Difference Between Turtle and Terrapin

Turtle vs Terrapin

Turtle and terrapin are more often confused animals than not, because of the close relationship exhibited between them. Both turtles and terrapins are reptilian tetrapods, and more to the confusion they both live in aquatic habitats. In addition, the term turtle, in common reference, implies to almost all the members of Order: Testudines, but scientifically it is the sea turtles being referred as turtles. Therefore, a good understanding about their characteristics is of high importance. A proper awareness about them makes way to distinguish as who is who. As this article explores their habitats and other characteristics, it would be far too clear for anyone with even a little confusion about turtles and terrapins after going through the presented information.


Turtles are one of the earliest to live on the Earth; the fossil evidences suggest that they had inhabited the world at least 210 million years ago. The fascinating thing about them is they have been able to survive until today with a wide diversity that accounts more than 210 extant species including land, freshwater, and sea turtles. However, there are only seven sea turtle species inhabit in the oceans of the world. They are well adapted to the oceanic lifestyle with developed flippers for locomotion. Turtles are blessed with the longest lifespan of all the animals on the Earth; which is more than 80 years according to certain references, but some state that it could go as high as 180 years. Sea turtles are distributed in all the oceans of the world except in the Arctic and Antarctic regions. They come to the surface for breathing and sometimes for navigation. One of the most fascinating characteristics of sea turtles is that they come back to the same beach that they were born to lay eggs.


By the term terrapin, it means about the freshwater or brackish water testudines. However in the United States, the term terrapin means about the Diamondback terrapin, which is a brackish water species. Despite their habitat being aquatic, they also have lungs as in other testudines and break the water surface for breathing. The diversity is high among them with more than 200 species, but there are some highly endangered species of terrapins. They do not necessarily have to have flippers for locomotion through the water column, as they also inhabit the land. In addition, their spines are more prominent than the toes, and sometime there is webbing between toes. Terrapins have a long lifespan as many other testudines. However, since terrapins inhabit inland aquatic habitats, their distribution is species-specific and restricted, but as a whole group, terrapins are found in all continents except Antarctica.

What is the difference between Turtle and Terrapin?

• Turtles live in the sea and come to the land only to lay eggs, whereas terrapins live in fresh or brackish waters, they often come to the land.

• Turtles can follow the magnetic fields of the Earth whereas there is no any evidence in terrapins with such a gift.

• Turtles return to the same beach to lay eggs where they were born, but there is no such behaviour in terrapins.

• The limbs are developed into flippers in turtles but not in terrapins.

• Terrapins sometimes have toes and prominent toenails whereas, in turtles, those are not predominant.