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12 Giant Galapagos Tortoise Facts

Curious about these gentle giants? In this post, you’ll learn 12 giant galapagos tortoise facts.

Giant Galapagos Tortoise Facts

12 Giants Galapagos Tortoise Facts

The Giant Galapagos Tortoise is one of the most famous animals indigenous to the Galapagos Islands. They have several subspecies and have been taken elsewhere for breeding in zoos and rescues, but this species got its start on the archipelago of the Galapagos Islands.

Here are 12 Galapagos tortoise facts to show you just how amazing these ancient creatures are.

1. They are gigantic

The Giant Galapagos Tortoise is the world’s biggest tortoise species. A full-grown tortoise can be more than 5 feet long and weigh 500 pounds or more. The largest recorded Galapagos Tortoise was nearly 6 feet long and weighed 919 pounds.

2. They live long lives

Giant Galapagos Tortoises also have one of the longest life spans of all known vertebrates. The average life span is over 100 years, and there have been several tortoises that have lived to be over 150 years old.

In 2006, the oldest known tortoise passed away. She was 176 and it was believed that she was among the tortoise specimens that had been collected during Charles Darwin’s trip to the Galapagos Islands in 1835.

3. They are endangered

The Galapagos Tortoise faces a huge number of threats to their environment. For centuries, these tortoises were hunted for their meat by merchant sailors, pirates, and whalers. In more recent times, they have continued to struggle because their food supply and eggs are constantly being sought by other non-native species such as rats, goats, pigs, and dogs.

4. They are protected

Because the Galapagos Tortoise faces so many threats, it is listed as endangered or critically endangered, depending on the subspecies.

In response to this listing, the government of Ecuador has dubbed the Galapagos tortoise as a protected species and has made efforts to minimize the risks that they face. Captive breeding programs, such as the one run by the Charles Darwin Research Station, have also been critical to conservation efforts.

5. They can live for a year without food or water

The Giant Galapagos Tortoise doesn’t eat much. It mostly grazes on grass and nibbles on cactus. However, the tortoise’s extremely slow metabolism means that they can go for up to a year without eating anything at all.

They also have the ability to store gallons of water in their bladders. This water storage is meant to keep the animals from drying out during droughts and hot weather.

Get your free packing list for the Galapagos

6. They like to nap

Galapagos Tortoises are reptiles, so they need to spend a lot of time laying in the sun. What you might not know is that these tortoises actually spend close to 16 hours sleeping every single day. Most of the time they are sleeping at night, but they also spend several hours a day napping on rocks or beaches while they soak up the sunlight.

facts about Galapagos tortoises

7. The shell is actually a part of the tortoise’s skeleton

A tortoise’s shell is actually a part of its skeleton and cannot be removed. The shell grows along with the tortoise and isn’t fully developed until the tortoise is 20-25 years old.

The hard outer shell is the tortoise’s primary defense against predators, and whenever a tortoise is frightened it will pull its head and legs into the shell. It’s significantly more difficult for a predator to get to a tortoise in this position.

8. The shell shape depends on the environment that the tortoise lives in

The shape of the tortoise shell has evolved to suit whatever environment the tortoise is born in.

  • Tortoises born on wet, humid islands tend to have dome shaped shells. These shells don’t let the tortoise extend its neck, so the tortoise will graze on grass, fallen leaves, or other ground-level vegetation for food.
  • Tortoises born on drier, more arid islands will have a “saddleback” shell. These shells have a raised rim right above the head that lets the tortoise extend its neck further. This lets the tortoise eat off of bushes and low-hanging branches.

No matter where the tortoise is born, there is hardly any variation in shell color.

9. They are extremely slow

The average speed of a walking tortoise is .18 miles per hour. At its fastest, a tortoise can move at about .5 miles per hour. This is pretty impressive considering that a female tortoise will travel about 4 miles to lay her eggs.

10. The Galapagos Islands are named after the Galapagos Tortoise

The Galapagos Islands were discovered by Spaniards in 1535. When the sailors got to this island, there were tortoises everywhere. Because of this, the Spaniards decided to name the whole chain of islands after “galapago” which is the Spanish word for tortoise.

11. They have set habits

The Galapagos Tortoise is a creature of habit. Generally, they will have a set routine. They will eat, nap, and travel at the same times and along the same routes. These routines only vary when weather or threats from predators force them to make a change for survival.

12. You can tell a tortoise’s sex by looking at its undershell

The undershell of a Galapagos Tortoise is one the easiest way to tell whether it is a male or a female.

  • Females will usually have slightly convex (curved outward) undershells or flat undershells.
  • Males will have concave (curved inward) undershells. These shapes facilitate mating and breeding.

Even looking at the shells, it’s extremely difficult to tell the sex of a tortoise until they reach sexual maturity somewhere between 15 and 20 years old.

Your Turn

These are 12 Galapagos Tortoise facts that show just how special these creatures are. If you have more amazing facts, feel free to comment below and let us know!

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