Definition of tortoise in English:



  • 1A slow-moving typically herbivorous land reptile of warm climates, enclosed in a scaly or leathery domed shell into which it can retract its head and thick legs.

    Called turtle in North America
    • ‘But when 14-year-old Luke tried to tempt it out of its shell by feeding it lettuce, as common herbivorous tortoises are accustomed to eating, the creature snapped at his hand with such force he was lucky to escape with his fingers intact.’
    • ‘But if no rains fall during the warm seasons and the tortoises don't get a chance to drink, they will enter hibernation dehydrated, malnourished, and with a bladder full of toxic waste.’
    • ‘Wild goats and pigs threaten the food supply of the magnificent Galapagos tortoises, and rats eat the eggs of birds and reptiles that have evolved without natural predators.’
    • ‘A two-headed tortoise has come out of its shell in Dorset to find itself in the media spotlight.’
    • ‘In addition, males are smaller than are females in most Testudinidae, particularly among European tortoises.’
    • ‘He was sentenced to a total of two months, suspended for a year, and banned from keeping a pet shop, reptiles or tortoises for ten years.’
    • ‘We'd stroke her feet and drum our fingers gently on her shell (the tortoise equivalent of a jockey's crop).’
    • ‘As the last two wives were passing, one of them stubbed her toe against the tortoise's shell and instantly let out a cry of pain.’
    • ‘I held my breath as the dust cleared, and was relieved to see the tortoise lying fully retracted but unharmed.’
    • ‘The Iti National Park has wild goats, wild boars, deer, rodents, tortoises, reptiles, as well as an amazing variety of birds among which there are vultures, eagles, partridges, hoopoes, hawks, and owls.’
    • ‘Lizards, tortoises, salamanders and many other animals all move in this way, but it has disadvantages.’
    • ‘A mammal such as a horse, that stands with its left and right feet close together, has to control transverse movements of its centre of mass much more precisely than a reptile such as a tortoise, that stands with its feet far apart.’
    • ‘The strange tortoise's shell is flat underneath and not rounded at the belly as usual, he says.’
    • ‘It was dropped by an eagle who was trying to crack open the tortoise's shell in order to eat it.’
    • ‘Thankfully the fire crew didn't need to use their cutting equipment and managed to coax the tortoise out of his shell by poking around inside.’
    • ‘Other characters included two long-suffering frogs called Ernie and Sylve, an heroic tortoise called Lewis Collins and a little white shell called Jim Morrison.’
    • ‘For example, a tortoise is a herbivore and hibernates but a snake eats meat and needs to be kept warm all year.’
    • ‘But the tugging tides of conservatism outlast most swells of enthusiasm and a series of setbacks conspired to drive London's orchestras furtively back into their shells, like Galapagos tortoises in a hurricane.’
    • ‘While desert predators, particularly ravens and coyotes, can't do much damage to adults, they can easily penetrate the shells of young tortoises.’
    • ‘The herbivorous reptiles and tortoises had thrived until the arrival of man - and the rats that stowed away on his ships - because there had been no large predatory, carnivorous mammals for them to contend with.’
    1. 1.1Australian A freshwater turtle.
      • ‘‘Racing’ may sound like an odd term to describe a tortoise, but gopher tortoises are faster than you might think.’
      • ‘The Turtle Conservation Fund has listed the 25 most endangered turtles to highlight the survival crisis facing tortoises and freshwater turtles and to unveil a global plan to prevent further extinctions.’
      • ‘Because two days ago at the Crocodile Bank not far from Mahabalipuram, along with hundreds of fascinating crocs and tortoises and snakes, I saw this sign.’
      • ‘Three other tortoises, two snapping turtles and a monitor lizard had to be hosed down by firefighters in Eric and Carole Griffiths' home in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester.’
      • ‘Blue skinks, bearded dragons, crocodiles, alien-looking veiled chameleons, reticulated pythons, leopard tortoises, and tiny glistening frogs and toads of every color.’
      • ‘It carried its little Ôswag’ on its back, and thrust out its head from a sockety head like that of a tortoise.’
      • ‘Moreover, I had never thought of the fox as being a particularly Chinese animal like, say, the tortoise.’
  • 2

    another term for testudo
    • ‘It was also used by the Romans when they used what was known as a tortoise formation to move forward to a target that was well defended.’
    • ‘The children are also learning to march like a tortoise as the Romans did, with shields at their side and on top.’
    • ‘The testudo, the tortoise formation, involved raising the scutums into a shell.’
    • ‘Like the tortoise thing that the roman soldiers used to do…’


Late Middle English tortu, tortuce: from Old French tortue and Spanish tortuga, both from medieval Latin tortuca, of uncertain origin. The current spelling dates from the mid 16th century.