Nov 15, 2013

Difference between Turtle, Terrapin, and Tortoise

All three animals come under the class of reptiles, in the taxonomic order of Testudines or Chelonia. They all have the major characteristics of reptiles as they are cold-blooded, have scales, breathe air, and lay eggs on land.

The distinction between them comes mainly from what living habitat they are adapted for, though the terminology differs slightly in certain countries. In Australia, other than marine sea turtles, they are all called tortoises. In the United States, the term ‘turtles’ is given to chelonians that live in or near water.

In general there are a few commonly accepted distinctions between turtles, tortoises, and terrapins. Turtles may be completely aquatic, like sea turtles, which rarely come up onto land, except to lay eggs. Other types of turtles are semi-aquatic and live by fresh water ponds or lakes. They tend to swim, but also spend a lot of time on land, basking in the sun and occasionally burrowing in the mud. Turtles have adapted to an aquatic life and are streamlined for swimming with webbed feet, or in the case of sea turtles, long flippers. Turtle are omnivores. Depending on the type of turtle, they may eat jelly-fish, small invertebrates, sea sponges, and other sea-vegetation. In the case of fresh water turtles, they may eat plants, insects, and small fish.

Tortoises are almost exclusively land-dwelling, usually with stubby feet, and are not good swimmers. They occasionally enter water to clean themselves off or drink water, but can easily drown in the deep or in strong currents. Their bodies are adapted to living on land and have high domed shells and column shaped feet much like elephants. They also sometimes have sharp claws for digging . Tortoises are mostly herbivorous and primarily eat low-lying shrubs, cacti, grasses, weeds, fruit, and other vegetation.

The term terrapins is sometimes used for turtles that are semi-aquatic and live near brackish waters or swampy regions. They are sort of like a mix between a turtle and tortoise, as they spend most of their time divided between water and land. They are also usually small and have a hard-shell that is shaped somewhere between a turtle’s streamlined one and a tortoise’s rounded dome shaped one.