Turtle or Tortoise?
What is the difference between a turtle, tortoise, or a terrapin? There are common-use differences between them, and a specific scientific difference.
Science tells us that all shelled reptiles are Chelonians, most commonly called turtles. Within the order of turtles, one family, Testudinidae, are the ‘true tortoises’- turtles that live, hunt, mate, and hide on land and usually have heavy shells.
Common usage varies by location. Here is a chart of the basic breakdowns by types of turtles and what they are called in various areas:
|United States||Europe, Australia|
|Completely terrestrial (tortoises)||tortoise||tortoise|
|Mostly terrestrial (box turtles)||turtle||tortoise|
|Semi-aquatic (pond turtles, sliders)||turtle||terrapin|
|Fully aquatic (fresh water)
|Fully aquatic (sea water)||turtle or sea turtle||turtle or sea turtle|
Special cases: “Terrapin” – brackish water species. Also used in the southern states for edible turtles. “Tortoise” is also used for native fresh-water species in Australia.
So… ALL turtles, terrapins, and turtles can be safely and accurately called “turtles”, although “Chelonian” is more accurate. When someone says your beloved tortoise is a “turtle”, they are technically correct.