Tortoises are actually turtles. Numbers are somewhat contested but the tortoise family, Testudinidae, includes 65 species belonging to 18 genera. This is just one of 11 families in the turtle order, encompassing 365 species. But what makes a turtle a turtle and a tortoise a tortoise is not always turtle-y clear.

Advertisement

What's the difference between turtles and tortoises?

While British English speakers call land-dwelling turtles tortoises and ocean-dwellers turtles, Americans use the term turtle more prevalently, including for some land animals.

All turtles have a body encased in a hard, bony shell made up of plates, but while water-based turtles tend to be streamlined with flattened flippers, the land-dwelling tortoises usually have more domed shells and stockier ‘elephantine’ legs.

Tortoises are not good swimmers, but sometimes enter water to drink or bathe. They have a largely vegetarian diet, whereas turtles are mainly omnivorous with marine species eating jellyfish. Both lay their eggs on land.

Advertisement

Main image: Getty images

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement