The tongue twister of the relationship between turtles and tortoises is the same as those two boxy geometric shapes we learned in elementary school. A tortoise is a turtle just like a rectangle is a square, but a turtle is not a tortoise just like a square is not a rectangle.

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The turtle vs tortoisedebate is a complicated one. Both species lay eggs, and many are herbivoreswhile others are omnivores. To the untrained eye, turtles and tortoises may look exactly alike, but there are a number of ways to differentiate between them. Looking for physical characteristics, like long claws, sturdy feet, and shell shape can help you to tell if you"re looking at a pet turtleor a tortoise.

All Turtles Aren"t Tortoises

"Turtle" is a broad term that can refer to any reptile with a shell. However, the classificationcan be further broken down into types of turtles. Confusingly, a turtle is a type of turtle. Tortoises and terrapins are the other two kinds of turtles.


The Role of Shell Shape

The last difference between turtles and tortoises is shell shape. Shells differ between different species of turtles. Because aquatic turtles spend time in the water, a turtle shell is flatter for streamlined swimming. A tortoise has more of a dome shape to its shell. As land-dwelling box turtles spend most of their life out of the water, their shells look more like an Aldabra tortoise than a red-eared slider.

To clarify things even further, the tortoiseshell pattern seen on sunglasses is not actually made from tortoises. It wasmade from turtles--the hawksbill sea turtle, specifically. Nowadays, the species is protected and so that material is just plastic.

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The shape of a turtle"s body with regard to its feet and shell can offer us a better understanding of its habitat. It also helps you classify if it is indeed a turtle or a tortoise! Whether you"re looking at an alligator snapping turtle, a leatherback, a Galapagos tortoise, or a green sea turtle, by evaluating the animal"s shape and physical characteristics, you"ll be able to classify them without relying on their names.