Why Is A Box Turtle Not A Tortoise?

Why Is A Box Turtle Not A Tortoise

Many of us think, box turtles and tortoise are the same thing. There are some definite differences between a box turtle and a tortoise.

So why is a box turtle not a tortoise? It is because a box turtle belongs to the family of Emydidae. On the other hand, a tortoise belongs to the family of Testudinidae. Both the families have some similarities and dissimilarities, but it is the main reason that a box turtle is not a tortoise.

Many of you may still wonder what the differences between a turtle and a tortoise are. Well, this article might clear all your confusions.

Differences Between A Turtle And A Tortoise

First of all, let’s find out what are the fundamental differences between a turtle and a tortoise.

Characteristics Turtle Tortoise
Habitat A turtle is more comfortable to live in water. Depending on species or subspecies, their habitat can be different. Turtle always lives near a water source. It often needs to soak its body in the water or drink water. A tortoise is a land dweller. Many of its species live far from any water sources. Occasionally a tortoise needs to take a bath or drink water.
Feet A turtle has flattened or webbed feet for swimming. Sea turtles have flippers like feet, which help them to control their bodies in streamed water. A tortoise has bluntly and stumpy feet. It helps them to walk on land.
Shell A turtle has a hard and flatter shell. The shell of a tortoise is round and dome shaped.
Diet A turtle’s food habit depends on its species. The traditional food for it is plant leaves, small insects, etc.   A tortoise is a land dweller. So its life depends on low plants like grass.

Physical Differences Between A Box Turtle And A Tortoise

Box Turtle Tortoise
You can find a box turtle in various sizes. It can be small, medium, or large, depending on the subspecies.  Most tortoises are found in medium or large sizes.
A box turtle’s shell is dome shaped.   A tortoise’s shell is round in shape.
An adult box turtle’s average length is 4.5 – 8 inches. It can vary from subspecies to subspecies.   A tortoise can grow really big. The average length of an adult tortoise is 19 – 51 inches.    

These differences can vary from subspecies to subspecies.

Similarities Between A Box Turtle And A Tortoise

Though a turtle and a tortoise have some differences, they have some similarities too.

  1. Both of them belong to the Chelonia order.
  2. Both bury their eggs in the soil after laying eggs.
  3. They bask in their bodies in the sun or any external source.
  4. Both of the species do not have teeth.
  5. Box turtle and tortoise have similar food habits.

How To Identify Box Turtle

For some of you, it may sound challenging to identify the subspecies of box turtles. It is actually a simple task. By following some characteristics of a box turtle, you can distinguish its subspecies. Here I will demonstrate some aspects which might help you with this.

Three Toed Box Turtle

three toed box turtle
  • It has a tan or olive shell.
  • There are orange spots on its head and limbs.
  • It has three toes on each foot.
  • Male three toed box turtles tend to have a red head.
  • It can be found around the central US.

Eastern Box Turtle

eastern box turtle
  • It has a black or brown shell and body with yellow or orange spots.
  • It has four toes on each foot.
  • It can be found throughout the eastern US.

Gulf Coast Box Turtle

gulf coast box turtle
  • It is the largest of all box turtles.
  • It is semi aquatic.
  • It has a dark shell and body.
  • Its shell is decorated with flared marginal scutes.
  • It has four toes on each foot.
  • A gulf coast box turtle can be found from Louisiana to northern Florida.

Florida Box Turtle

florida box turtle
  • Florida box turtle has a dark shell and body with yellow lines on them.
  • Some of them have yellow lines on the head too.
  • It has 3-4 toes on each foot.
  • It can be found in Georgia and Florida.

Ornate Box Turtle

ornate box turtle
  • It has yellow stripes on both upper and lower shell.
  • Male ornate box turtles are smaller in size and have red eyes.
  • Female ornate box turtles are larger than the male ones and have yellow eyes.
  • It is found in eastern Kansas.

Coahuilan Box Turtle

Coahuilan Box Turtle
  • It has dark skin.
  • It tends to live in water.
  • This subspecies is found in Coahuila, Mexico.

In spite of having some similarities, a box turtle and a tortoise are considered different species. I have explained why and how to identify a box turtle. I hope this article has helped you to clear your confusion.

Muntaseer Rahman

I have been keeping turtles as a pet for many years now. I’ve fallen in love with these cute pets from the moment I saw them. That’s why I am writing articles to share my turtle keeping knowledge with you.

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