Many people already know that all tortoises are turtles but not all turtles are tortoises. Yet, most people don’t understand what that means. It often leads to the question of cross breeding.
Can a tortoise and a turtle mate? A tortoise and a turtle cannot mate to produce viable offspring. They are genetically incompatible. Even if a tortoise and a turtle where helped to mate by scientific intervention, the offspring would be prone to significant health problems.
Science says no, a tortoise and a turtle cannot mate successfully, but this answer still confuses lots of people. Below, we’ll look into the differences between turtles and tortoises why mating could never work. Get your science hats on, folks!
A Quick Word on Terminology
While other articles may use the word “mate” to refer to the act of sex or for a bonded partner, for this article, we’ll use “mate” to refer to sexual reproduction specifically—making babies.
Why is this distinction important? Because it may be possible for animals to mate (the act) without actually producing viable offspring. We’re not going to be discussing whether tortoises and turtles can “get it on”, but whether they can have babies that will survive.
So Why Can’t a Turtle and a Tortoise Mate?
If all tortoises are turtles, why can’t a tortoise and a turtle mate? We’ve heard this question so many times and worded in a million different ways, it’s about time we shed some light on the topic. This kind of union is the stuff of science fiction, though it’s a lot more science than fiction, if we’re to be honest.
Before we can explain why this would never work, you need to understand how science classifies things. Yes, tortoises are turtles, but not in the way most people think of them. Tortoises belong to the scientific order Testudines or Chelonia. That basically means “reptiles with bodies that are encased in bony shells”. But science isn’t as simple as that, and this is where the separation of turtles and tortoises comes into play.
When it comes to classifying nature, science has come up with a cool system to track and compare everything. Classification is also called taxonomy. The system has seven divisions, each coming under the last until you boil things down to their everyday names. . . usually.
The divisions are Kingdom, Phylum or Division, Class, Order, Family, Genus, and Species. Most people understand species and gamily, while a select few understand genus. The rest of the divisions are a crapshoot if people get it or not.
Most people know the term “animal kingdom”. It’s not just a saying; it is literally the broadest of all seven divisions. Species is the narrowest division and encompasses organisms that can interbreed to produce viable and fertile offspring.
To illustrate, humans and tortoises are in the same kingdom (Animalia, if we want to further complicate things), but we can’t mate because we’re not in the same species.
Biological divides prevent breeding tortoises and turtles
Tortoises are in the class reptilia (reptiles), the order testudines, the family testudinidae, and then they’d each break down into genus and species from there.
Turtles are in the class reptilia, just like tortoises. Turtles are also in the order testudines. And that’s where we run into issues, as far as mating is concerned. See, turtles break into their own families at this point, separate from the tortoise family. They include cheloniidae and dermochelyidae.
Since we know that only organisms from the same species can mate and produce fertile offspring, it’s impossible, from a scientific standpoint, for turtles and tortoises to mate. They’re not even in the same family, let alone the same genus or species.
Mating rituals between tortoises and turtles wouldn’t work
Aside from the obvious scientific impossibilities just in their classifications, there’s also the practical application issue. Tortoises and turtles each have their mating rituals. In fact, these rituals can vary between species of tortoises and species of turtles, even if they’re in the same genus.
Tortoises have a bitey, snippy kind of courtship. They like it rough, basically. The male will nip at the female’s legs and carapace until she gives in. But she’s not totally innocent here. Female tortoises can hold their own and even dish out some nastiness, too. But it’s okay, because they both like it. This is how they make babies.
Turtles are mainly water creatures, so their mating rituals often include lots of swimming and spending time in the water. The male turtle usually climbs onto the female’s back while she’s still in the water, heading for the beach. Obviously, this isn’t going to work for our land-bound tortoise friends.
Diseases prevent crossbreeding tortoises and turtles
Tortoises and turtles lives in vastly different environments. As such, they also have their own bacteria and diseases. While a tortoise might be immune to (or at least resistant to) a certain bacteria common on their bodies, turtles won’t have the same immunities, for example. This can lead to a fast death, or a slow and painful one.
Don’t Believe the Hype
While researching this article, we came across a handful of people claiming to have tried breeding their turtles and tortoises. While we highly doubt the validity of those statements, it does raise the questions of morality and believing what you see online.
Morally speaking, it’s just gross to consider forcing two completely different animals to mate. That’s like expecting cats and monkeys to make babies together. It’s dangerous for a variety of reasons we’ve already covered, plus it’s going against nature itself. If tortoises and turtles were meant to breed, they would not have evolved so far down their own paths.
As far as believing what you see online, we realize the potential hypocrisy here. But the fact is, we’re stating proven, scientific facts on our site and explaining why this could never work. Those few people claiming to have bred tortoises and turtles aren’t providing any provable facts. They don’t even share pictures of the supposed offspring.
We’ll take science any day over the unsubstantiated word of a stranger on the internet.
It’s understandable why people would wonder if tortoises and turtles could successfully mate. They look so similar and even share some scientific classifications. But it’s just not possible. When the two species in question can’t even live in the same environment, eat the same foods, or fight the same illnesses, it’s just not a recipe for mating success.