Turtle or Tortoise For Pet?

Which ones would make a better pet, turtle or tortoise? Do you know the differences between both reptiles?

Both offer unique and fascinating options for reptile enthusiasts, they are belong to the Testudines family however they possess distinct characteristics that make each species captivating in its own way.

In this blog post, we will explore the differences between turtles and tortoises as pets, considering factors such as habitat, care requirements, and interactivity.

Whether you are first timer in regards to reptile pets, or you have experience in the past, understanding their both species will help you make an informed decision and provide a rewarding experience for both you and your new reptilian friend.

Differences Between Turtles and Tortoise

They are both reptiles belonging to the order Testudines, but they have distinct characteristics that set them apart.

Here are the main differences between a turtle and a tortoise:

  1. Habitat: Turtles are generally adapted to live in aquatic or semi-aquatic environments. They have streamlined bodies, webbed feet or flippers, and can swim well. Tortoises, on the other hand, are adapted to live on land and have more rounded shells and sturdy, elephantine limbs.
  2. Shell Shape: Turtles typically have a more flattened, streamlined shell that allows for efficient swimming. Their shells are lighter and more hydrodynamic. In contrast, tortoises have a domed shell that provides protection and enables them to retract their head, legs, and tail into the shell for defense.
  3. Limb Structure: Turtles have webbed feet or flippers, which are adapted for swimming. Their limbs are more paddle-like in shape. Tortoises have stout, elephantine legs with feet adapted for walking on land. Their limbs are not designed for efficient swimming.
  4. Diet: Turtles are omnivorous, meaning they consume both plant matter and small animals such as insects, fish, and crustaceans. Their diet varies depending on the species. Tortoises are primarily herbivorous, feeding on vegetation such as grasses, leaves, flowers, and cacti.
  5. Behavior: Turtles tend to be more active and mobile, with the ability to explore both land and water. They often bask on logs or rocks and can be found in various aquatic habitats. Tortoises are generally more sedentary and spend most of their time on land. They are adapted to a terrestrial lifestyle and are not capable of swimming as effectively as turtles.
  6. Distribution: Turtles have a broader distribution and can be found in various parts of the world, including oceans, rivers, lakes, and marshes. Tortoises are typically found in drier regions, such as deserts, grasslands, and scrub lands. They are often associated with specific habitats.

Here is the summary table of turtle vs tortoise characteristics:

HabitatAquatic or semi-aquatic environmentsLand
Shell ShapeFlattened and streamlined for swimmingDomed for protection and head/limb retraction
Limb StructureWebbed feet or flippers for swimmingStout legs and feet for walking
DietOmnivorous: plants and small animalsPrimarily herbivorous: vegetation
BehaviorActive and mobile, can explore land and waterSedentary, mostly on land
DistributionOceans, rivers, lakes, marshesDrier regions, deserts, grasslands, scrublands

Which one make great pets?

Well, the suitability of turtles and tortoises as pets depends on several factors, including the individual’s lifestyle, preferences, and ability to provide proper care.

Here are some considerations:

  1. Space: They both require adequate space to live comfortably. Turtles typically need a large aquarium or pond with both land and water areas, while tortoises require an outdoor enclosure with space to roam. Tortoises generally require more space than turtles due to their larger size.
  2. Diet and Nutrition: Turtles and tortoises have different dietary needs. Turtles are usually more flexible in terms of diet, as they are omnivorous and can consume both plant and animal matter. Tortoises are herbivores and require a diet rich in leafy greens, grasses, and other plant material. Providing the appropriate diet for your pet is essential for their health.
  3. Care Requirements: Both reptiles have specific care requirements that need to be met. Turtles require proper filtration for their aquatic habitat, along with regular tank maintenance. Tortoises need access to a suitable outdoor environment, including appropriate shelter, substrate, and lighting. Regular veterinary check-ups are necessary for both.
  4. Lifespan: Turtles and tortoises are long-lived animals, with lifespans ranging from several decades to over a century, depending on the species. Keeping a turtle or tortoise as a pet requires a long-term commitment to their care and well-being.
  5. Interactivity: Turtles are generally more active and may display more interactive behavior, such as swimming and exploring their environment. Tortoises, being terrestrial, tend to be less active and may have limited interaction with their owners. However, each individual has its own personality, so it can vary.

Ultimately, the better pet between tortoises and turtles depends on the owner’s preferences, lifestyle, and ability to meet the specific care requirements of each species.

It’s crucial to thoroughly research and understand the needs of the species you are considering before making a decision.



Human Interaction

The level of human interaction and the response to it can vary among individual turtles and tortoises, as each has its own personality and temperament.

In general, they do exhibit some differences in their interaction with humans.

Remember, both turtles and tortoises are reptiles, and their responses to human interaction may differ from what one might expect from more social pets like dogs or cats.

They may not actively seek out attention or display affection in the same way.

But, some individuals may still enjoy gentle interactions, such as being hand-fed or having their shells gently stroked, once they become accustomed to their owners.


Pet turtles are generally more active and may show some level of curiosity towards humans. Some turtles can become accustomed to their owners’ presence and may even approach them in search of food or interaction.

However, their response to human interaction may be limited compared to other pets, as turtles are not as social or dependent on human interaction for their well-being.


Pet tortoises, on the other hand, tend to be less interactive with humans. They are primarily land-dwelling and have a more sedentary lifestyle.

While they may recognize their owners or become accustomed to their presence, tortoises typically do not seek out human interaction or display the same level of curiosity as turtles.

They are generally more independent and focused on their own activities.

Final Words

Turtles and tortoises are distinct reptiles with different adaptations and care requirements.

Turtles are typically adapted for aquatic or semi-aquatic habitats, while tortoises are land-dwelling. Turtles have streamlined bodies, webbed feet or flippers, and are omnivorous, while tortoises have more rounded shells, sturdy limbs, and are primarily herbivorous. Turtles tend to be more active and can swim, while tortoises are more sedentary and spend most of their time on land.

Understanding these differences is essential when considering these reptiles as pets, as it affects their habitat setup, diet, and overall care.


1. What is the difference between a turtle and a tortoise?

A turtle generally refers to species that live mainly in water, while a tortoise is a land-dwelling reptile. Turtles have webbed feet, which make them excellent swimmers, while tortoises have sturdy, round feet designed for walking on land.

2. Can turtles or tortoises be kept as pets?

Yes, both turtles and tortoises can be kept as pets. However, it’s important to research their specific needs and requirements before bringing one home.

3. Are turtles and tortoises herbivores?

Yes, both turtles and tortoises are primarily herbivores. Their diet consists mostly of leafy greens and vegetables.

4. Do turtles need an aquatic habitat?

Yes, most turtles require access to water for swimming and hydration. However, tortoises are not comfortable in aquatic environments and need a land-based habitat.

5. Can a turtle and a tortoise be kept together?

No, it is not recommended to keept them together. They have different habitat and dietary needs, which can lead to stress and health issues if housed together.

6. What are some common types of turtles and tortoises kept as pets?

There are many types of turtles and tortoises kept as pets. Some popular choices include red-eared sliders, box turtles, painted turtles, Russian tortoises, and sulcata tortoises.

7. Are turtles or tortoises better pets?

Choosing between the two as a pet depends on your living situation and personal preferences. Turtles are more active and require aquatic habitats, while tortoises are generally easier to care for and adapt well to a land-based environment.

8. Do turtles and tortoises enjoy basking?

Yes, they both enjoy basking as it allows them to regulate their body temperature and absorb essential UV light for their overall health and well-being.

About David Nitta

I am a lifelong lover of turtles and have dedicated years of research to understand and care about this wonderful creature. I regularly post blogs, mostly from what I read and my own experience, covering everything from turtle care, health, feeding habits, habitat setup, and so much more.