Usually, as a kid when asked whether who won in the ‘hare and the tortoise story’ I replied the Turtle! Well, to my surprise people even appreciated to that answer. However, a turtle never existed in the race. It was a race between a Hare and a Tortoise. This is exactly where the confusion starts. People vaguely understand the difference between a turtle and a tortoise. They are not the same creatures. Although they share certain similar features and characteristics, they have different names and existence.
Why do people confuse between a turtle and a tortoise? Why are they not seen as different individual species? Is it just because of their appearance? If you have such questions, the answer is a clear no. We cannot deny the fact that both the creatures do resemble each other to an extent. To start with both of them are reptiles falling in the same taxanomy named as Testudines. They can be grouped together as – Kingdom Animalia, Phylum Chordata, Class Reptilia and Order Chelonii. They share similar traits. The first most being their hard shell above their skin. Every turtle and a tortoise have a firm shell that is used for the sake of protection from being a prey for other animals. Unlike, others they are slow in movement and hence cannot run to save their lives. Instead, they use their shells to hide inside.
Apart from the shell, another important trait they share is their scales on the body. Both of them have scales in different patterns and shapes. They are even egg-layers which in return even makes them ectothermic. This means they cannot manage their body temperature and have to depend on some external source like the sun to do it for them. They are unable to do it from inside like humans. So these were some of the similarities that generally come in the way of the big confusion. However, they are still different beings.
Some of the major differences in the characteristics of them are as follows:
- HABITAT: A turtle most of the times stay in or under water, while a tortoise is a land animal. It always is outside the water. The turtles come on the land only for laying eggs. The mother turtle and mother tortoise show similarity in laying of the eggs process. However, the mother turtle buries its eggs after laying them and leaves them on their own. On the other hand, a mother tortoise takes care of its eggs for the first 80 days before the hatching process.
- APPEARANCE: Although, a turtle and tortoise look almost alike, minute observations shows certain peculiarities. A turtle has a plane, sleek shell and limbs that are comparable to that of a tortoise. A turtle has fins and not legs which makes them good swimmers. Its feet are webbed and have elongated claws which provide a good clutch while floating on logs while turning on the river banks. Whereas a tortoise has a curved, dome-shaped shell attached over its short and muscular feet. The leg are slightly bent and not straight, locked directly under the body. This makes their body heavy and incapable of swimming. Hence, tortoise is a bad swimmer.
- THE SHELL: Other than the differences in the shapes of the shell, their weights of both the reptiles also vary. A tortoise has a heavier shell as compared to a turtle’s shell. This is because a tortoise uses its shell for protection from the predators, to hide, and for defence. On the contrary, a turtle’s shell is necessary to be light weighted as it is most of the time in water. A lighter shell makes it float instead of sink and makes swimming easier.
- APETITE: A tortoise is more of a vegetarian type of animal. He is herbivorous and lives on plants, leaves, fruits, etc. A turtle prefers both kinds of meals. He is herbivorous as well as carnivorous.
- LIFESPAN: A tortoise’s average life span is somewhat equal to that of human beings. It can survive up to 70-80 years at least. However, studies have shown that they can live beyond that period. There have been tortoises surviving to 120-200 years. Such tortoises are mostly kept in captivity under special care and environment. The normal lifespan of a turtle is on average 20-40 years only. There are certain species of sea turtles that can survive for more than 60 years. they even can live till maximum 80 years in superficial conditions.
- DISTRIBUTION: Turtles are found in Africa and America. In tropical and semi-tropical areas where they can get the appropriate external, warm temperatures to maintain their body heat. Tortoises are usually found in Asia and Africa. The difference in their geography is a natural adaptive process. Turtles require it for hibernating and tortoise do not hibernate as they naturally live in warm environment i.e. on land.
- PET LIFE: Both turtle as well as a tortoise is kept as a pet. The small turtles are the one in demand. Although a tortoise is easier to care and pet, it is extremely expensive to own. These days there are lots of legal procedures one has to go through to own a tortoise as a pet. A turtle and a tortoise are both long living animals; hence one must have a strong commitment before jumping onto a decision of petting it.
These were some of the important features that prove that a turtle is not a tortoise. They are similar looking animals with certain familiar characteristics but still maintain their individuality. They should be confused as one species of reptile sheerly on the basis of their appearance and looks. As one should not forget that looks can be deceiving. So here on we can say that a tortoise and a turtle are brothers/sisters from different mothers as well as father!