Tending To Your Terrific Tortoise: Can A Tortoise Swim? | Kidadl


Tending To Your Terrific Tortoise: Can A Tortoise Swim?

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All tortoises are turtles but not all turtles are tortoises.

Among turtles and tortoises, there is no secret that turtles are known to live for a long time. Tortoises live on land for about 50-100 years.

Tortoises survive in their environment with the help of adaptations of protective scales on their shells. In the family of Testudinidae, one of the well-known species of tortoise is the gopher tortoise. Gopher tortoises are terrestrial reptiles. As they consume a wide range of plants and grass, gopher tortoises can be considered herbivorous scavengers. Gopher tortoises live most of their time in burrows.

If you are a turtle owner you should know that food items they like to eat includes insects, fish, and leafy greens.

Another most common species is the sea turtle. Sea turtles are air-breathing reptiles. Sea turtles are also known as marine turtles as they can be found in all oceans except polar regions. Sea turtles play a vital role in the habitat of oceans and beaches.

One should avoid housing different tortoise species together. A turtle can swim well as it has streamlined shells. A sea turtle has a life span of over 50 years. Turtles have webbed feet. Among tortoise species, leopard tortoises swim by floating near water bodies. A pet tortoise won't get lonely as tortoises live on their own in nature. Leopard tortoises have always lived solitary lives and would make a good choice as a pet.

Baby tortoises are unable to swim either as they are likely to sink in water and will drown if they fall accidentally. However, baby tortoises are seen near water bodies like an ocean as, just like other animals, they need water to drink and bathe.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation asks people present on the beach shore to help ensure baby turtles reach the ocean by giving them special guidelines.

After understanding whether your pet tortoise can swim well or would drown, read related fact files on if tortoises hibernate and if turtles can breathe underwater?

Do tortoises drown in water?

Tortoises are very different from turtles! Although they have many similar features, there are differences as well. Tortoises live on land while turtles are aquatic and can live in fresh water and sea water. Tortoises are herbivores while turtles have an omnivorous diet.

The shell of a turtle is flat and streamlined which helps it reduce drag and enables it to travel easily through the water. The shell of a turtle is lighter than that of a tortoise. Turtles have webbed feet and flippers whereas tortoises have claws. The flipper and webbed feet of a turtle helps it to swim.

Land tortoises, on the other hand, have considerably bigger, domed shells that are not aerodynamic in any manner but are made to protect them from land predators and heat.

Tortoises have been living on land and have adapted to their environment unlike turtles, who can't swim underwater. Their strong, elephantine legs assist them in traversing meadows and woodlands where many turtles live.

They are protected by their thick shells against predators with sharp claws and teeth. Water turtles are faster swimmers than land tortoises. Their armored shells provide the required protection. Because they evolved to live on land, they did not develop strong lungs to hold their breath for long periods.

A tortoise drowns when it is submerged in water.

Can tortoises float?

While most tortoises can't float on water, some species of turtles are known to do so.

Whether a tortoise will float on water or get submerged depends on the tortoise's age, weight, and body structure. It also depends on the nature of the body of water; while tortoises have a high chance of floating in a still garden pond, they can't survive a harsh sea.  It also sometimes depends on pure luck or the position with which one enters the water.

If conditions are favorable, a turtle may float and drift with the hope of bumping against the shore. One way a tortoise can float is to hold its breath when it enters the surface of the water and become buoyant enough to float on the surface as humans can. However, in order to do so, the tortoise has to be fairly lightweight. Some tortoises, in rare instances, are also known to swim by keeping their heads above water and holding their breath.

How long can a tortoise hold its breath underwater?

Sea turtles are well equipped to survive underwater. In oceans, they are able to hold their breath for up to seven hours at a time. The case is very different for tortoises. Most land tortoises are unable to breathe underwater and can only hold their breath for a short period and can suffocate if kept submerged for an extended period (up to seven hours).

You should take care that your tortoise doesn't stay in deep water for long in order to ensure the safety of the tortoise. Legs of tortoises are heavy and are stooped. They are not adapted for swimming. They do not have sleek, aerodynamic shells as turtles do. Shells of turtles help them store oxygen for longer periods of time while a tortoise's shell is made to protect it from predators. If a tortoise is submerged for more than a few minutes, it will die. Because tortoises are unable to swim, they struggle to resurface from under the water if they are drowning.

While tortoises are unable to swim, they like to cool themselves in shallow waters when they overheat on a hot day; on such occasions, the pond is generally shallow enough for them to stroll in.

Aldabra giant tortoise on sand beach

Can tortoises swim in pools?

No. Tortoises will end up drowning in a pool. Some tortoises like to cool off in shallow water but sadly unlike other aquatic turtles, they cannot swim.

The physiology of a turtle's shell determines if turtles can swim or not. Tortoises have high domed and bulky shells whereas aquatic turtles have shells that are streamlined that help them in swimming. These shells allow water to flow around them effortlessly. Aquatic turtles shed their old scutes to prevent their shells from turning dome-shaped. Shells of tortoises are different from shells of turtles. Tortoises let their shells grow higher, not shedding their scutes. Tortoises have a hard time swimming or passing through the water because of these bulky shells. Tortoises are adapted to live on the land. The aquatic environment suits turtles.

Land tortoises are generally slower compared to aquatic turtles who are fast swimmers. This provides them protection against predators. Sea turtles are known to have flippers instead of feet. Sea turtles are great swimmers and with the help of these flippers, they can swim and even spend their entire lives in water.

Another reason tortoises can't swim in a pool is that it is considered harmful for a tortoise to consume chlorine. Pools have chlorine in them, which, if allowed to come in contact with a tortoise, can burn its skin. Animals who breathe through their gills can be seriously burned by chlorine. Chlorinated water can be an irritant to a turtle as well. Pet turtles, because of their aquatic nature, tend to enjoy swimming in a large aquarium.

Why can turtles swim but tortoises can't?

One of the major differences between a turtle and a tortoise is that turtles can swim while tortoises cannot swim. Both animals are reptiles. People often can't tell the difference between them as they have a very similar appearance.

It is observed that people have ended up hurting a tortoise as they were unable to differentiate their identity. Accidentally, people who try to save baby turtles by bringing hatchlings to the water and because of the tortoise's location end up hurting them as they don't realize that they are land-dwelling tortoises. Tortoises like the gopher tortoise have their nesting areas not far away from the sea.

The reason why tortoises cannot swim, and turtles can, is because of the difference in their appendages. Clawed toes of tortoises are more suitable for land than water. Their limbs, bent legs, and clawed toes are modified to lift heavy and shelled bodies. Compared to them, turtles have flippers that help them propel in water. For slippery sea travel, their body is designed to have a streamlined shell. These streamlined shells are flattened in shape and lighter in weight. Tortoises are not designed well to swim, so they are likely to drown in water. Regions like a pond or lake can save them from drowning as they can sometimes stay afloat.

Can you save a drowning tortoise?

Although turtles and tortoises can’t survive for long underwater, you should not lose hope if you find your pet tortoise in the bottom of the pond. The first thing to do after taking the tortoise out of the water is to flip it upside down and press onto its belly gently to remove some water.

If your turtle still does not show any response, then it is advised to immediately start artificial mouth-nose recirculation. The mouth should be held shut to not allow any air to escape and then air should be blown into its nostrils as hard as possible to inflate its lungs. The process is to be repeated 20 times in a minute.

The entire process should be continued for at least 13-15 minutes if the tortoise is not waking up. This is because tortoises can survive for some time without oxygen. The revived tortoise can undergo severe trauma due to the accident and should be provided with warmth and closeness to help it overcome it.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for can a tortoise swim then take a look at how big Russian tortoises get or tortoise facts.

The Kidadl Team is made up of people from different walks of life, from different families and backgrounds, each with unique experiences and nuggets of wisdom to share with you. From lino cutting to surfing to children’s mental health, their hobbies and interests range far and wide. They are passionate about turning your everyday moments into memories and bringing you inspiring ideas to have fun with your family.

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