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Is a turtle a reptile?

Is a turtle a reptile?

If you are considering getting a pet turtle, you may have a few questions about their care and even what type of animal they are. Our Alpharetta vets are here to talk about whether a turtle is a reptile or amphibian and whether or not they make good pets.

Is a Turtle a Reptile or an Amphibian?

A turtle is in fact a reptile! A turtle is any saltwater or freshwater reptile of the order in the Testudines family, including a few that primarily live on land. Because this category of species was previously known as Chelonia, all members of this family are referred to as Chelonians.

What makes a turtle a reptile? Reptiles are four-legged vertebrates with a cold-blooded metabolism and scales covering their body. Amphibians, on the other hand, have a smooth scaleless coating that is water-permeable. Turtles are protected by a tough, impenetrable shell. As with other reptiles such as crocodiles, snakes, lizards, and the Tuatara, turtles have lungs to help them breathe.

What is the difference between reptiles and amphibians?

Here are some of the main differences between reptiles and amphibians:


  • This class includes animals that dwell on land (snakes, lizards, tortoises); mostly in water (turtles); and on both land and water (crocodiles and alligators).
  • There is no immature (larval) aquatic stage in reptiles.
  • Breathe using the lungs
  • Dry, scaly skin
  • Lay their eggs on land. These eggs have shells.


  • Frogs, toads, newts, salamanders, and caecilians are members of this class; they typically have an aquatic larval stage (e.g., tadpole) followed by a terrestrial adult stage.
  • Breathe using gills at the larval stage and with the lungs during adulthood.
  • Have smooth skin. Adults also use the skin as a secondary breathing organ.
  • Normally lay eggs in water. These eggs are surrounded by a gelatinous covering.

What makes it a turtle?

In order to be specifically named a turtle they need to be cold-blooded, have no teeth, four legs, and have a bony shell. If you think of a turtle you likely think specifically about the fact that they have shells. These shells completely encompass the turtle making a skeleton box.

There might actually be more different types of turtle with different characteristics than you may expect. There are in fact three different types of 'turtles:' turtles, tortoises, and terrapins.

What makes each type of turtle different? It's where they live! Turtles spend most of their lives in the water, tortoises on land, and terrapins split evenly between the two.

Turtles vary dramatically in size and can be found n the wild all over the world - except for Antarctica. Some turtle species stay as small as four inches whereas others can get up to four feet in size!

Will a turtle make a good pet for my family?

While turtles can be commonly referred to as low-maintenance pets, they still need very specific diets and habitat needs in order to help them live long and healthy lives.

You will need to ensure that the terrarium that you have purchased has enough space for the turtle to move around unrestricted. In most cases, pet turtles require a terrarium that has an area of water and an area of dry 'land'. Your turtle's enclosure must be cleaned daily to remove turtle droppings and any other mess that could quickly accumulate and make your turtle sick.

In terms of diet, you may need to purchase calcium-enriched turtle food formulated to help keep your pet's shell strong. Consult your exotic animal veterinarian to determine the best food to feed your pet turtle and for guidance on how to care for your hard-shelled pet.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

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