Can A Tortoise Swim? All You Need To Know

Can a tortoise swim?  For your tortoise, being able to answer this question might be the difference between life and death. While the terms “turtle” and “tortoise” are frequently interchanged, there is some fundamental difference between these two creatures that every tortoise keeper should be aware of.

So, do tortoises have the ability to swim underwater? What do a tortoise and a turtle have in common? Is it necessary for my tortoise to drink? These are all crucial questions that we will address in this essay to assist you in keeping your shelled companion safe and happy.

Underwater Photography of Turtle

Turtles vs. Tortoises

Turtles, tortoises, and terrapins are all quite different organisms that must be recognized as such, despite their close kinship and many similarities.

The term “turtle” implies tortoises, terrapins, or sea turtles, although it applies to any shelled, egg-laying reptile that belongs to its biological genus.

However, tortoises and turtles are clearly distinguished from one another: tortoises live on land, but turtles spend most of their lives in Water. When you take a closer look at them, you can see why turtles can swim, and tortoises are better adapted to living on land.

Black Tortoise Standing

Many incidences have been documented in which individuals confuse tortoises for turtles and then put them in Water, expecting them to swim away.

However, as we now know, turtles and tortoises are not quite the same, and only one of them can swim, so it’s critical to understand the variations so you don’t repeat the same mistake.

Look for webbed feet and notice the form and shape of the turtle’s shell if you can’t identify whether it’s an aquatic turtle or a tortoise.

Freshwater turtles, sea turtles, and pond turtles all have more streamlined shells than their biological counterparts; even juvenile tortoises have noticeably higher, dome-shaped shells that should be easier to distinguish now that you know.

In either case, the safest alternative is to leave the shelled reptile where you discovered it; if it’s a turtle, it’ll return to the water when it’s ready, whereas a land-dwelling tortoise would continue their journey away from the Water in the opposite direction.

Can a Tortoise Swim?

This question has a clear answer: no. Tortoises can’t swim because they lack streamlined shells or flippers. A sea turtle’s body structure has changed over the centuries to allow it to float through deep Water.

Can a tortoise swim

In contrast, a tortoise’s body shape has evolved to assist it in living comfortably in its native habitat on land. Their massive shells and thick legs aren’t designed to keep them afloat, much less swim underwater. 

When it comes to swimming, why can sea turtles and freshwater turtles (Terrapins) do it, but tortoises cannot?

Land tortoises, sea turtles, and freshwater turtles are all types of turtles (including terrapins). Consequently, we will refer to just water turtles as turtles and land tortoises as tortoises for all reasons.

Turtles can swim for a variety of reasons that tortoises cannot. The shape of their feet, the composition of their shells, and their surroundings all contribute to our understanding of why turtles can swim while tortoises cannot.

We will further discuss in detail the physiological factors that allow turtles to swim. 

The Physiology Of A Turtle’s Feet

When you glance at a sea turtle’s feet closely, you’ll find that they’re more like flippers.

Even though turtles come to the shore to build nests and lay eggs, their feet are intended to propel them through the water, which is extremely handy given that they spend a major part of their life in the ocean.

Aquatic turtles, like terrapins, have distinctive webbed feet since they also have claws that help them maneuver well both in the water and on land.

Like those of sea turtles, the freshwater turtle’s feet are developed for paddling through the water.

Freshwater turtles, unlike sea turtles, don’t have flippers but instead have webbed feet. The webbed nature of the feet is efficient for propelling through the water, making them suitable for swimming.

Photo of Sea Turtle

However, tortoise feet resemble elephants, with clawed toes and bent legs that enable them to move on land.

Tortoises, unlike turtles, can survive in a variety of conditions, so they require something far more durable to aid them along. Their claws on their feet might help them dig burrows, but they wouldn’t be very effective for swimming.

The Physiology Of A Turtle’s Shell

The physiology of a turtle’s shell plays an important role in deciding whether or not the turtle can swim. The structure and shape of their shells are a significant difference to look at; a water turtle has a streamlined shell that enables them to glide through the water with ease.

The turtle’s shell is flatter and lighter than the shell of a tortoise. Tortoises that live on land, on the other hand, have much larger, domed shells that are not at all aerodynamic.

Turtles’ shells are sleek and aerodynamic, allowing Water to flow freely around them while they swim. These water-cutting shells reduce drag by cutting through the Water.

Aquatic turtles shed their old scoots while new, broader ones grow underneath, preventing their shell from becoming domed-shaped. When you look at the shell of an aquatic turtle, you can see why they are such great swimmers. 

The Nature Of A Turtle’s Habitat

The turtle’s surroundings reveal a lot about the turtle’s behavior. A turtle that resides in an arid location is unlikely to know how to swim.

Consequently, if a turtle lives near a body of water, it must be able to swim. With that stated, it’s crucial to note that land tortoises aren’t the only turtles who can’t swim; some other turtles, like box turtles, can’t swim properly as well.

Turtles spend practically their whole lives in the Water. As a result, they are well-suited to this habitat.

Not only are their feet webbed and their shells aerodynamic, but they can also hold their breath for extended periods of time. In conclusion, we can say that a turtle’s physiology is highly dependent on the nature of its habitat. 

Tortoises Float Instead Of Swimming

Tortoises cannot swim well underwater because of their body structure, but they surely can float. Their ability to maintain a minimum equilibrium on the water surface is aided by their lung capacity for air. The tortoises would drown in an instant if they were unable to float.

Side view of cute Lepidochelys olivacea turtle swimming underwater of blue sea on sunny day

It is claimed to be dependent on a number of circumstances, including the tortoise’s age, size, and species.

It is not worth the risk, in my opinion, and it is best to play it safe and not submerge your tortoise in Water that is too deep. Whether or whether your tortoise can float, it will most certainly cause them stress and put them in danger of drowning. 

Can A Tortoise Drown?

Tortoises drown faster and more easily than turtles. Turtles usually drown if they become stuck or run out of air. Consider this: if turtles, which are great swimmers, can sink, tortoises have little chance.

You may already be aware that tortoises can float, although this is not true for all species. These animals float in motionless Water by balancing their weight and size ratio. The task becomes impossible in a fast-moving river. A tortoise that is unable to float will almost certainly drown. 

How much time can a tortoise hold its breath underwater?

Turtles can hold their breath for 30-45 minutes underwater on average. However, tortoises are not at ease in the Water, and their lungs are not designed for underwater respiration.

Tortoises can only hold their breath for 2 to 3 minutes underwater. It will then begin to struggle to maintain its head above the Water’s surface. The tortoise will drown if it does not receive any support or assistance. 


How Does a Tortoise React When It Is thrown in Water?

Remember that tortoises may only float on quiet Water. If you throw the creature into the ocean, it will shortly drown. If you drop a tortoise into deep Water, it will fight tooth and nail to reach the surface and keep its head above water.

Hopefully, the tortoise will float or drift away with the tide and come to a stop on land. The tortoise will sink and perish if this does not happen.

A Tortoise On A  Rock

Can You Save A Drowning Tortoise?

Tortoises are frequently mistaken for turtles and thrown into the water. As a result, tortoises may become submerged and drown.

Pet turtles can also fall into the Water unintentionally. A drowning tortoise can be saved with first aid. To provide any treatment, you must first assess your tortoise’s condition.

When a tortoise is submerged in water for an extended period of time, it may develop terrible conditions, for example, Anoxia or Ventricular fibrillation, which can have a severe effect on the animal’s health and may even result in death.

First, turn the tortoise upside down as part of the treatment. It opens its mouth and digs its teeth into the flank. The tortoise’s mouth will drip some water. Next, close the tortoise’s mouth and hold it firmly.

Blow with high pressure into the nostril. It may inflate the lung, causing the tortoise’s heart to begin pumping again. Anoxia, i.e., the condition in which the lungs fill up with water, can be overcome by repeating the task 10 to 20 times each minute.

If you don’t see any improvement, take your pet to the local veterinarian. The tortoise’s stomach expands with Water on occasion; in that situation, the vet will use a tube to remove the Water. 

Can tortoises swim in pools?

Although the body structure of a tortoise is not apt for swimming, some tortoises can float, and if the water is calm, they may be able to do so for longer if the water is not too deep, like in a pool for an instant. 

Do tortoises swim in the ocean?

Tortoises are land creatures that do not swim or dive underwater in their natural habitat. If thrown into the water, they may be able to float but cannot swim. 

Can tortoises swim underwater?

They cannot swim underwater because they lack the necessary capabilities. Tortoises drown faster and more easily than turtles. 

Do All Tortoises Swim?

It is determined by the species. Those who live in deserts are unable to swim for even shorter durations. Those who live near a body of Water can float for 2-3 minutes till they reach the beach.

Only a few creatures can float, and even fewer can’t. Many characteristics, such as age and weight, play a role in deciding whether a tortoise can swim or float.

It also relies on the Water’s flow. They can readily float and move in still Water, but they cannot do so in fast-moving Water. 

Do Gopher Tortoises Swim?

The gopher tortoise belongs to the Testudinidae family of tortoises. The species is native to the United States’ southeastern region. Unfortunately, they are unable to swim.

They can only manage to swim for up to 2 minutes at a time. They lack the ability and form to swim, much like regular tortoises. Gopher tortoises prefer to dwell along the Water’s edge.

Black and Yellow Turtle on Brown Sand

Can A Desert Tortoise Swim?

Eastern California, southwestern Utah, and Mexico have large populations of desert tortoises. They live underground for more than 90% of their lives. They are unable to swim, just like regular tortoises.

They avoid Water because they are infected. Unlike turtles, they prefer to stay on land rather than venture into the Water. 

Which Tortoise Can Swim?

The Leopard tortoise is the only type of tortoise that can swim, according to a recent study conducted on tortoises. They have the ability to swim for almost ten minutes while submerged in water.

They are able to swim far enough to cross a river or a lake. Their feet differ from those of other tortoises, as they have paddle-like feet that aid in swimming. 

Do Tortoises Drink Water?

Tortoises do consume Water. It’s impossible for any animal to live without Water. Tortoises dislike Water, but they must consume it in order to stay hydrated.

Some tortoises can survive without water for 4 to 6 months, while others can only survive for two months. It varies for each species as to how much water they need to consume. 

How To identify If Your Tortoise Is Dehydrated?

For tortoises, dehydration is a severe problem. They are susceptible to dehydration, which can be fatal. Having a tortoise as a pet requires you to be aware of the symptoms of a dehydrated turtle.

Some of these indicators or symptoms of dehydration can be dry feces, loose skin, weakness, loss of appetite, or watery eyes. If you notice any such symptoms, make sure to feed your tortoise food with good water content, and make sure Water is given to them on a daily basis. 

How Long Can a Tortoise Live?

Tortoises have a lifespan of 100 to 200 years. It is dependent on their care and the environment in which they live. Another fact is that the age of tortoises is determined by their species.

If you’re considering getting a tortoise as a pet, you might be startled to learn that they can live longer than you. They can die for a variety of reasons like unhygienic conditions, poor diet, infections, injuries, and anxiety.

Can Tortoises Bite?

They do, after all, bite. Although they are generally peaceful and docile, they do bite other tortoises and humans on occasion, usually when they are misbehaved, mistreated, forced, or threatened.

Does Tortoise Recognize Their Owners?

As a matter of fact, pet tortoises do recognize their owners. They will demonstrate affection for you, even if they do not run towards you.


Can a tortoise breathe underwater?

Tortoises can only hold their breath for 2 to 3 minutes underwater, but they cannot breathe underwater.

How long can tortoises stay underwater?

It usually depends on the species of the tortoise. Generally, a tortoise can stay for up to 3-4 minutes underwater.

How long can a tortoise stay upside down?

Being upside-down can prove to be fatal for a tortoise due to many reasons. However, big tortoises can stay upside down for about an hour without anything serious happening.

What happens if a tortoise falls in Water?

If a tortoise is thrown in Water or falls into Water by mistake, it will try to stay afloat and come ashore if the Water is still and calm. Fast-flowing water may cause the tortoise to drown.

Can a red-footed tortoise swim?

Like every tortoise, they are bad at swimming and may even drown if left in moving Water.


About the author

I'm Gulshan, a passionate pet enthusiast. Dive into my world where I share tips, stories, and snapshots of my animal adventures. Here, pets are more than just animals; they're heartbeats that enrich our lives. Join our journey!