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Is a turtle considered a reptile?

It's not commonly known whether turtles are considered reptiles or amphibians. If you are looking to get a turtle as a pet, our Rabun County vets can answer any questions you may have.

Is a turtle a reptile or an amphibian?

A turtle is a type of reptile that makes its home in either saltwater or freshwater. The term "turtle" refers to any reptile in the Testudines family. Some species dwell on land as well as in water. This category of species was previously known as Chelonia, so all members of this family are referred to as Chelonians.

Turtles are considered reptiles because of their four-legged vertebrates, cold-blooded metabolism, and scales covering their body. Turtles are also protected by a tough, impenetrable shell. As with other reptiles such as crocodiles, snakes, lizards, and the Tuatara, turtles have lungs to help them breathe. Amphibians, on the other hand, have a smooth scaleless coating that is water-permeable. 

What characteristics do reptiles have?

See below to compare the attributes of reptiles vs amphibians.


  • Animals that mostly dwell on land
  • Snakes, lizards, tortoises, turtles, crocodiles and alligators
  • There is no immature (larval) aquatic stage in reptiles
  • Breathe using their lungs
  • Dry, scaly skin
  • Lay their eggs on land 


  • Frogs, toads, newts, salamanders, and caecilians
  • They typically have an aquatic larval stage (e.g., tadpole) followed by a terrestrial adult stage
  • They breathe using gills at the larval stage and with the lungs during adulthood
  • Have smooth skin.
  • Adults use the skin as a secondary breathing organ
  • Eggs are laid in water
  • These eggs are surrounded by a gelatinous covering

What are the defining attributes of turtles?

To be classified as a turtle, an animal must be cold-blooded, and have no teeth, four legs, and a shell. The shell is a turtle's most distinguishing feature. Turtles' shells have a top, and bottom and connect on both sides of the turtle's body to form a skeleton box.

Turtles come in different varieties and species and there are three different types of 'turtles:' turtles, tortoises, and terrapins.

The main difference between the three is where they live. Turtles spend most of their lives in the water, tortoises on land, and terrapins split evenly between the two.

Turtles can vary in size and can be found in the wild all over the world, except for Antarctica. Some turtle species stay as small as four inches whereas others can get up to four feet in size!

Are turtles good family pets?

Turtles can make excellent pets, however they do have specific housing and nutritional requirements. If you want your pet turtle to live a healthy and long life follow these tips.

You'll need to buy a large terrarium with enough room for your turtle to move about freely. In most cases, pet turtles require a terrarium that has an area of water and an area of dry 'land'. Your turtle's enclosure will also need to be cleaned frequently to remove turtle droppings and any other mess that could quickly accumulate and make your turtle sick.

For pet food, you may need to purchase calcium-enriched turtle food formulated to help keep your pet's shell strong. Consult your exotic animal veterinarian to determine the best food to feed your pet turtle and for guidance on how to care for your hard-shelled pet.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Contact our Rabun County exotic animal vet for valuable guidance to help you give your turtle their best shot at a long and healthy life. 

We Can't Wait To Meet You!

Rabun Animal Hospital is currently accepting new patients! Our wonderful veterinarians are dedicated to the health and happiness of Rabun County dogs, cats, and exotic pets. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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