Why Tortoises Can’t Swim But Turtles Can?

Why Tortoises Can't Swim But Turtles Can

Do you know the difference between tortoises and turtles? Many people think that tortoises and turtles are one and the same, but this is not true. Tortoises are land animals, while turtles live in water. Tortoises can’t swim because their feet are not adapted for swimming – they are better suited for walking on land. Turtles, on the other hand, have webbed feet or flippers that help them move through the water easily and walk on land as well. Let’s take a closer look at why tortoises can’t swim!

Related Article: How Well Do Box Turtles Swim?

Can tortoises swim?

The simple answer is no, tortoises cannot swim. Tortoises are not evolved to survive underwater, they barely can swim. The feet of tortoises are such that they can walk around on land efficiently but can not swim through water.

Turtles being in the same order Testudines, share a similar appearance to tortoises but differ in their habitat and abilities. While turtles can live on land and still swim efficiently, tortoises can not live underwater.

Turtles are classified into three groups based on their habitat namely, terrestrial turtles, freshwater turtles, and sea turtles. Out of these, only sea turtles cannot live on land and they have to return to the water periodically to wet their skin, or else they will dehydrate and die. The other two types of turtles can live both on land as well as in water.

Why can turtles swim but tortoises can’t?

There are several reasons why tortoises are not equipped with swimming abilities while turtles do. Their physical structure and how they have evolved are probably the biggest factors because of which tortoises could not swim. Let’s discuss all of the reasons one by one.

Heavy Shell

The main reason why tortoises cannot swim is because of their heavy shells. The shell of a tortoise is made up of about 60 different bones that are all connected together. This makes the shell very strong and protects the tortoise from predators, but it also makes the shell very heavy. A tortoise’s shell can weigh up to 50 pounds, which is a lot for their small bodies to carry around. This weight makes it difficult for tortoises to move their legs quickly enough to swim.

Shell design

Turtles have aerodynamic shells that help them swim quickly through the water. The shells of turtles are more streamlined and sleek, which makes it easier for them to move their legs and bodies through the water. Tortoises, on the other hand, have shells that are more box-shaped. This design makes it difficult for them to move their bodies through the water because they have to push against the water more to move forward.


Another reason why tortoises cannot swim is because of the shape of their feet. Tortoises have short, thick legs with large claws that help them dig and climb. Their feet are not webbed like turtles’ feet, so they cannot paddle through the water. Though sea turtles don’t have webbed feet they have flippers that help them to swim.

Evolution and habitats

Turtles and tortoises have evolved differently over the years. Turtles have always lived in water, so they have evolved to be good swimmers. Tortoises, on the other hand, have lived on the land for millions of years. This is why they are not equipped with the same swimming abilities as turtles.

Turtles live in both fresh and saltwater, while tortoises are only found on land. This is because their bodies are not built to withstand the pressure of living underwater. Tortoises can only hold their breath for a short period of time before they start to feel uncomfortable.


Turtles come in all different sizes, from the tiny Bog Turtle to the massive Leatherback Sea Turtle. Tortoises, however, are generally much larger than turtles. The largest tortoise in the world is the Galapagos Tortoise, which can weigh up to 1000 pounds! This size makes it even harder for tortoises to swim because of their weight and shell size.

In conclusion, there are several reasons why tortoises cannot swim. Their heavy shells, shell design, short legs, and large size make it difficult for them to move through the water. Tortoises have also not evolved to live in water as turtles have. So, if you ever see a tortoise in the water, be sure to help it.

How long can a tortoise hold its breath underwater?

Tortoises cannot hold their breath for long periods of time like turtles. They can only hold their breath for a few minutes before they start to experience hypoxia.

This is because tortoises have lungs that are not well-adapted for exchanging oxygen underwater. When a tortoise is submerged, water starts to enter its lungs and prevents oxygen from being taken in. This can quickly lead to drowning.

Turtles, on the other hand, have lungs that are specially adapted for exchanging oxygen underwater. They have special structures called “air sacs” that help to keep their lungs inflated even when they are submerged. This allows them to stay underwater for long periods of time without experiencing hypoxia.

Will a tortoise drown in water?

The answer is yes. Tortoises could easily drown in water or they can die of exhaustion trying to swim. Tortoises are not good swimmers because their legs are shaped more for walking on land than paddling in the water.

Tortoises cannot float because their shells are too heavy. If a tortoise does manage to get into the water, it will likely sink to the bottom where it may drown unless it can find a way to climb back out.

Do tortoises need water?

No, tortoises do not need water to live. They are able to get all the moisture they need from the food they eat. In fact, if you were to put a tortoise in water, it would likely drown.

Tortoises are not built for swimming. Their legs are designed for walking on land, not for propelling them through the water. Additionally, tortoises do not have webbed feet or flippers like turtles do. This makes it difficult for them to move through the water.

If a tortoise does happen to get into the water, it will likely panic and start thrashing around. This can lead to the tortoise drowning. Even if the tortoise does not drown, it can still die from hypoxia.

For these reasons, it is best to keep your tortoise out of the water. If you live in an area that gets a lot of rain, make sure to provide your tortoise with a dry, sheltered area to stay.

How often do you give tortoise water?

If you’re keeping a pet tortoise, you might be wondering how often you should give them water. The answer is: it depends. Tortoises are desert animals, so they don’t need to drink very often. In the wild, they get most of the moisture they need from the food they eat.

However, if you’re keeping your tortoise in captivity, they might not be getting enough moisture from their food. In this case, you’ll need to give them water every day or two. You can give them water either by spraying them with a misting bottle or by giving them a shallow dish of water to soak in.

I prefer soaking my tortoises in a dish of water because it’s an easy way to make sure they’re getting enough moisture. I just fill a shallow dish with water and let them soak for about 20 minutes. Then I drain the dish and put my tortoise back in their enclosure.

While giving your tortoise a nice soak, it is important that the dish should not have deep water as tortoises can not swim and will drown if kept in deep water for a long time.

Tortoises are different from turtles in many ways but the most basic difference is that tortoises live on land while turtles live in water. This is why tortoises cannot swim – they are simply not built for it!

While giving your tortoise access to water is a nice idea to hydrate them but make sure that you’re not over-watering your tortoise. If their enclosure is too wet, it can lead to health problems like respiratory infections. So if you’re not sure how often to give your tortoise water, err on the side of caution and give them a misting or soak only every other day.


So, why can’t tortoises swim? The primary difference between tortoises and turtles is that tortoises live on land while turtles live in water. This is because tortoises are not evolved to survive underwater, they barely can swim. The feet of tortoises are evolved such that they can walk around on land efficiently. Turtles on the other hand aquatic turtles have web feet and sea turtles have flippers which helps them swim easily. Also, the bulkier shell and poor aerodynamics make it difficult for tortoises to swim.