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Is a Turtle a Reptile?

Is a Turtle a Reptile?

Is a turtle a reptile? The answer is yes. But what about a turtle makes it a reptile? Today, our Los Angeles County vets answer this question.

Is a Turtle a Reptile or Amphibian?

A turtle is a type of reptile that lives in either saltwater or freshwater. The term "turtle" refers to any reptile of the order Testudines, including those that dwell on land. Because this order was previously known as Chelonia, all members of this order are referred to as chelonians.

Turtles are reptiles because they 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. Their lungs help them breathe, as they do in all other reptiles such as crocodiles, snakes, lizards, and the Tuatara.

What is it About a Turtle That Makes it a Reptile?

Refer to the following characteristic list to find out what exactly makes a turtle a reptile and not an amphibian.


  • 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 such thing as an immature (larval) aquatic stage in reptiles. 
  • Breathes using lungs.
  • Has dry, scaly skin.
  • Lays 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. 
  • Breathes using gills at the larval stage and with lungs during adulthood.
  • Has smooth skin. Adults also use the skin as a secondary breathing organ. 
  • Normally lays eggs in water. These eggs are surrounded by a gelatinous covering.

What Animals are Classified as Turtles?

There are three different types of animal that fall under the title 'turtles:' turtles, tortoises, and terrapins. The main difference between the three is where they live. Turtles spend most of their lives in the water, tortoises on land, and terrapins a split evenly between the two. Make sure you know if you have a tortoise or a turtle because tortoise are not known for being good swimmers.

To be classified as a turtle, an animal must be cold-blooded, have no teeth, four legs, and have a bony shell. Their shells have a top and bottom and connect on both sides of the turtle's body to form a skeleton box. Remember not having teeth does not mean that they can't bite they have a beak that can produce a significant bite force depending on the variety of turtle.

Turtles live all over the world except for Antarctica. They can vary in size dramatically, from as small as four inches to as large as four feet.

Are Turtles a Good Idea for a Children's Pet?

The truth is that turtles can make excellent pets for children, but you must consider if they are the greatest choice for your family. They are fun to watch and require less ongoing maintenance than other pets such as dogs or cats. But turtles, contrary to common perception, can be fairly expensive to keep since they require special care to stay alive and well. You'll need to buy a terrarium (likely one that you can have half with water and a half without), and a large one at that so that the turtle can freely move about. The terrarium will also likely need to be cleaned daily.

As for food, you may need to purchase calcium-enriched turtle food to keep their shell strong. Speak to your vet about what kind of food is right for your turtle.

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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