Difference Between Turtle and Terrapin

The terms turtle and terrapin can easily be confused as both of these animals belong to the Order Chelonia and are Reptiles.


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In the United States, any animal from the Order Chelonia has been termed a Turtle, which is not entirely correct, and there are differences between the two groups of animals.

Turtle vs Terrapin

The difference between turtles and terrapin is that they differ in the particular habitat that they are accustomed to living in. Turtles are mainly reptiles found to be living in the marine environment, while terrapins are reptiles that are found to be living in freshwater systems. They differ in their living habits.

Turtle vs Terrapin

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Turtles are animals belonging to the Class Reptilia from Order Chelonia. This class consists of animals that are accustomed to living in saltwater environments that are essentially marine in habitat.

They come to land only to lay eggs and spend their time in sea or ocean water.

Terrapin is also an animal belonging to the Class Reptilia from the Order Chelonia. These animals are accustomed to living in freshwater environments.

That is, they are essentially aquatic in their habitat. They usually are semi-aquatic as they do spend time above water-dwelling on land on certain occasions other than laying eggs.

Comparison Table

Parameters of ComparisonTurtleTerrapin
HabitatTurtles are entirely aquatic in their habitat.Terrapins are semi-aquatic in their habitat.
Living InTurtles live in saltwater.Terrapins live in freshwater environments.
CarapaceTurtles have a more streamlined carapace.Terrapins have more curvy carapaces.
SizeTurtles are comparatively large.Terrapins are comparatively smaller in size.
LimbsTurtles have modified flipper-like limbs.Terrapin has fewer modified legs.

What is Turtle?

Turtles are often confused with other aquatic reptiles with large shells. This confusion arises because turtles, tortoises and terrapins all belong to the same Class and Order.

Turtles belong to the Order Chelonia and Order Reptilia. This class of animals consists of animals dwelling in aquatic environments.

They have a large hard calcareous carapace on their backs that is fused to their skeleton. This carapace is also flat and streamlined to help it navigate and swim in its aquatic habitat.

Additionally, turtle limbs are modified for swimming. Their limbs are modified into webbed flippers that help in paddling through the water.

The following modifications ate so made as turtles are entirely aquatic in habitat. They only come to land to lay eggs. The water bodies of their choice are any saltwater body like a sea, lagoon, ocean, etc.

They are adapted to this saline environment and eat what is available in this environment.

They are the largest of the three related species, of whom Dermochelys Moraceae is the largest species.

They weigh more than terrapins, are considered shy creatures, and are usually not kept as pets, as these animals are considered endangered in many parts of the world.

What is Terrapin?

Terrapins are very similar to turtles and hence are often confused with them. Terrapins also belong to the same Order and Class as turtles.

They belong to Order Chelonia and Class Reptilia. This class, as already discussed, consists of water-dwelling animals.

They also have a hard calcareous carapace which is fused to their thoracic skeleton. The carapace is not an external shell but a part of their ribs, to be speaking in the simplest layman’s terms.

Their carapace is slightly less streamlined as they are not entirely aquatic in their habitat. They dwell both on land and water for food and hence are semi-aquatic.

In the time they spend in the water, they choose freshwater habitats like still water ponds, lakes or even Delta regions of rivers and so on.

They are adapted to have the food found both in water as well as on land and hence have a more varied geographical reach. They are the smallest of the three groups of animals found in this class.

Their size is attributed to their lightweight as well. Terrapins also show behavioural dissimilarities with turtles. They are outgoing and aggressive and also tend to bite off predators.

They are kept as pets due to their small sizes and are not considered an engendered animal species. To understand the difference between turtles and terrapins in the simplest of visual classifications, the size, legs and carapace can be compared.

Main Differences Between Turtle and Terrapin

  1. The primary difference between these two groups of animals lies in their different habitat choices, which are marine in the case of turtles and freshwater in the case of terrapins.
  2. Turtles are rarely found, while terrapins are found all across the globe in freshwater habitats.
  3. Turtles have flippers for legs, while terrapins have legs with modified claws, giving them good climbing ability.
  4. Turtles are usually larger and heavier compared to terrapins, the smallest reptiles of the Order Chelonia.
  5. Turtles are usually shy animals and do not have an attacking nature, while terrapins are aggressive and have sharp teeth that they use to bite off danger.
Difference Between Turtle and Terrapin
  1. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=aC5zDwAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&dq=turtles&ots=7-BXrQkYnr&sig=IroqkzAjvUmC_-WasLTbHyJyONM
  2. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=HA9bDwAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PT9&dq=terrapins&ots=OaJq72Tc5w&sig=6FxmY0ChJb_zMZz6jmuvH7TWFqw
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