Are All Turtles Alike?

Grade Level: 4-6

Connection to other Subjects: Science/Language Arts

Learning Objectives:

Students will compare and contrast the physical characteristics of marine, freshwater, and land turtles.


* Pictures of turtles (sea turtle, freshwater turtle, and box turtle)

* Comparison Chart

Teaching Time: 45 minutes









Not all turtles are alike. Turtles have developed special adaptations to live in specific environments. Some turtles such as sliders, mud turtles, and soft shells have adapted to living over half their life in a freshwater environment such as ponds, lakes, or streams. They have claws and webbed toes on their feet. The claws help them climb onto muddy banks and tree branches floating in the water. The webbing between their toes helps them swim in the water. These turtles a very successful both on land and in the water.

Sea turtles have adapted to life in a marine environment such as the sea or ocean and have evolved flippers instead of legs. Since sea turtles cannot hide in their shells, they use speed to protect themselves against predators such as sharks. Sea turtles have large, flat, paddle-like limbs that make them fast swimmers in the ocean but very slow and clumsy on land. Some species of sea turtles can weigh over 1,500 pounds!

Land turtles, such as the box turtle, are primarily terrestrial which means they spend most of their time on land (prairies, savannas, and steppes). These turtles have developed clubbed feet for walking in rough terrains and domed shells with hinged plastrons which they close to protect themselves from predators.


1. Print the pictures of a box turtle, sea turtle, and a slider provided with this activity.

2. Group students and give them a copy of the activity sheet.

3. Allow students 5 minutes to analyze each picture.

4. Have the students complete the comparison chart and record their observations.

5. Have each group compare and discuss their findings with another group. What are similarities and differences between turtle species? What do body structures tell you about habitat preferences?


* Have students compare the observations they collected in the chart provided with this activity.

* Have students draw a turtle that can adapt to all types of environments. This activity will assess the student’s understanding of an organism’s ability to adapt to different environments.


Habitat: ponds, lakes

Box Turtle

Habitat: Grasslands, woodlands

Sea Turtle

Habitat: Ocean

 Compare and Contrast

Turtle Type Carapace Shape

Flat/ Tall


Yes/ No


Yes/ No


Yes/ No

Box Turtle  
















Sea turtle  









1. Why do turtles with domed or tall shells have the ability to hide in their shells?

2. In a swimming contest which turtle do you think would swim the fastest? Why?

3. How do claws and webbed toes help sliders adapt to life both on land and in the water?