One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
Is a turtle a reptile?
Yes, turtles belong to the class of cold-blooded animals called reptiles. In British English, a turtle is a type of reptile which either lives in the sea or in freshwater. If you’re a speaker of North American English, however, ‘turtle’ is a broader term: it refers to any reptile belonging to the order Testudines, including those that live on land (which British English speakers call tortoises or terrapins rather than turtles). The former name for the order Testudines was Chelonia, which is why all members of this order (turtles, tortoises, and terrapins) are known as chelonians.
Some people think that turtles might be classed as amphibians. Admittedly, reptiles and amphibians are both types of cold-blooded creature and, like amphibians, some turtles can live on both land and in water. However, there are some major differences between reptiles and amphibians, as outlined below, which make it clear why turtles are reptiles:
|Class comprises types which live on land (snakes, lizards, tortoises); mainly in water (turtles); on both (crocodiles and alligators). No reptiles have an immature (larval) aquatic stage.
||Class comprises frogs, toads, newts, salamanders, and caecilians: typically have an aquatic larval stage (e.g. tadpole) followed by a terrestrial adult stage.
|Breathe by means of lungs.
||Breathe by means of gills (during larval stage) and lungs (during adult stage).
|Have dry scaly skin.
||Have smooth skin; adults use skin as secondary respiratory organ.
|Lay eggs on land; eggs have shells.
||Typically lay eggs in water; eggs are surrounded by gelatinous covering
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