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© written by Tasha Guenther

Two Painted turtles

"Painted Turtles"; used with permission under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

We all have one question on our brains, don't we? What is the difference between turtles, terrapins, and tortoises?!

The actual difference between these three terms is pretty fuzzy! In North America, the word turtle is used for all three terms! And, the only true terrapin is the Diamondback - meanwhile all other freshwater turtles are simply turtles.

The original way of thinking about turtles, terrapins, and tortoises was to think that turtles live in the sea, terrapins live in freshwater, and tortoises live on land!

For our purposes, however, we will follow along with zoologist Ronald Orenstein and call them all turtles.