Have you ever wondered if turtles are reptiles or amphibians? Many turtles spend a lot of time underwater. In this blog, our Clarksville vets explain this key fact that all future turtle owners should understand.
Turtles are amazing animals with distinctive loos, long lifespans, and interesting personalities. However, their uniqueness can sometimes lead to confusion. For example, many people are unsure whether a turtle is a reptile or an amphibian. Here, our Sango Veterinary Hospital team explains more.
What is a turtle, anyway?
While the answer to this question may feel a bit self-evident, when two different people talk about turtles, they may actually be speaking about completely different animals!
The term turtle is usually used in America to speak about a very large swathe of creatures that are part of the scientific order Testudines. There are two very different subgroups within this order, and over 360 turtle species are found worldwide!
As you might expect, the main characteristic distinguishing turtles from other animal orders is their shell. This unique protective adaptation is made from bone and connects the ribs of a turtle into a little closed box. That's right, a turtle actually isn't able to remove its shell!
All turtles can retract their heads into their shell, but the way they do so varies from turtle to turtle. No turtles have teeth. Instead, they have horny ridges for either slicing through meat or grinding up plant life.
Is a turtle a reptile or an amphibian?
Turtles are reptiles, not amphibians. They're more like crocodiles, lizards, and snakes than they are frogs or salamanders.
What makes a turtle a reptile? Well, turtles are cold-blooded, four-legged (or sometimes finned) vertebrates that have hard, impermeable scales covering their bodies. They also lay hard-shelled eggs on land (even if they spend the vast majority of their lives in water. Lastly, when baby turtles emerge from their eggs, they are much smaller and less-developed versions of adult turtles.
Amphibians are cold-blooded and four-legged in their mature stages as well. However, there are a few key factors that distinguish amphibians like frogs from turtles. Amphibians have soft, permeable skin that is used as a secondary respiratory organ in addition to their lungs.
Amphibians, like frogs, are also cold-blooded and have four legs when they're grown. But they have soft, permeable skin used for breathing, and they lay eggs in water without shells. When an amphibian is born, it has gills and looks totally different from mature members of its species. Just think about the difference between a tadpole and a frog. The change from tadpole to its eventual mature stage of life is a huge difference between reptiles like turtles and amphibians.
What about sea turtles?
Sea turtles may live most of their lives in water, but they're still considered reptiles. They lay their eggs on land, their babies look like typical turtles, and they need to come up for air just like other reptiles, despite their distinctive find. So, sea turtles are every bit as reptilian as snapping turtles.