not all species do so completely.
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How long can tortoises go without eating?

Tortoises can survive without food for weeks or even months under certain conditions.
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What is the main diet of tortoises?

Tortoises mainly eat plants, including leaves, grass, and fruit.
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Are tortoises good swimmers?

Tortoises are generally poor swimmers and avoid water except for drinking or bathing.
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How long can turtles live?

Turtles can live for several decades, with some species living over 50 years.
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What is the biggest threat to tortoise populations?

Habitat loss, poaching, and the pet trade are significant threats to tortoises.
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How do turtles communicate?

Turtles use visual signals and vocalizations to communicate, especially during mating.
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What is the largest species of turtle?

The leatherback sea turtle is the largest, with some individuals weighing over 900 kg.
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Do all turtles lay eggs?

Yes, all turtle species lay eggs, typically in sandy or muddy areas near water.
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Can tortoises swim?

Most tortoises cannot swim well and generally avoid water.
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Are turtles social animals?

Some turtle species are solitary, while others can be more social, especially during breeding season.
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Can turtles feel through their shells?

Yes, turtle shells have nerve endings, so they can feel through their shells.
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Do turtles have good eyesight?

Turtles generally have good eyesight, especially in water.
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Do tortoises need sunlight?

Yes, tortoises need sunlight for vitamin D synthesis and overall health.
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How fast can tortoises move?

Tortoises are slow-moving, typically traveling less than a mile per hour.
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How do tortoises protect themselves from predators?

Tortoises use their hard shells as the primary defense against predators.
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About Author
Shumaila Saeed
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Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed, an expert content creator with 6 years of experience, specializes in distilling complex topics into easily digestible comparisons, shining a light on the nuances that both inform and educate readers with clarity and accuracy.

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