Can Tortoises Swim

Can Tortoises Swim? Why Turtles Can And Tortoises Can’t?

People often confuse the turtles and tortoises. Both of these creatures belong to the order Testudines or Cheloniaare. And one of these reptiles can swim and the other cannot. This can raise several questions in our minds. Let’s clear it out.

You might have wondered why turtles can swim and tortoises can’t, right? The turtle has four embedded feet which allow them to swim efficiently, whereas the tortoises do not have these. Again, the shell of turtles will enable them to swim extensively, while the tortoises cannot swim at all due to their physiology.

Today, I will discuss why turtles can swim and tortoises can’t, why people get confused between turtles and tortoises, and much more. Please read on to find out more about it.

Why Turtles Can Swim And Tortoises Can’t?


Why Turtles Can Swim And Tortoises Can’t

Turtles and tortoises look similar in appearance. But still, they are not the same. Please look at the below points to know the difference in their swimming abilities below-


The feet of the turtles and tortoises make a lot of differences in their swimming abilities.  Turtles have paddle-shaped feet, which allows them to swim better. The physiology of turtles is suitable for them to swim. But the tortoises can’t swim like turtles due to their different physiology.

Sea turtles have flippers that ables them to swim without any strenuous effort. The flippers or claws help them to push against the water. More than that, it enhances their swimming ability. However, tortoises cannot swim. They are more suitable to land travel. 

Shell shape

The turtle’s shell is designed in a way that it can move quickly in water. It is also lightweight, which helps them to swim through the water. 

Tortoises Shell shape

When it comes to Tortoises, the tortoises have a dome shape. The dome shape of the tortoise is heavy, which disables its swimming ability.


Turtles are aquatic reptiles. It means they have evolved to live in the water throughout the time. That’s why they can swim in the water. 

See also  Russian Tortoise Cost: How Much Do You Need to Pay?

But tortoises are not adapted to swimming. They are terrestrial.  The design of tortoises makes it difficult for them to swim. They are made to be on land and are known as land creatures. Additionally, they have adapted to live in the arid environments.

Tortoises Habitats

And if they try to go in the water for swimming, they will drown and die. So, they have different habitats, which also affects their swimming ability. 

Body temperature 

The turtles have a low body temperature. They are adapted to swimming. As we know that the water has a low temperature, it gets more accessible for the turtles to adjust to the water’s temperature. 

Consequently, the body temperature of tortoises is not adapted to low temperatures. They have higher body temperatures compared to the turtles. And if they go in water, their body temperature will decrease. It will lead the tortoise to have Hypothermia. 

It happens when the tortoise’s body temperature drops to 95 degrees Celsius. 

So, it means when the tortoise goes to cold water, it won’t be able to adjust to the water’s temperature. That’s why the tortoises cannot swim like turtles can.

Can Tortoises And Turtles Drown In Water?

The tortoise cannot swim in the water. Most of the time, they will only float. They can only hold their breath for 2 minutes in max. But some species may breath longer period of time underwater. While other tortoises that stays underwater longer will drown.

Can Tortoises Drown In Water

Conversely, the turtles can swim in the water. So you won’t see turtles drown in water. But sometimes, the turtles can also drown in water. They will drown underwater if they get stuck underwater due to debris or plants. 

Is It Possible For A Baby Tortoise To Swim? 

No. A baby tortoise can’t swim. The baby tortoise cannot hold their breath underwater for extended periods. Although, the adult tortoises can hold their breath for a bit of time. 

See also  Tortoise Pyramiding: Causes, Early Signs, Prevention, Treatment

The baby tortoise has tiny lungs compared to the adult tortoises. So, it will also be impossible to hold their breath for even a minute with little lungs. If the baby tortoises are thrown into the water, they will die.  

Is It Possible For A Baby Tortoise To Swim


Have a look at the frequently asked questions below.

Q: Can Turtles Breath Underwater?

No. The turtles cannot breathe underwater. But they can hold their breath for around one hour. They go underwater to sleep or rest. That time, they have their breath during the rest.

Q. Can Tortoises Breath Underwater?

No. Tortoises cannot breathe underwater. But the tortoises can hold their breath for 2 minutes. 

Q. Is It Possible For Tortoise To Climb Out Of The Water?

If a tortoise mistakenly falls into the water or someone throws them, they can manage to climb out of the water. But it is possible only if the water is shallow. In the shallow water, they don’t drown. They use their sturdy legs to come out of it.


The turtle and tortoise differ significantly in their shell shape, feet, habitats, and body temperature. This difference is what enables and disables their swimming ability. Sometimes, you may wonder why the turtles can swim and tortoises cannot. 

So, when you get the question, can tortoises swim? You know the answer. This article has clarified that the tortoise cannot swim, but turtles can. The tortoise has elephantic feet for which they can’t swim. On the other hand, the turtles have claws instead of feet which help them to swim efficiently! 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *