Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Tortoise, Turtle or Terrapin?

Look at my and my shelled reptile friends. Is it a tortoise, turtle, or terrapin? What 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.

Thanks to www.totallytortoise.com for the information above.

The terms 'turtle,' 'tortoise,' and 'terrapin' are often used interchangeably, and depending on which country you are in, may describe a completely different type of 'turtle.' But before you get too concerned about the common names, let us take a step back and identify them as belonging to one common order, the Chelonia. If it has a shell and is a reptile, then it is going to fall into the order Chelonia, which includes 244 different species

For most Americans, the term 'turtle' describes the Chelonians that are aquatic or semi-aquatic. The term 'tortoise' describes a Chelonian that lives primarily on land. 'Terrapin' can describe some freshwater or saltwater turtles, but is not often used.

There you have it. 


  1. enjoyed that nicely put synopsis of chelonians. truly.

  2. Dr. Henry, I presume. Well done. I never fell asleep in your lecture once.

  3. Please, no Pop Quizzes! Mom quizzes, maybe.