Tortoise, turtle, or terrapin?
It's all geography

Look at any shelled reptile. Is it a tortoise, turtle, or terrapin?

Earth, home to tortoises, turtles, and terrapinsWhat you call me or any of my relatives depends on

  • what we look like,
  • where we live, and
  • where you live.

Before we get on with this, let's be clear that scientists like veterinarians and such have their own words for us. They call us all chelonians.

But ordinary people use ordinary words. The trouble is that sometimes you don't all mean the same thing even when you use the same words.

What we look like

We all have shells. But some of our shells are covered with scutes while others are have a leathery covering. Some shells are domed, some are like saddles, and some are almost flat.

We all have four legs. But some of us have thick stumpy legs with stumpy feet. Some have webs between our toes. Some have flippers that are hardly legs at all.

Of course we have other differences, too, or else our friends wouldn't be able to tell us apart. But these two differences (shells and feet) help to tell if someone is a tortoise, turtle or terrapin because what we look like helps you to know what our natural habitat is.

Where we live

We have three main habitats. . .
  • We can live on land.
  • We can live in the sea.
  • Or we can live sort of in between, spending time both on the land and in the water. Lots of us in this group live in brackish water. That's water that is sort of salty, the water you find at a river mouth where it joins the ocean.

Where you live

When you want to know if one of my relatives is a tortoise, turtle, or terrapin, you have to know what the reptile looks like and where it lives. Then you have to know what each group is called in your part of the world.

Most of my readers are from North American, Great Britain, and Australia, so those are the places I'm writing about here. If you live somewhere else and you know how we are sorted where you live, you can tell me by using the form on my contact page.

Tortoise, Turtle, or Terrapin?
Brackish Water
North AmericaTortoiseTurtleSea Turtle
Great BritainTortoiseTerrapinTurtle

Whatever you call us, enjoy the information on this Web site. And when you meet one of us in person, listen closely. We might be telling you something important.

Facts About Tortoises That Are Animals

Other Tortoises

Not all tortoises have a shell. In fact, not all tortoises are even animals. But if it's about a tortoise, it has a place on this Web site. So this is where you can find out about the other tortoises.Keep it slow and steady.

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