It depends on what you mean, because turtles (the order) include marine turtles, terrapins, and tortoises. Tortoises, on the other hand, live on land, whereas sea turtles or terrapins live in water, but they still need to come out on land to basket, regulating their body temperatures.
Both. Sea turtles, for example, spend the majority of their lives in the water. They only come ashore to lay their eggs. They will occasionally (rarely) sit on the beach and soak up the rays. That, however, is not typical behavior.
Sea turtles spend almost all of their life at sea, sliders and some terrapins spend about half in water, half on land basking or in shelter.
Desert tortoises are turtles that spend the majority of their lives on dry land and would rarely, if ever, willingly submerge themselves in water. Some people may never see water deeper than a couple of inches.
Other turtles that spend nearly equal time in and out of water include Wood Turtles and Spotted Turtles (here in the eastern USA). Similar behavior can be found all over the world.
Many aquatic turtles spend an unusually large amount of time out of the water. Snapping Turtles, for example, which spend the majority of their time in water, will wander for miles on land, typically at night and in moist conditions, in search of a new body of water to live in – until their next jaunt.
Box Turtles, which are almost always found on land, can swim and will not hesitate to enter a pond, lake, or river to swim to the other side.
Because all turtles lay their eggs on land, even if they spend the majority of their lives in the water, female turtles emerge at least once a year. Some turtles cannot eat unless they are below the water’s surface (Painted Turtles, Map Turtles, Sliders, and Cooters). Other turtles can eat both on land and in the water (Wood Turtle is a good example).
ALSO SEE: Can Turtles eat Watermelon?
Do all Turtles Live in Water?
Some do, some don’t.
Both. Sea turtles, for example, spend most of their lives in water. They only land to lay their eggs. They will occasionally (rarely) sit on the beach and sunbathe. But that’s not normal.
Desert tortoises are turtles that live mostly on land and rarely, if ever, swim. Some may never see more than 2 inches of water.
Other turtles that spend nearly equal time in and out of water are Wood and Spotted Turtles (here in the eastern USA). Others around the world behave similarly.
Many aquatic turtles spend considerable time on land. As an example, Snapping Turtles, which spend most of their time in water, will travel for miles on land, usually at night and in moist conditions, in search of a new home.
Box Turtles can swim and will enter a pond, lake, or river to cross.
Even if they spend most of their lives in the water, female turtles emerge at least once a year to lay eggs on land. Some turtles can’t eat unless they’re underwater (Painted Turtles, Map Turtles, Sliders and Cooters). Some turtles can eat on land or in water (Wood Turtle is a good example).
Do Turtles Live in Land or Water?
The term “turtle” is ambiguous. This is a cultural term, not a defined term. Ask someone from the US, UK, or Australia and you’ll likely get different answers because while they share a language and a common idea, they are very different.
Also, the term “turtle” is used to describe all chelonians. I prefer the British usage of the term (and its synonyms) because it clearly defines the chelonian group based on primary ecosystem and limb morphology (with a few exceptions).
The following is my understanding of the British use of common names for chelonians:
Turtle: marine species with flippers/fins and swims in water like a bird does in air (flapping, simultaneous mirror image movement of opposing limbs). Have a teardrop-shaped carapace. These guys live mostly in the water, only coming ashore to lay eggs.
Tortoises have elephant-like limbs (sturdy columns, no discernible toes or feet) and move one limb at a time so that there are always three touching the ground to provide support. Carapaces are usually highly domed/arched.
Because most of their internal organs are lungs, they tend to float quite well, which is why they have been found on isolated islands. Regardless, they spend the majority of their time on land.
Terrapins have limbs that end in discernible feet with webbed toes. They walk like tortoises on land, but swim like dogs, with each limb paddling alternately with its parallel opposing limb, but in sync with the opposing limb at the other end (for example, front left, right rear in sync).
Some chelonians spend almost exclusively in water, while others spend almost exclusively on land, with a wide range of options in between.