Turtles, Tortoises & Terrapins Explained

Turtles, Tortoises & Terrapins are all names for the hard-shelled, egg-laying reptiles in the taxonomic order Chelonia. Basically, they’re all Turtles. The exact name used for a particular type of Turtle can vary depending upon where they live or where you live

People in different parts of the world use different names depending upon the specific type of turtle they’re talking about. For example, the name “Turtle” is used most widely and usually refers to those turtles that spend most of their life in or near the water

Turtle is often used to refer to sea turtles that rarely leave the ocean. Of course, Turtle can also refer to the many types oft turtles that live in fresh water, such as lakes or ponds

The word “Tortoise” on the other hand, is usually used to refer to turtles that spend most of their time on land, eating shrubs and grasses. Unlike their aquatic relatives, tortoises don’t have webbed feet, since they don’t spend much time in the water

Terrapins are turtles that spend time both on land and in brackish, swampy water. The word “Terrapin” comes from an Algonquian India word meaning “a little turtle”


How to tell the difference

Look at the habitat your pet is in – If it lives in salt water (it’s an oceanic animals), then your pet is a turtle. If it lives in fresh or brackish water, it is a terrapin. If it loves on land, than it’s a tortoise

Look at it’s feet – Sea turtles will have a board flippers rather than feet with claws. Both terrapins and tortoises have feet

Look for a salt gland – Sea turtles will have a salt gland in the corner of their eyes, nostrils or on their tongue. This is to help the sea turtles get rid of excess salt in their bodies


Turtle – Spends most of its life in the water. Turtles tend to have webbed feet for swimming. Sea turtles are especially adapted for an aquatic life, with long feet that form flippers and a streamlined body shape. They rarely leave the ocean, expect when the females come ashore to lay their eggs, although some species, such as the green sea turtle, do come out on reefs and beaches to bask. Other turtles live in fresh water, like ponds and lakes. They swim, but they also climb out onto banks logs or rocks to bask in the sun. In the cold weather, they burrow into the mud, where they go into torpor until spring weather again 

Tortoise – A land-dweller that eats low growing shrubs, grass and even cactus. Tortoises do not have webbed feet; their feet are round and stumpy for walking on land. Tortoises that live in hot, dry habitats use their strong forelimbs to dig burrows. Then, when it’s too hot in the sun, they slip underground

Terrapin – Spends its time both on land and in water, but it always lives near water, along rivers, ponds and lakes. Terrapins are often found in brackish, swampy areas. The work “Terrapin” comes from an Algonquian word for turtle


The jobs of diving with Turtles

It’s an amazing experience to come face to face with a sea turtle. With their cute little faces, intricate patterns on their shell and the way they move so gracefully through the water, you’ll find yourself mesmerized, dazzled and wanted more. Once you come face to face with a turtle you quickly find yourself wanting more dives to hang out with them again.


In the wild

Terrapins can be found around Britain, in the placid calm of urban ponds and watercourses, however it’s not being disturbed by a rapacious new menace – legions of abandoned pet terrapins. They often are abundant along the eastern coastal region (Atlantic coast) of United States. In the wild, a small baby terrapin are approximately equal to the size of a 50 pence coin. After emerging out of the shell they crawl to the nearest water body. Adults can grow up to 40cm and weight up to 2kg. Their life span can be as long as 30 years in a favorable environment

Turtles are found in many parts of the world with temperature or tropical climates. Some kinds live on land, others in fresh water or salt water. As turtles are cold blooded, they can’t live in places that are cold all year long. But turtles live almost everywhere else. They live in hot sandy deserts, lush green forests and grasslands. Some turtles live high in the mountains and others live in wet lowlands marshes and swamps. Altogether, there are seven species of turtle live in the sea. Most kind live in more than one Ocean. The green turtles, for example, live in the Atlantic, Pacific and the Indian Oceans. Other kinds of sea turtles, such as the Kemp’s ridleys, have a much smaller area they call home. This sea turtle is found only in the Gulf of Mexico and some parts of the Atlantic Ocean

Tortoises typically live on the south-facing hillsides, sleeping at night rocks and thorny bushes. In the morning they emerge to bask in the sun until they are warm enough to become active then they trundle off for their morning forage, snipping off flowers and leavers as they go. By midsummer it’s very hot and there is little to eat so they dig them self in for a period of aestivation


Best places to go diving with Turtles

Ever fancied going scuba diving with Turtles? Here are some of the best places to go and see Turtles in their natural environment:

Also check out one of our previous blogs all about Turtles

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