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Differences Between a Sea Turtle, Freshwater Turtles, and Tortoises

There are many types of turtles but they all are divided into 3 large groups: sea turtles, freshwater turtles, and tortoises.

5-Minute Crafts would like to tell you about what the main differences between sea turtles, freshwater turtles, and tortoises are, and explain what will help you not confuse them.

What they have in common

Despite the differences between the turtles of these groups, they have a few things in common.

So, all turtles are cold-blooded reptiles. Females of all turtle species lay eggs on land: on the beach, for example. Turtles have no teeth, instead they have serrated jaws. Turtles breathe using lungs.

Sea turtles

Sea turtles are larger than freshwater turtles and tortoises. The largest known sea turtle can measure up to 5.5 feet and weigh as much as 1,550 pounds.

Sea turtles spend most of their lives in the ocean and only come on land to lay eggs.

Sea turtles’ shells are adapted for movement in the water, they are flatter and more streamlined. Their legs are like flippers, and they can’t tuck their head and limbs into the shells, unlike other types of turtles. In addition, they can only crawl on land.

Most sea turtles eat fish, algae, and crabs, but some species eat only seagrass and algae, or only jellyfish and other jello-like invertebrates.

Freshwater turtles

Freshwater turtles live in rivers, lakes, and ponds and are generally smaller than sea turtles. One of the largest freshwater turtles known weighs about 176 pounds.

Freshwater turtles can tuck their head and webbed feet into their shells. Unlike sea turtles, freshwater turtles move on land using their feet. They are even able to climb, and males sometimes develop impressive claws. Shells of freshwater turtles are domed and very strong.

These turtles feed not only on plants, but also on small crustaceans, fish, and insects.


The feet of tortoises are scaly and topped with claws, which help them to dig the ground. The shell of a tortoise has the shape of a high dome. The size of tortoises varies greatly. Their body can be from 10 inches to 4 feet in length.

Unlike turtles, tortoises spend their entire lives on land.

Their diet consists only of plants, which makes them herbivores.

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