Turtle and tortoise tend to confuse a lot of people because of their almost similar appearance. They both have shells and share some characteristics of reptiles such as having scales. Appearance is not the only thing that causes confusion between tur-tles and tortoises, difference in semantics also leads to the two animals being con-fused in each other. Their names may vary depending on the language spoken in a particular region. They may for example vary depending on whether the language is American English, UK English, or Australian English.
Lets take a look at some of the ways in which turtles and tortoises differ from one another.
Turtles and tortoises have different habitats. Turtles mainly inhabit fresh water or the sea in the case of sea turtles. They carry out all their activities inside the water and only come out to lay eggs or bask in the sun. Sea turtles permanently stay in water and only come out to lay eggs. Turtles generally spend their lives inside or around aquatic habitats. They are often found in freshwater bodies, marshlands, and seas or oceans.
Unlike turtles which live in water, tortoises are terrestrial. They live on land and perform all there activities there. Tortoises are in fact very poor at swimming. They occasionally get inside water to bathe themselves. Tortoises may live in places which are far from a water body such as deserts and arid lands.
Turtles have a streamlined body to help them move through the water. Sea turtles have fins to help them in swimming. Turtles which do not have fins such as the fresh water turtles possess webbed feet instead to help them swim or wade through the water. Fresh water turtles also have flattened feet for ease in swimming.
Tortoises on their part do not have streamlined bodies, they are thus unable to swim. Their feet are blunt and club-shaped to help them move on land. Tortoises also pos-sess long claws for digging burrows on the soil. Burrows provide tortoises with a place to shelter from bad weather or a place to sleep in. The rear legs of tortoises are also bigger than the front legs. The rear legs are elephantine while the fore legs are shovel-shaped to enable digging.
The shells of turtles and tortoises are also different. Turtles have a flat, bony, and hard shell while tortoise have rounded and dome-shaped shells. Tortoises are also able to completely retreat within their shells unlike turtles which are unable to com-pletely hide their heads underneath the shells.
Concerning the size and weight of the shells, tortoise shells tend to be larger and heavier than those of of turtles. Turtle shells are generally light-weight so as to pre-vent them from sinking in water and to enable them swim at a suitable speed. The shells of tortoises are however larger in order to protect them from predators.
Turtles are omnivorous animals. They feed on things such as vegetation, insects, and fish. Tortoises on the other hand are herbivores, they feed on vegetation such as grass, low growing plants, and short shrubs.
In terms of geographical distribution, tortoises are mainly found in Asia and Africa while turtles are more common in America and Africa. The sulcata tortoises are for example commonly found in nothern Africa. They inhabit the southern edge of the Sahara desert. Sulcata tortoises also inhabit the Sahel desert. They are found in countries such as Chad, Burkina Faso, and Eritrea among others.
Tortoises live for around 60-80 years while turtles live for about 20-40 years.