Tortoises and Turtles – Difference and Comparison

The fact that tortoise and turtles belong to the same class of the animal kingdom ‘reptiles’ – is possibly known to all of us. The biggest difference between a tortoise and a turtle is that while tortoises live on land, turtles spent most or all of their time in water.

There is a shield called carapace that protects the bodies of both turtles and tortoises and their lower portions are known as plastron. There is a bridge that attaches the plastron and the carapace. This means that though the tortoise or turtle can withdraw its limbs and head into the shell, it can never really detach the whole body from it.

Both these reptiles are generally shy and reclusive in nature. Though most people think turtles and tortoises to be same, there are many differences between them. Let’s look at them in details.

tortoises and turtles difference


As per general definition, turtles are reptiles belonging to the chelonian family and dwelling well in water while tortoises are reptiles belonging to the chelonian family and dwelling well on land.


Turtles mainly live in water and are mostly carnivores and their diet mainly consists of worms, fishes and insects. However, there are some turtles like the Box Turtle that have food habits like us i.e. they are omnivorous in nature and eat both flesh and plant. Tortoises are herbivores in general though a rare few eat live food as well.

Shape and Weight of the Shell

This is one difference that is noticeable. Tortoises mostly have a shell that is shaped in the form of a dome and have contoured segments meaning the segments of the shell is somewhat raised. Turtles on the other hand, generally have smoother and flatter shell or streamlined for swimming in water. However, there are exceptions to this rule as Box turtles have raised segments in their shell and pancake tortoises have flatter shells. Shells are also generally heavier in a tortoise.


Eyes need a special mention when comparing turtles and tortoises. The irises are visible in turtles (except Box turtle) while the irises in tortoises are black and that blends well with the pupil. There are exceptions to this rule as well. Desert tortoises have white irises.

Shape of Feet

Turtle have webbed feet or flippers as they swim in water while tortoises have feet similar to that of elements. Box turtles are again an exception to this rule.


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