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Index Tortoise Information

Commonly Asked Questions About Tortoises


Q: How are tortoises different from turtles?

A: Tortoises and turtles are both members of the family Testudines, and are often confused because of their similar appearance. However, tortoises live on land, while turtles live primarily in the water. The tortoise’s shell is high-domed, and its legs are bent, giving it a stumpy appearance. Turtle shells are more streamlined, and their legs are more flexible. Their feet are webbed, allowing them to swim easily, whereas a tortoise’s feet are tipped with heavy-duty claws more suitable for digging.

Q: Why can’t tortoises swim?

A: To borrow a phrase, “Turtles swim. Tortoises swim like a rock.” Tortoises are very heavy-bodied, and cannot stay afloat, or move easily through the water, the way turtles can.

Q: What do tortoises eat?

A: Tortoises are primarily vegetarians. While some box turtles do eat a mix of live insects and leaves, most tortoises require strictly grasses, leaves, and bits of fruit.

Q: What’s the difference between a box turtle and a tortoise?

A: Box turtles actually are tortoises. No one knows why they were misnamed, but it could be because they’re relatively small, like turtles, and many of them are omnivorous, not strictly herbivorous. However, except for differences in diet, their overall care is the same as tortoises.

Q: Do tortoises lay eggs, or bear live young?

A: Tortoises and turtles are both cold-blooded, so they lay eggs. The hatching time can vary between 90 to 120 days, depending on local weather conditions…the warmer it is, the more quickly the eggs will hatch.

Q: How long can turtles and tortoises live?

A: No one really knows, because they can both live longer than humans can.

The average lifespan for a healthy turtle in captivity is between 30-45 years, but scientists believe that wild turtles can survive hundreds of years. This was verified a few years ago when a captured snapping turtle was found to have Civil War dates carved in its shell. The dates were authenticated not only by the shell overgrowth, but also by the authentic musket ball that was buried in its shell at the same level.

Tortoises are believed to live hundreds of years. Small tortoises, such as box turtles, live an estimated 80 to 100 years, while larger tortoises, such as sulcatas, can easily live 150-200 years.


Spur-Thigh Tortoises

Spur-Thigh Tortoises

Hinge-Back Tortoises

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Hinge-Back Tortoises Anterior view of a mature hinge-back tortoise

Redfoot Tortoises

Redfoot Tortoises
Hinge-Back Tortoise
Adult spur-thigh tortoise giving child a fun ride across the yard
Spur-Thigh Tortoise
Lovely redfoot tortoise peeking out of the undergrowth
Redfoot Tortoise