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Can Turtles Live On Land? Yes And No – Here’s Why

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Many people will often get confused and not realize that turtles and tortoises are different creatures, with one being seen on land and the other mainly being seen throughout the deep waters of the planet.

There are lots of differences between the two species and lots of people might not understand whether turtles can live on land or not. 

A turtle eating grass

We know that tortoises don’t live in the water because of their inability to swim and their lack of adaptability to their body and the environments seen in the oceans.

However, the real question we’re here to answer is whether turtles can live on land. There are lots of mixed reports, but our guide will give you a clear answer.

What Are Turtles?

For whatever reason you may not know what a turtle is, it’s time to learn more about them! We’ll start by talking about the biology of these amazing animals.

The animal kingdom has evolved from simple organisms into complex life forms.

Many scientists believe that Earth was once home to only single-celled organisms which then developed into larger multicellular organisms such as plants and eventually animals like us.

Turtles are a part of this group of animals called chelonians. This group includes turtles and terrapins (freshwater turtles).

These reptiles were present on Earth for over 300 million years before dinosaurs came along. Because of how old they are, these animals have evolved over millions of years and have adapted as the world has developed.

What Type Of Water Is Best For Turtles?

As we’ve established, turtles spend the vast majority of their time in the water.

These animals thrive most in saltwater environments and love the deep seas. They can’t survive without oxygen in the atmosphere so they need to be able to pop to the surface now and then.

Since there aren’t any rivers or lakes where turtles live, they must use an aquatic environment for survival.

That means when they go out onto land, they do so because they need to as a way of life. A lot of turtles will make it to the age where they can lay eggs, which is done on land.

How And Where Do Turtles Lay Eggs?

Now that we know why turtles go to land, let’s talk about how they do it. Turtles have a hard shell that covers their bodies and protects them.

When they want to lay eggs, they come up onto land and dig holes to create nests. Some of these shells are very impressive and provide the turtles with lots of protection from any potential threats in the water or on land. 

After digging the hole, the female turtle will cover her nest with leaves, sticks, grasses, etc., creating a kind of natural shelter.

She lays eggs inside of the protective shelter and usually waits until the temperature drops below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Once these eggs hatch, the little animals will make their way toward the shore and into the ocean, where they will live and thrive.

How Long Can A Turtle Survive Underwater For?

Turtles underwater

When it comes to living underwater, most species of turtles can stay down for a long period of time. It depends mostly on the size of the individual and the strength of their lungs.

Smaller turtles can stay down longer than larger ones since smaller individuals require less energy to move through the water column.

However, even though they can last quite a while under the surface, some species of turtles won’t be able to stay underwater for too long.

If the air pressure becomes too low, they will die in the water, much like other forms of animals.

Another problem that turtles face is being attacked by large fish, sharks, and other predators. Because of their shell, they can fend off some predators but the large ones are more of a threat.

The Importance Of Sunlight For Turtles

Turtles also need sunlight to help them regulate their body temperatures. There’s nothing a turtle loves more than sprawling out on dry land and enjoying a bit of the warm sun whilst they rest from swimming all day.

Regardless of what type of turtle the animal is, they need Vitamin D, or sunlight, to stay healthy.

With all of these things in mind, it should be clear that turtles need to spend some time on land every day. However, you shouldn’t worry if your pet spends most of its days in the water.

Your animal will likely adjust to having less time on land and eventually get used to it. Many people keep turtles in aquariums at home and enjoy watching them swim around in the tank.

What Do Turtles Eat In The Water?

There are different types of food that turtles eat in the water. Most of the foods they consume are small crustaceans called amphipods.

These creatures are found in both fresh and saltwater environments. They are one of the main sources of protein for turtles and are important to their diet. Other important items include algae, worms, snails, and insects.

Since turtles don’t have teeth, they swallow their food whole. This means that they can’t swallow large quantities of food all at once and will often opt to go for smaller portions at mealtime.

Because of the large distances that these creatures will cover whilst on their travels, they will choose their diet depending on what is around them in their current location.

Do Turtles Eat On Land?

A turtle eating

Some turtles do not feed on land. Instead, they prefer to graze on vegetation, such as seaweed and grasses that can be found in both deep water and shallower environments.

Some turtles are capable of eating solid objects as well, although this varies greatly among individuals, often depending on their size.

One of the most popular foods for domesticated turtles is lettuce, which they love to munch on because of the water content and the texture.

Many people who own turtles keep their pets indoors so they don’t have to deal with the outside world and keep them safe. Having a diet of lettuce ensures that the animal will get vitamins, nutrients, and a large water percentage.

Land Turtles Vs Sea Turtles

Although there are over 300 different kinds of sea turtles, only about 10 percent of them live on land instead of in the ocean.

It’s estimated that around 50 million years ago, sea turtles evolved into land animals, which helped them survive when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. As a result, the majority of animals in the oceans today are marine life.

Most of the sea turtles in captivity are freshwater turtles. Although they look similar to their marine counterparts, they cannot make use of saltwater.

In addition, they cannot breathe through their shells. Therefore, they must remain near the water to maintain their health. Some of these are called terrapins and can come in all shapes and sizes.

Why Can’t Tortoises Swim?

Tortoises are a type of reptile that can’t swim. While most reptiles can move around freely without any problems, tortoises require extra effort to walk or move.

Since they are unable to move about easily, they tend to stay close to where they have a den.

If they become separated from their parents during the early stages of development, a lot of them won’t be able to find their way back home again.

The Differences Between Turtles And Tortoises

As mentioned above, turtles are aquatic while tortoises are terrestrial.

However, if you’re looking for an example of how similar they are, then consider the fact that both species need to lay eggs. Both can also change color quickly. The difference between the two lies in their anatomy.

In terms of appearance, turtles can grow up to 3 meters long while tortoises can reach lengths of around 2 meters.

Their bodies are usually covered by bony plates, which give them protection against predators. A turtle’s shell is made of cartilage, whereas a tortoise has hard outer skin.

When it comes to anatomical differences, the most noticeable difference is that tortoises have legs with feet on the end for walking, whereas turtles have flippers, which they use to navigate their way through the waters of the Earth.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, turtles can live on land and in the water, however, they can’t breathe without oxygen as some people might believe.

Because of this, the creatures will often spend time on the shore and will have time to rest and take in the sunlight.

With regard to laying eggs, turtles will complete this process on the lands of the planet, rather than the water because of the temperatures needed to incubate the eggs.

Features like taking in Vitamin D, resting, and laying eggs are all very important aspects of any turtle’s life.

It comes as no surprise that these wonderful animals can live on land and in the water, despite spending more time submerged in the ocean.

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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.