Can Tortoises Swim (With Video)

Tortoises are a type of land-dwelling reptile that are not equipped for swimming and have limited ability to retract their heads and limbs into their shells. Unlike turtles, they are not natural swimmers and are better suited for terrestrial habitats. Tortoises may struggle to stay afloat or breathe in deep water. However, they can still enjoy wading in shallow waters for hydration and temperature regulation.

The Differences Between Tortoises and Turtles in Swimming

The primary difference between turtles and tortoises that affects their swimming abilities is their natural habitat and evolutionary adaptations, which includes:

  • Flippers vs feet: Turtles typically have webbed feet or flippers, which are designed to propel them effortlessly through water. On the other hand, tortoises have sturdy, non-webbed feet suited for life on land and lack the ability to swim efficiently.
  • Shell shapes: While turtles have flattened, streamlined shells that minimize water resistance and boost swimming speed, tortoises have a more domed and heavier shell for better protection on land. This shell shape, however, makes it harder for them to float and swim.
  • Natural habitats: Turtles can be found in a variety of aquatic environments such as oceans, rivers, and lakes. Tortoises, however, primarily live in arid or semi-arid environments like deserts and grasslands, with limited aquatic capabilities and less exposure to large bodies of water.

These differences in physical adaptations and natural habitats clearly demonstrate why tortoises lack the swimming prowess of their turtle cousins.

Tortoises and Water Interaction (With Video)

Key points on tortoise and water interaction include:

  • Floating: While more buoyant than one might expect, tortoises are not natural swimmers and lack the adaptations to navigate in deep water. Therefore, careful supervision is needed, especially when there is a risk of drowning.
  • Baby tortoises: Young tortoises, like their adult counterparts, are not equipped for swimming and should not be placed in deep water. Instead, they should be provided with shallow dishes for drinking and maintaining hydration.
  • Drowning concerns: Tortoises can drown if left unsupervised around deep water. It is vital to create a shallow, controlled environment so they can safely wade in water for hydration and temperature regulation.

By understanding these key aspects of tortoises’ interaction with water, we can better ensure their safety, prevent drowning incidents, and create an optimal living environment to meet their unique needs.


Tortoises are not natural swimmers like their aquatic relatives, the turtles, due to their distinct adaptations such as sturdy, non-webbed feet and domed shells. Despite their limited swimming abilities, tortoises do require shallow water for hydration and temperature regulation. By understanding these aspects of tortoises’ interaction with water, we can provide them with optimal care and ensure their well-being as captivating creatures of the land.