What Makes A Turtle A Reptile

Are turtles reptiles?

What about a turtle makes it a reptile?

Turtles are fascinating animals, and many of them make lovely pets.

People sometimes confuse turtles to be amphibians since they live in and around water.

However, turtles are not amphibians. They are reptiles.

But what exactly makes turtles a reptile?

Turtles share common characteristics with reptiles, such as their use of lungs to breathe, scaly skin, and how they reproduce.

what makes a turtle a reptile

What animals are classified as a turtle?

“Turtle” refers to any animal in the order of Testudines.

They evolved during the Middle Jurassic period around 160 million years ago.

Today, the term “turtle” refers to three different types: turtles, tortoises, and terrapins.

The main difference between the three is where they live.

Turtles spend most of their time in the water.

Tortoises spend most of their time on land, and terrapins split their time between water and land.

To be classified as a turtle, an animal must be cold-blooded, have no teeth, four legs, and have a bony shell.

Their shells are one of their most unique features.

Other animals, even mammals, have evolved to use shells, but turtle shells are structurally different from any other.

Their shells have a top and bottom and connect on each side of the turtle’s body, creating a skeletal box.

Some reptiles shed their skin, but turtles are unable to exit or shed their shells.

There are 14 types, or families, turtles made up of approximately 356 different species.

They live all over the world, on every continent except or Antarctica.

The greatest number of species, however, occurs in southeastern North America and South Asia.

They can live in freshwater, saltwater, or on land.

Turtles vary in size from 4″ inch long flattened musk turtle to the leatherback sea turtle, which measures over 4′ feet long.  

The more well-known species include sea turtles and snapping turtles.

The terrapin family of turtles refers to any freshwater or pond turtles.

These turtles are the ones most often sold as pets.

What characteristics of turtles make them reptiles?

While their skeletal shells set them apart from other reptiles, turtles share many features with other animals in the reptile family.

These features are outlined below:

Cold-blooded: Turtles are cold-blooded, which means they cannot regulate their body temperature.

This is a crucial characteristic of reptiles, and it differentiates them from other species, such as mammals.

Turtles rely on external sources to heat or cool themselves. If kept as pets, they will require a heat lamp.

Skin: The structure of their shell is unique, but it is impenetrable by water like all reptiles.

The rest of their skin is covered in watertight scales similar to other reptiles such as crocodiles or snakes.

Since their skin is not absorbent like amphibians, they are required to drink water to hydrate.

Breathing: Several species of turtles spend a significant amount of time in the water.

However, since they are reptilian, they rely on their lungs to breathe.

They do not have gills to help them breathe while they are in the water.

Reproduction: All reptiles share similar methods of reproduction.

As reptiles, turtles must lay their hard-shell eggs on land. It doesn’t matter where they usually live, even sea turtles come out of the water and use beaches or lower dunes for nesting and laying their eggs.

When the eggs hatch, turtles do not need to go through any metamorphosis like frogs or other amphibians.

Turtles are born looking like miniature versions of the adult.

Also, like other reptiles, turtles show little paternal care.

What characteristics are unique to turtles?

There are a few features of turtles that set them apart from other reptiles.

While they require their lungs to breathe, some turtles have evolved and can submerge themselves in water for a significant period.

One example of this is when turtles go into hibernation.

Since they are cold-blooded, a turtle’s metabolism and activity level are related to the external temperature.

They become more active and eat more in warmer temperatures or water, and they become less active and require less food in cold water.

In hibernation, turtles do not move, their heart rate slows, and they “breathe” without oxygen.

Instead, they breathe using fats stored during warmer months.

On average, turtles have the longest potential life span of reptiles.

This is partly due to the fact it takes some turtles 18-20 years before they reach sexual maturity and reproduce.

Once a turtle reaches adulthood, its chance of dying decreases significantly.

Many turtles in and out of captivity live at least 30 years with a few documented cases of turtles living to a 100 or older.

Do turtles make good pets?

Turtles are an excellent pet for someone interested in getting into owning reptiles, especially long-term, given their long-life spans.

As mentioned, terrapins are the most common type of turtles to own.

They generally split their time between land and water, so it suggested to have both options in their habitat.

Many reptiles, including turtles, are solitary creatures.

They do not need companions and can be kept alone in a tank.

Like most pet reptiles, we recommend keeping your turtle in a glass terrarium.

For turtles, the bigger the habitat, the better.

It is best to use a terrarium, which is at least 10 gallons, such as Repti Zoo Glass Tank found on Amazon.  

Red-eared sliders and painted turtles are excellent options for first-time turtle parents.

While they do not require walks or daily feedings, it is crucial to maintain their habitats.

It may be useful to familiarize yourself with the specific care a turtle needs before buying one.

We recommend Turtle Care: How to Care for Pet Turtles Like an Expert available for download through Amazon.


When looking at different reptile pets, turtles definitely need to be considered.

They have many distinct reptile features, such as thick skin, habitats, and reproduction patterns.

Simultaneously, their unique characteristics (shells, breathing underwater, and longevity) make them enjoyable to know about and own.

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