The big question: what’s the difference between tortoises and turtles?

On our flight to the Galapagos Islands, one of us napped and the other crammed like a school exam would be given on arrival. So, the big question: what’s the difference between tortoises and turtles? Did we somehow miss this in grade school science? We had no idea what the answer was. How humiliating would it be to not know such a basic fact when we met our guide and fellow tour members?

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Megan, a fellow tour member, took the challenge and squeezed into the dome-shaped tortoise carapace. Her comment: “It’s heavy!”

We found a simple answer: tortoises live on land and turtles live in the water. Both are reptiles and have shells.

We viewed the Galapagos tortoises at the conservation and breeding center on San Cristobal Island where these two bickered over a piece of food.

We viewed the Galapagos tortoises at the conservation and breeding center on San Cristobal Island where these two bickered over a piece of food.

Tortoises roam wild on Santa Cruz Island, freely across the preserve but sometimes stray on nearby farmland.   The farmers in the area have been given payment to offset any crop loss.

Yes, turtles live in the water, and hanging over the side of the panga is not an easy way to get a clear photo. Let’s just say this photo is proof we saw Pacific green turtles.

Yes, turtles live in the water, and hanging over the side of the panga is not an easy way to get a clear photo. Let’s just say this photo is proof we saw Pacific green turtles.

Other reptiles that we learned about were the iguanas and lizards.

We walked down a path spotting male land iguanas every few minutes, protecting their territory. We did see female land iguanas, too, on their own walks to check out the males.

We walked down a path spotting male land iguanas every few minutes, protecting their territory. We did see female land iguanas, too, on their own walks to check out the males.

A common ancestor iguana came to the Galapagos Islands from the mainland South America. They split over ten million years ago into two groups: land and marine iguanas. The only place in the world to see marine iguanas is the Galapagos.

A common ancestor iguana came to the Galapagos Islands from the mainland South America. They split over ten million years ago into two groups: land and marine iguanas. The only place in the world to see marine iguanas is the Galapagos.

With so many imposing and photogenic iguanas to see, we realized (too late!) that we’d taken only a few photos of Galapagos lava lizards.

With so many imposing and photogenic iguanas to see, we realized (too late!) that we’d taken only a few photos of Galapagos lava lizards.

We started the trip with little knowledge of reptiles (Galapagos or not) and enjoyed observing all the tortoises, turtles, iguanas, and lizards that we saw on the islands. We started with only a few basic facts as the trip began, like the difference between the tortoise and turtle. During our week in the Galapagos, we learned a lot more from our Ecoventura guides.

 

April 2016

About simpletravelourway

Beth and Joe enjoy simple travel.
This entry was posted in Ecuador, South America - 2016 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The big question: what’s the difference between tortoises and turtles?

  1. Is it also something to do with one being able to withdraw its head and legs and the other can’t? Those iguanas would give me the creeps. They are so prehistoric.

  2. Cliff Mail says:

    I did not know the difference, thanks for clarifying that. Don’t suppose you discovered the difference between a dolphin and porpoise?

    • Dolphins have longer noses, bigger mouths, more curved fins and longer, leaner bodies, according to the ocean service of noaa.gov; also, harbor porpoise have small pointed flippers and no beak. We were surprised to learn that the “killer whale” or orca is actually the largest member of the dolphin family. http://oceanservice.noaa.gov

  3. Finally found my way back to your blog! The photos are wonderful – what a place!

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