The Galapagos tortoise is the largest tortoise specie living on Earth. Of the 15 original types of giant tortoises living in the Galapagos, only 11 survived as they were hunted for food starting in the 17th century and ending in the 19th century. Merchants, whalers and pirates all contributed to the extensive killing of more than 100,000 tortoises during this time. Fortunately, they now benefit from the protection of the Ecuador government and the Charles Darwin Research Station.
The Galapagos tortoise is the vertebrate with the longest life expectancy average an age passing the 100 mark. The oldest specimen in captivity has reached the respectable age of 172 years old. It currently resides at the Australia Zoo.
The Galapagos tortoise belongs to the Testudinae order, specifically to the Geochelone nigra specie. This specie is native to the Galapagos Islands.
This reptile has a large shell, which shape differs according to their habitat and their location (a different island, a different shape). There are three types of shells that you can observe: saddleback, intermediate and domed.
A domed shaped shell tortoise has a shorter neck and shorter limbs, explained by its habitat. It lives in humid highlands exceeding 800 m in altitude where there is plenty of food to graze for this herbivore. On the other hand, the saddleback tortoise has a longer neck and limbs lives in a natural habitat located in lands lower than 500 m in altitude. The food supply of this type of tortoise is more limited as vegetation is not as plentiful.
Belonging to the giant tortoises' family, the Galapagos tortoise reach impressive dimensions at full maturity. This vertebrate can reach an average size of 6 feet in length and 500 lbs in weight. Males are known to be larger than females. A male's weight can vary between 600 and 700 lb (272-317 kg) while a female's size can reach approximately 300-400 lb (136-181 kg).
The diet of this reptile is mainly composed of: berries, cactus, grass, leaves and lichen. Dew and sap are the main ingredients responsible for quenching this tortoise's thirst. In fact, the low metabolism of this reptile explains the fact that it can go without food and water for as long as 18 months and can sleep up to 16 hours a day.
The female Galapagos tortoise travels to the nesting area from July to November, on the coast. Once there, she will dig a hole as deep as 12 inches (30 cm). Then it will lay up to 16 spherical hard-shelled eggs, the size of billiard balls, in that hole. It will then cover it with a mix of soil and urine and tap it down until it is hard and protects well the eggs. A group of eggs is called a clutch, and a female can lay between 1 and 4 clutches in one season. From December to April represents the birthing season. After an incubation of 4 to 8 months, the young will come out of the nest.
Among the Galapagos tortoise's predators are: the Galapagos hawk, the buzzard, cats, dogs, feral pigs and black rats. Some hazards also responsible for the death of these tortoises are: falling into cracks, being hit by falling rocks and stress caused by excessive heat. Of course, human interference has also been responsible for the depletion of the Galapagos tortoise, which is now considered to be vulnerable.
Let's help protect these gentle giants from extinction!
Here are some resources linked to the Galapagos tortoise.