All are reptiles and all have shells. The difference between them is that turtles live in water, tortoises live on land and terrapins do a bit of both.
They all breath air, have scales, lay eggs on land and have cold blood. The difference between them is where they live.
Sea turtles live almost permanently in water only coming to land to lay their eggs. Fresh water turtles will occasionally bask in the sun on land but most of the day is spent in the water. They are also a slightly different shape being more streamlined to help them glide through the water. They also have fins rather than legs, which makes them better swimmers. Sea turtles feed on small fish, jellyfish and insects but not vegetation like tortoises.
Tortoises live completely on the land and are actually very bad swimmers. Their bodies are not streamlined and they have feet that often have long claws for digging. Tortoises can completely retract their heads into their shells, something turtles cannot do, and terrapins fold theirs sideways. The Tortoise also feeds completely on vegetation.
Terrapins are almost a combination of turtles and tortoises. They live in water but they can also live on land and frequently travel long distances between water sources. They are good swimmers but don’t have webbed feet or fins. Their bodies are slightly streamlined like a turtle but they have a hard shell like the tortoise.
In Australia, it is illegal to keep exotic (non-Australian) reptiles in captivity. To keep a reptile one is required to get a license of the state or territory wildlife authority. Reptiles may not be removed from the wild – even the back garden. They must be obtained from another keeper.
For more information:
|Box Turtle||The most common species of terrapin these guys make a great pet. They are about 15cm long. They love to sun bake but like to hibernate during the winter.|
|Red Eared Slider||These are popular family pets as they are cute and have a lovely nature. They like to get in and out of the water and sun bake. They can be between 12-30cm.|
|Diamondback Terrapin||In the wild these fellows live in brackish water. They are named for the diamond pattern of their shells. The males grow to about 12cm long, the females 19cm.|
|African Sideneck Turtle||An ideal pet for children. This fellow enjoys basking and will live to about 30 years and will grow up to 22cm.|
|Caspian Pond Turtle||Ideal for beginners 12 years plus this turtle is semi-aquatic. It will grow up to 23cm.|
|Central American Wood Turtle||A semi-aquatic turtle that likes shallow swimming. They will grow to about 23cm and are Ideal for the beginner.|
|Long Neck Turtle||These guys make a fun pet.|
|Mississippi Map Turtle||This turtle lives up to 25 years and is suitable for a beginner. It is an aquatic turtle and spends most of its time swimming.|
|Painted Turtle||This turtle lives about 30 years and is ideal for children over 12 years.|
|Short Neck Turtle||These guys make an interesting pet.|
|Cherry Head Red Foot Tortoise||These Tortoises can grow up to 30cm and are ideal for beginners 12 years and up. They are land dwellers but do need water to drink and to soak their shells.|
|Greek Tortoise||The are also land dwellers and do need a shallow water dish for soaking their shells and drinking. They can grow to 30cm and are suited to children 12 years and older.|
|Red Footed Tortoise||Similar to the Cheery Head, these guys are also known for their red markings. They grow up to 30cm and are ideal for beginners 12 years and up.|
|Russian Tortoise||These guys grow up to 20cm and are suitable for beginners 12 years and older. They are land dwellers but do require water to drink and soak their shells.|