Are Turtles Amphibians or Reptiles? How are Turtles Classified?

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Those who keep turtles and amphibians as pets are sometimes called “herpers”. This name comes from herpetology, a zoology branch of studying amphibians and reptiles.

Herpetology comprises snakes, turtles, lizards, tortoises, salamanders, newts, lizards, toads and crocodiles. Turtles are among the most popular pets nowadays.

With their classification under the same branch in zoology and their similarities, it is easy to understand why turtle owners are confused about whether their pets are amphibians or reptiles. The following are the similarities between amphibians and reptiles:

  • They are both cold-blooded (ectothermic).
  • They both have a spinal column.
  • Most can alter their skin colors to regulate their body temperatures or camouflage.
  • They have sharp eyesight.

Turtles are reptiles, not amphibians. Below are guidelines to help you understand the classification of turtles as reptiles.

What Is A Reptile?

A reptile is a tetrapod that belongs to the Reptilia class. The word “tetrapod” means that the animals in this class either have four legs or evolved from creatures that had four limbs.

They include snakes, turtles, crocodiles, alligators and lizards. The following are the characteristics of reptiles:

  • Breathe through the lungs.
  • Have multiple neck vertebra that allow head articulation.
  • Bodies are covered by dry, scaly skin.
  • They reproduce by laying hard or leathery soft eggs on land or maintaining them in their bodies until they hatch. Reptile eggs are self-contained and protect their embryos from dehydration.
  • Reptiles undergo no larval stages or metamorphosis.
  • Have three defence strategies. Reptiles commonly avoid danger by retreating into shells and undergrowth or playing dead. Alternatively, they might release a foul smell or hiss when they encounter a predator or camouflage to avoid predation.

The history of reptiles can be traced to 310-320 million years ago during the carboniferous period. Since then, reptiles have changed to adapt to environments, while some have become extinct.

What Is an Amphibian?

This is a tetrapod that belongs to the Amphibia class. The earliest amphibians are traced to the Devonian period, where they evolved from fish to adapt to life on dry land.

For this, they developed bony-limbed fins and lungs. The following are some characteristics that set amphibians apart from other animal classifications:

  • Breathe through the skin, lungs or gills.
  • Most swallow their foods whole, but a few have teeth to break it down.
  • Have one neck vertebrae, so their head articulation is limited.
  • Their bodies are covered with moist rough, or smooth skin.
  • Lay their eggs in water or moist environments for reproduction. These eggs are permeable to gases and water that sustain the embryo.
  • Undergo metamorphosis, profound changes in their forms.
  • Have two defence strategies. Amphibians might avoid predation through aposematic coloration or nocturnal activity. They might alternatively have slippery skin that makes them hard for predators to grasp.

Are Sea Turtles Reptiles?

Yes, sea turtles are reptiles. These are large reptiles that live in tropical and subtropical seas worldwide. There are seven species of turtles, including green, loggerheads, Kemp’s ridley, olive ridley, flatback, leatherback and hawksbill sea turtles.

The leatherback sea turtle is the largest among them and is differentiated from other sea turtles by the nonexistence of hard scales or a bony shell covering its body. It is instead covered by oily flesh and skin. Here are a few characteristics of sea turtles:

  • They have no teeth but rather beaks that are modified for specific diets.
  • The skin covers their eardrums, and they have no visible ears.
  • They have an excellent sense of smile and hear best at low frequencies.
  • Though nearsighted when out of the water, they have optimal underwater sight.
  • Their large flippers and streamlined bodies adapt them to underwater life.

Are Tortoises Reptiles?

Yes, tortoises are also reptiles. They are unique vertebrates in that their pelvic and pectoral girdles are inside rather than outside their rib cages. Tortoises are mostly reclusive animals with average lifespans of 80-150 years.

They have hard shells into which they will retract their heads and necks when threatened. Though tortoises are diurnal animals, they can be crepuscular based on the ambient temperatures in their environments.

Are Turtles And Tortoises Related?

Yes, turtles and tortoises are related. All animals with shells for their protection belong to the Testudines order. The animals in this group are collectively sometimes called turtles.

Individually, these animals are, however, named differently based on their physiological and morphological traits. As such, turtles are animals with shells that can live on water or land, but tortoises exclusively live on land.

Only female sea turtles come on dry land to lay eggs. While turtles have a somewhat flat shell, smooth bright-colored skin and webbed back feet, tortoises have heavy domed shells with subdued colors.

Turtles are found everywhere apart from Antarctica, while tortoises are found worldwide apart from in Antarctica and Australia.

Are Turtles Good Pets?

Yes, turtles are among the best pets you can choose. Some of the reasons you should consider getting a pet turtle include:

  • It has low maintenance needs.
  • You need not keep handling the turtle throughout. It is more than happy to bask and dig in its cage all day.
  • It has minimal space requirements.
  • It has one of the longest lifespans and can live for over fifty years, meaning you will enjoy living with your pet for a long time.

Wrapping Up

With these tidbits, you now understand why a turtle is a reptile and what sets it apart from a tortoise and an amphibian. Though easy to care for, it is crucial to have the best environment for your turtle to thrive in captivity.

Turtles generally spend most of their time in the water, and you should have an environment for them to swim. Furthermore, your pet’s environment should also have a dry place where the turtle can venture to if it so wishes.

Clean water is crucial for your turtle’s health. You thus should have a strong filtration system to keep the water clean. Moreover, change the water regularly to get rid of particles and microorganisms that can cause infections in your pet turtle.

Updated: September 1, 2020

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