The fundamental differences between Tortoises, Terrapins and Turtles

In Southern Africa tortoises, terrapins and turtles are classified under the Order Chelonia with a further four Family divisions: Testudinidae, Pelomedusidae, Cheloniidae and Dermochelyidae

TORTOISE: These are land dwelling animals that never venture into water as part of their life cycles, however they can all swim when necessary. All tortoises fall into the family Testudinida.

A great Tortoise photo by Stew Nolan

A great Tortoise photo by Stew Nolan

TERRAPIN: Live on land and water. Their eggs are layed on land, but they use water for feeding and protection. Terrapins fall under the family Pelomedusidae.

 Terrapins approaching the water (Nigel Anderson)

Terrapins approaching the water (Nigel Anderson)

TURTLE: These animals are 100% sea reliant and only the females venture onto land to lay their eggs. Males never come ashore and after hatching spend their entire lives in water. Turtles fall under two families; Cheloniidae and Dermochelyidae.

All of the above have exceptionally high mortality rates and it is estimated that only about 2% will reach maturity.

Class: Reptilia
Order: Chelonia
Sub-order: Cryptodira (Tortoises), Pleurodira (Terrapins)
Family: Testudinidae (Tortoises), Pelomedusidae (Terrapins), Cheloniidae & Dermochelyidae (Turtles)

Nigel Anderson

Guide at African Insight


About Andrew Anderson

Managing Director: African Insight - Travel Experiences That Make A Difference African Insight - Explorations Tourism Concessionaire - Somkhanda Game Reserve
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