Turtles and tortoises are animals which are distinguished by the hard shell they carry on their back for protection. Although the terms are often used interchangeably, there actually are a few specific differences between a tortoise and a turtle. This article will break it down for you.

1. Biological Classification

Basically, turtle is a more general term which describes all animals in the biological classification of Testudines. Tortoises are a specific type of turtle (Testudinidae family) mainly characterized by land-dwelling. All tortoises are turtles, but not all turtles are tortoises.

2. Water Vs. Land

Tortoises are essentially land-dwelling turtles. Most turtles love the water. Some turtles spend their entire lives in the water and only venture onto land to lay their eggs. An example of this is the Sea turtle. Tortoises, on the other hand, don’t generally live in the water. They will only go to the water in order to drink. Because of this, they usually have some unique physical adaptations.

3. Shells

Most turtle shells are streamlined in order to be more aerodynamic and good at cutting through the water. Tortoise shells don’t need to serve this purpose, so they will often be higher and more rounded.

4. Feet

The feet of tortoises are also quite different from the average turtle’s. Most turtle feet look a bit like a flipper. This is because they are designed to help the turtle swim through the water. Sea turtles, which spend almost no time on land, have highly specialized fins for this purpose. Tortoise feet, on the other hand, won’t resemble a fin or flipper at all. They will usually be much rounder and stubbier. Looking at a turtle’s feet is usually the quickest and easiest way to tell whether it is a tortoise and to tell how much time it spends in the water.

5. Cultural Differences

There are also some differences in the way Americans and Britons refer to turtles and tortoises, which can cause some confusion. Britons usually reserve the word turtle only for sea-water turtles. They call freshwater turtles “terrapins”, and they call land-dwelling turtles tortoises. Americans use the word turtle to describe all water-dwelling species and even some land-dwelling species like the box-turtle. They reserve “tortoise” for the specific species included in the Testudinidae family.

Tortoises and turtles are definitely a couple words which have caused people to scratch their heads in confusion. However, if you can remember the simple rule that tortoise=land and turtle=water, then you’re way ahead of the game. Unfortunately, turtles are becoming increasingly endangered due to human pollution and hunting. Help save the turtles by using an environmentally friendly kitchen trash bin and commercial trash can.

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