Is It A Turtle Or A Tortoise?
By Cheryl Conley, TWRC Wildlife Center
As a youngster anything with a shell was a turtle whether I found one outside or saw them at the pet store. Later in life I discovered the differences and also learned of a third category—terrapins. The difference in the three has more to do with where they live than how they look. Depending on where you live in the world, the word “turtle,” “tortoise,” and “terrapin” are used interchangeably. All three are reptiles and first appeared over 220 million years ago.
Terrapins are the only turtles that live in brackish water which can be defined as water having some salt but not as much as ocean water. They can be found in marshes, lagoons and swamps. An interesting fact about terrapins is that the gender of their offspring is determined by temperature. A higher nest temperature produces more females. They are small and rarely get longer than 8 inches and weigh between a half pound to 1.5 pounds.
Tortoises are land dwellers and eat a primarily a vegetarian diet. They have blunt, club-shaped feet that allow them to easily walk on land. They are not good swimmers and will enter the water only to bathe or to get a drink. They have a large dome shaped shell. Tortoises have the longest lifespan of any animal and can live to be 150 years old. Sizes vary from 2 pounds up to 100 pounds. The giant tortoise can weight up to 700 pounds. If you decide you want a tortoise as a pet, please make sure you have made arrangements for its care as it will probably outlive you.
Turtles spend most of their lives in water. They have a streamlined body shape and webbed feet. Ocean turtles rarely leave the water except when females come ashore to lay eggs. Other turtles live in fresh water like ponds and lakes and enjoy basking in the sun on a log or a rock. They eat a primarily meat-based diet or a combination of meat and vegetables.
Whether aquatic or land dwellers, almost half of the world’s turtles/tortoises/terrapins are at risk because of habitat degradation, hunting and environmental pollution.