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Can Tortoise Swim? [3 Types Of Turtle Feet]

Can tortoises swim? Well, I met a friend of mine who owned a tortoise, and I saw him let the tortoise in the water. As a turtle owner, this made me think a lot about whether a tortoise can swim in the water. I dived in research and what I found out was just what I expected.

So, can tortoise swim?

The answer is no. A tortoise cannot swim due to some reasons like their body structure and what they are used to. If you put them in water, they float, and some people mistake this for swimming. 

I would discourage keeping you tortoise in water for some reasons that I will talk about later on. Stay tuned to know why it is not wise to place your tortoise in water.

Can Tortoise Swim? Why Turtles Can Swim And Tortoises Can Not?

As I was researching, I read somewhere that a turtle is a tortoise, but a tortoise is not a turtle. To break this down, I think they meant that a tortoise and a turtle are very similar animals. The turtle can do everything that the tortoise can but not vice versa. It does make sense since a turtle can live in the water comfortably while a tortoise cannot. It narrows down to four things, one being the feet, the shell, the habitat and how long one can hold their breath. Let’s begin with the feet.

Different Types Of Turtle Feet

Different Types Of Turtle Feet

What you notice when you hold a turtle close to a tortoise is the differences in their feet. Tortoise feet are explicitly shaped to walk on land while a turtle’s feet specialize in swimming although they can also walk on land. So what are the differences in their feet? If you look at the feet of a turtle, they are webbed meaning that they will be able to push the water behind when they are swimming.

Most of the turtles that I have seen have webbed feet, but other turtles have flippers instead of the webbed feet. These turtles I hear they live in water and rarely come to land. They are the sea turtles. A tortoise feet, on the other hand, are very different, instead of the webbed feet, they have elephant-like legs with very thick and short nails. These feet can walk even on the roughest of the roads. This is the main reason why a tortoise cannot swim in water while a turtle can. There is also the shell which also plays a role.

Different Types Of Shell

Different Types Of Shell

Like mentioned before, the shell takes part in enabling the turtle to swim through the water as fast as possible. Turtles have streamlined shells that allow them to swim very fast. The streamlined shells do not block the water when they swim; instead, they cut through the water. It reduces the friction drag that hinders motion.

A tortoiseshell is precisely the opposite of a turtles shell. Instead of a streamlined shell, they have dome-shaped shells that increase friction In water preventing the efficiency of moving in the water. With this being the case, tortoises experience a lot of hardship when they get in the water. Other than the shell and feet, there is also one other major factor that makes the tortoises not to be a swimmer. This is the habitat.

The Habitat

The habitat plays a preeminent role in molding the behavior of living things. If you spend most of the time in the water, you will learn to swim. If you are from the land, your feet will be shaped in a way that will help you move through the different terrains. This is the case for the tortoises and the turtles.

Since the turtles spend most of their time in the water, they have adapted to the environment, and their feet too have changed to make them fit for swimming. The tortoises, on the other hand, have also adapted to their environment. They have very strong legs that are shaped like the elephants’ to help them move around their habitat with ease. A tortoise cannot live in water like the turtle. So you should not even ask how much time the tortoise lives in water.

There is also a secondary reason which is their capability to hold their breath in water. Turtles are very good at keeping their breath, and for this reason, they may even go underwater for a very long time. Tortoises, on the other hand, are pathetic at holding their breath. They will spend at most 2 minutes before they drown. That should answer the question of how much time tortoises live in water.

Tortoise Evolution

Since the first turtle species, the behaviors off the descendants have been influenced. From the tortoise evolution theory, It is known that the first turtle species spent his time on land. They lived over 250 million years ago. Since then, the behaviors today are similar with just some little changes like the size, the habitat, and so on.

From that turtle species, there have been other different species that have arisen up to today’s tortoises and turtles. The changes have made them behave differently in some ways. Some can swim, and some cannot survive in water. This is due to evolution. As time goes on, maybe things will change, and the tortoise will be able to swim since they are the descendants of the first turtle species.  

Tortoises Don’t Swim, They Float 

Tortoises Don’t Swim, They Float 

As I was still doing my research, I’ve learned that what often people think that the tortoises can swim in water is their floating capability. When the tortoise in water, he can float but nothing more. The tortoise has no control of his body when in water. You might see him trying to steer with his legs to no avail. If it were not for the floating, they would sink in water like a stone.

The tortoises have a lot of air in their body that aids in their floating. A tortoise cannot stay for long in water especially if the water is not calm. They will drown and die eventually. Even a human being who does not know how to swim but can float will get tired after some time due to the pressure from below. This is the reason I would discourage placing your tortoise in water.

Tortoises live on land, therefore, let them enjoy their habitat.

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Related Questions

Do Tortoises Drink Water? 

The fact that the tortoises cannot swim does not mean that they cannot drink water from a pool. Tortoises do drink water. Water will always be a basic need for all living things. 

How Long Can Tortoises Survive Underwater? 

This goes hand in hand with the question, can tortoises swim underwater? To be honest, tortoises cannot survive underwater. This is due to their inability to hold their breath when in water. If in water, they will struggle very much to keep their head above the water.

How Long Can Tortoises Go Without Water? 

The tortoises can go without water for about 2 to 3 months. This will, however, depend on the species of the tortoise. Some cannot go for more than one month without taking water.

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