What’s the difference between Turtles, Tortoises, and Terrapins?

Are terrapins and turtles the same? Are tortoises better than turtles? Is it a turtle, a terrapin, or a tortoise?


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  1. 1 Are all these same?

    They are all turtles. All these titles are used for the hard-shelled, egg-laying reptiles in the taxonomic order called Chelonia. These names are used variously as per where you exist and where they exist. As people in different countries call them with other names.

  2. 2 Types of turtle

    There are normally three types of turtles which are sea turtles, freshwater turtles, and land tortoises. Scientifically, even tortoises are turtles. There are 300 kinds of turtles in the world as per shape, size, and colors.

  3. 3 Sea Turtles (marine)

    These are the turtles who love living in the sea and just returning to the land for laying eggs. Their shells are relatively flat and made in such a way that it helps them reduce drag while swimming. They have an omnivorous diet and like eating jellyfish, sea sponges, or sea vegetation. They can grow up to substantial sizes.

  4. 4 Land tortoises (terrestrial)

    They are usually found in a hot and dry environment as they love living mainly on dry land. Their shells are in the shape of a dome, unlike the sea turtles. A land tortoise has column-shaped feet with claws. But, they are not great swimmers. They just go in the water either to wash or to drink water. Land tortoises prefer eating a small amount of meat or eat grass, weed fruit or other types of vegetation.

  5. 5 Freshwater Terrapins

    They are semi-aquatic as they like staying in either fresh or salty water. They swim often and also like spending time on land. Their hard shell is somewhat domed, they can swim smoothly with them, but they do not have flippers like a turtle. They are omnivorous and prefer eating insects, algae, and small fishes.

  6. 6 Major differences

    Let us understand some of the significant differences amongst them:

    • Physical appearance: Tortoises have elephantine legs that bend at the knees. Terrapins have webbed feet which helps them to swim, and turtles have front and back flippers instead of feet.
    • Necks: Both turtles and tortoise can put their neck and head into their shells
    • Tails: Both of them have tails. But you can differentiate male and female by looking at the tail as male species have long and thick tails as compared to the female species.
    • Shells: All these three species can be distinguished based on looking at their shells easily.
  7. 7 Lifespan

    It is yet another way to differentiate them as a turtle has a lifespan of around 60-70 years. In comparison, Terrapins live comparatively less than a turtle as they have a life of just 20-40 years. Then comes the tortoise, they live the longest amongst all, as their lifespan is of 60-80 years.


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