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Are Turtles Reptiles, Mammals, Or Amphibians? Turtle Classifications Explained

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Turtles are some of the most adorable and fascinating living things on our planet. They can live to be some of the oldest animals in the world, with the oldest recorded turtle ever living for 190 years!

However, these curious creatures are pretty difficult for the average person to classify accurately. After all, they share a lot of similar features and characteristics with animals like snakes, lizards, and even fish.

Turtles crawling on tree brunch

That’s why, in this handy guide, we’ll be going over exactly what it means to be a reptile, mammal, and amphibian, as well as determining exactly what a turtle is.

What Is A Reptile?

A reptile is an animal that has four legs, two of which have claws (or nails). These animals also have scales or skin covered in small bumps called osteoderms. The other two pairs of limbs are usually webbed together and used for swimming.

A few examples of reptiles include crocodiles, lizards, snakes, tortoises, frogs, salamanders, and iguanas.

What Is A Mammal?

A mammal is an animal that gives birth to live young and suckles them from their mother’s milk. This includes humans, dogs, cats, rabbits, cows, pigs, horses, and many more.

Mammals are typically warm-blooded, meaning their body temperature matches that of the surrounding environment. Their bodies produce milk for their offspring, and they breathe air through their lungs instead of gills.

Mammals also tend to have hair or fur covering their entire body, although there are exceptions. For example, elephants have thick, coarse hair while polar bears have long, thin hair that only covers their faces and paws.

What Is An Amphibian?

An amphibian is an animal that spends its life between land and water. It breathes using gills when it lives in water but uses lungs when it lives on land. Some amphibians look very different from others, such as frogs, toads, salamanders, newts, caecilians, and even sea turtles.

Amphibians are often cold-blooded, meaning their internal temperatures don’t match the external temperatures of the environment. However, some species do have special adaptations that allow them to maintain a constant internal temperature.

For example, some amphibians have special organs that help regulate their internal temperatures. Other amphibians use a process called metamorphosis, where they change into another form before returning to the land.

So, What Are Turtles?

Based on the criteria we’ve just learned about, we can determine that turtles are, in fact, reptiles!

Turtles are one of the most unique types of reptiles. While they have a lot of similarities to other reptiles, they also have some unique traits that set them apart.

First off, they’re one of the few reptiles that lay eggs. Most reptiles give birth to live young, but not all of them. In fact, turtles are among the only reptiles that actually give birth to live young.

Next, turtles are also one of the few reptiles capable of moving forward by pushing themselves with their hind legs. They can move forward by extending their tail out behind them, and then retracting it once they reach their destination.

Finally, turtles are also one type of reptile that doesn’t need to eat every day. Instead, they store energy in their fat cells and can go without eating for up to three years at a time.

It’s important to note that this isn’t true for all turtles. There are several kinds of turtles that do require food daily, including box turtles, snapping turtles, and painted turtles.

The classification of reptiles has changed over time. Today, scientists classify reptiles based on two main factors: how much they resemble mammals, and whether they’re able to walk on land or swim in the water.

While the first factor may seem obvious, the second factor was something that wasn’t always considered. When people were classifying animals, they would often place birds and fish together because both could fly and swim.

However, many scientists now believe that these groups should be separated. Birds are classified as having feathers, and fish are classified as having scales. Therefore, reptiles are defined as having scales and being incapable of flying.

This means that reptiles include lizards, snakes, crocodiles, tortoises, turtles, and any other kind of lizard or snake.

Reptiles are also sometimes grouped together with amphibians. This is because they share certain characteristics. For instance, they both breathe through their skin and have four limbs.

This group includes frogs, salamanders, newts, caecilians, and any other kind of frog or salamander.

There are also some reptiles that aren’t even technically reptiles. These include sea dragons, which look like lizards but are actually more closely related to sharks.

There are also aquatic reptiles such as crocodiles, which are technically amphibians. However, they spend most of their lives swimming in rivers and lakes, so they don’t really fit into either category.

In addition, there are some reptiles that are neither amphibians nor reptiles. These include iguanas, chameleons, and geckos.

In summary, reptiles are defined as being covered in scales, breathing air rather than water, and lacking wings.

What’s The Difference Between A Reptile And An Amphibian?

Turtle in the grass

When we think about reptiles, we usually imagine large-bodied creatures. Lizards, snakes, crocodilians, and (now) turtles are all examples of what we typically picture when we think about reptiles.

But while reptiles are big, they’re not necessarily very fast. In fact, they tend to be fairly slow compared to other types of animals.

For example, lizards can run at speeds of around 10 miles per hour (16 km/h), whereas an average human can run at about 5 mph (8 km/h).

Snakes move even slower, moving only 0.5 mph (0.8 km/h). That’s why you’ll rarely see them running away from danger. They just aren’t capable of doing it quickly enough.

So if a reptile isn’t going to outrun its predator, then what does it do? Well, it usually hides.

Since reptiles lack the ability to fly, they need to rely on camouflage. If they’re hiding in plain sight, then they might blend in with the background. But if they’re trying to hide in the bushes, then they’ll probably try to blend in with those plants.

That’s why you’ll find lizards and snakes hiding under rocks, logs, leaves, and other objects.

If a reptile is hiding in plain sight, it will likely stay still and wait for its enemy to pass by before springing up and attacking.

Amphibians, however, are much faster. They can run at speeds of over 30 miles per hour (48 km/h).

They use this speed to escape predators and catch prey. Because they can move so fast, they often prefer to swim instead of walk.

However, they can also climb trees and shrubs. So if they want to avoid predators, they may choose to hide in high places.

Amphibious animals also have two sets of lungs. One set is used for breathing underwater, and the other is used for breathing air.

The first thing that distinguishes amphibians from reptiles is the way that they breathe. Reptiles breathe through their mouths, using gills to absorb oxygen.

Amphibians breathe through their skins, absorbing oxygen through tiny pores called osmosis cells.

This means that amphibians must come to the surface every few minutes to take a breath. This makes them vulnerable to attacks from predators who hunt by sight.

Another difference between reptiles and amphibians is how they look. Reptiles have a scaly skin, while amphibians have smooth skin.

Also, unlike reptiles, amphibians have webbed feet. Webbing refers to the pattern of ridges along each foot.

Webbed feet allow amphibians to walk on land without sinking into the ground.

Finally, amphibians have no external ears. Instead, they have small openings in their heads called spiracles. These openings let the animal hear sounds better.

How Do Turtles Hatch Eggs?

When a female turtle lays an egg, she does so by breaking open her shell using her rear leg muscles. She then covers the egg with sand and leaves it alone until it hatches.

Once the baby turtle hatches from its shell, it will stay inside the nest for about six weeks. During this time, the mother turtle will continue to protect the hatchling from predators.

After the baby turtle emerges from the nest, it will begin crawling around the ground. Once it reaches adulthood, it’ll start mating.

Why Are Some Turtles So Large?

One thing that makes turtles different from other reptiles is their size. While most reptiles are small, turtles are usually very large.

For example, the largest species of turtle alive today is the leatherback turtle, which can grow up to 1,500 pounds!

These massive turtles live in warm oceans all across the world. They eat jellyfish and crabs and use their huge shells to create homes out of coral reefs.

The smallest known species of turtle is the pygmy pond turtle, which grows no larger than 3 inches long. It’s found only in South America.

What Is A Turtle’s Shell Made Of?

Green sea turtle on the beach

A turtle’s shell is made up of two layers of bony plates called scutes. The outer layer is called a carapace, while the inner layer is called the plastron.

Each plate has a hole on top where the head fits and another hole on the bottom where the legs go. In between each pair of holes is a gap that allows the turtle to move freely.

Each scute is connected to the next one by a thin membrane called a suture. When a turtle moves, these membranes stretch and contract, allowing the plates to slide past each other.

How Long Does It Take To Grow Up As A Turtle?

It takes a lot of time for a young turtle to grow up and become a fully-fledged adult. Most turtles take anywhere from 10 to 20 years to reach full maturity.

However, if you’re lucky enough to find a baby turtle, you may be able to raise it yourself. You could feed them worms, grasshoppers, or crickets, and keep them in a tank.

However, unless you already have the proper knowledge and equipment, it’s a much better idea to contact a local rescue shelter or coastguard to let them help the turtle reach maturity safely.


In conclusion, turtles are amazing animals. They’ve been around since prehistoric times, and they’re still going strong today.

They’re also incredibly interesting creatures because they look like both mammals, amphibians, and reptiles at once. This means that they’re often confused as being just one type of animal.

However, you now know the truth: turtles are technically classified as reptiles!

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About the author


Kerry White is an avid dog lover and writer, knowing all there is to know about our furry friends. Kerry has been writing for PetDT for three years now, wanting to use her knowledge for good and share everything she can with new dog owners.Kerry has two dogs herself - a German shepherd called Banjo and a chocolate labrador called Buttons. Kerry knows more than anyone how adjusting to new life with a puppy can turn your life upside down, and she wants to ease some of the burdens through her articles.