Can Tortoises Swim? (Read THIS First!)

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A lot of people get confused between turtles and tortoises.

Sometimes, people put their tortoises underwater to see how fast they can swim, not knowing the fact that it is seriously dangerous for their pets.

Being a pet owner and especially a tortoise owner is not easy. If you are here, I am sure you must be wondering the questions related to your tortoise whether they can swim or not.

We all know that tortoises live on land. But are they capable of swimming? Can tortoises swim? So to answer this question, I have prepared the following article keeping my pet tortoise in mind.

Can Tortoises Swim?

Tortoises are an interesting species. A tortoise can outrun their owners but unfortunately, not in water.

A tortoise cannot swim and is most likely to drown if you try to make them swim.

Tortoises are like humans who cannot swim. They are most likely to drown in a minute or two if they are kept underwater.

So does that mean that none of the tortoise species can swim? The answer is No.

Some of the tortoise species can actually swim but not for too long. Even they are most likely to drown if you keep them underwater for too long.

That is why being a tortoise pet owner; you have to be careful while giving your tortoise a bath.

Why is it That Tortoises Cannot Swim?

Tortoises have shells on their body which is too heavy for them.

These shells do not make it easy for the tortoises to swim. The shells of an average tortoise weigh around 5 pounds (2.26 Kilograms) to 25 Pounds (11.3 Kilograms).

The weight of the shell also depends on the age and size of the tortoise.

Some of the Galapagos tortoises have shells that can weigh up to 850 – 900 Pounds (385 Kilograms to 410 Kilograms).

A tortoise might look as if he is swimming, but it is not for too long. So, do not ever put your pet tortoise in a swimming pool or inside water anywhere.

Why Do Turtles Swim But Tortoises Don’t?

The disarray over the swimming capacities of turtles and turtles comes from the reality the two creatures are reptiles, and since they have appearances likewise, a lot of people tend to get confused between the same.

The contrasts between turtles and tortoises can be slight to such an extent that it’s hard for the layman to spot.

Yet, on the off chance that turtles and tortoises are like the point that it’s difficult to distinguish them, for what reason can turtle swim yet tortoises can’t?

The appropriate response lies in their physiology. Allow us to see a few focuses to comprehend the idea better.

  • The difference between their feet

The greatest actual explanation that turtles can swim and tortoises can’t be the distinction in their limbs.

Turtles have flippers with only a few paws. The flippers assist with impelling them in water which is one of the biggest reasons that they can swim.

Tortoises, then again, have twisted legs with ripped toes. Their feet resemble that of a short baby elephant’s feet. These appendages are considerably more appropriate for land travel than water.

tortoise foot vs turtle foot

I am sure you must have seen photographs of a turtle and tortoise before. If you notice carefully, the tortoise’s twisted legs and pawed, toes are intended to lift the weighty, shelled body up off the ground a huge sum.

The ocean turtle, be that as it may, should drag itself across the land in light of the fact that its balances and webbed toes weren’t intended for land travel.

  • The difference between their Shells

Another enormous factor in swimming capacity is shell shape and weight.

Turtles have leveled, lighter, smoothed-out shells made for elusive ocean travel.

By correlation, the tortoises have a hefty, domed shell that forestalls safe water travel and is one of the reasons why tortoises cannot swim in the water easily.

Tortoise Shell Close up
Tortoise Shell
turtle shell
Turtle Shell

Why Do Some Tortoises Don’t Drown Underwater?

Despite the fact that most tortoises are bound to suffocate than not, there have been a couple of uncommon situations where the turtle, in some way or another, endure expanded time in or under the water.

Pursuit of any tortoise gathering of people will turn up a modest bunch of marvel stories, including a turtle enduring what ought to have been a dangerous experience with profound water.

A few stories start with a tortoise getting away from an open-air walled-in area and falling into a lake, while others talk about a turtle visiting a pet tortoise’s nook and falling into the water.

Another inquisitive story included a substantial downpour and a tortoise stalling out in a profound puddle for around 20 minutes.

As I said before, there are always exceptions. Sometimes, humans can stay underwater for about 25 to 30 minutes, depending on how deep the water is.

Likewise, for the tortoises, there are always going to be some cases in which a few of the tortoises stand out.

It might be because they couldn’t develop their shell properly, or their feet came out like that of a turtle’s, giving them the ability to stay underwater or even swim in some cases.

However, this is not common in tortoises. There are some cases in which tortoises couldn’t develop properly, or you could say it was God’s grace that their body structure did not develop properly to be like that of a tortoise which is why there are some cases in which tortoises could have the ability to swim or stay underwater for long enough.

What Is The Only Tortoise That Can Swim?

The answer is tortoises cannot swim in general because of the way their body has been made.

The heavy domed structured shells do not let the tortoises swim. But, there are always exceptions.

Sometimes, tortoises develop shells and feet different from the usual tortoises.

This lets them swim, but this is not common in tortoises. It can happen to one in a million, if not more.

How Long Can a Tortoise Swim For?

Tortoises are like humans who do not know how to swim.

A tortoise can swim for about 4 to 6 minutes in calm water before drowning.

It is always crucial that if you are making your tortoise take a bath, be careful at all times to avoid any kind of mishap from happening.

Can a Tortoise Live Underwater?

A turtle, for sure, can live underwater.

However, if you leave a tortoise underwater for more than about 5 to 10 minutes, the chances are that it will most likely drown.

It is never recommended to leave a tortoise underwater without proper supervision.

Can Tortoises Climb Out of Water?

Tortoises can climb out of water considering that the water is calm, there is some support that they can take, for instance, a big rock, and there is proper supervision.

However, this is not advisable as you might end up losing your pet tortoise.

Can Tortoises Breathe Underwater?

Pick up your average tortoise and you probably won’t find any gills or flippers, so you may want to think twice before you start treating them like submarines.

However, tortoises are able to survive underwater for long periods of time in part because they have slow metabolisms–slower even than nearly all other animals!

But How long can tortoises hold their breath? Normally these creatures can hold their breathe for 4 to 5 hours.

How Long Can a Tortoise Survive Underwater?

Every tortoise is different. It depends on the abilities of your pet tortoise.

Generally, tortoises can survive from somewhere between 30 minutes to 20 hours if the conditions are right.

The right conditions are that the water should be calm, water should not be too deep, there should be proper supervision, there should not be any kind of disturbance for the pet tortoise, and good weather.

Sometimes, tortoises can drown even in a span of 10 minutes. It mainly depends on the age of the tortoise. Do not ever test this with your tortoise, or you might end up losing your pet tortoise.

Can a Tortoise Float?

A tortoise cannot swim but can float.

However, this is not common. There are some things that tortoises require in order to float, which are calm water, it should not be deep water, and there should be proper supervision.

Some tortoises cannot even float. So if your pet tortoise is having issues with floating, do not try to force your pet tortoise into making him float.

The whole process might end up with your pet tortoise drowning.


If you own a tortoise pet, I hope you got all the information regarding the water issues of tortoises.

It is pretty clear that tortoises are highly aqua-phobic. This might not apply to all the tortoises out there since there are always exceptions, and nature works in mysterious ways.

About the Author
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Chafik Abderrahman is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of

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