Galapagos Tortoise Facts

Galapagos tortoise is the largest tortoise on the planet. This beautiful animal can be found only on the Island of Galapagos. Out of 15 known subspecies of Galapagos tortoises, only 11 are left in the wild. They can survive in different habitats, from dry lowlands to humid highlands. Galapagos tortoises were massively hunted during the 17th, 18th and 19th century by sailors and whale hunters because of their meat. As a result, several subspecies went extinct and number of remaining subspecies decreased drastically. All remaining Galapagos tortoises are listed as endangered

1. Galapagos is named after its tortoises.

The word “Galapagos” comes from the old Spanish word “galapago,” which the original explorers used to mean “saddle” due to the shape of the tortoise’s shells.When the islands were first discovered, people used to ride the saddleback tortoises; however, this is now illegal because it’s very bad for the tortoise.

2. Unlike cartoons, tortoises are stuck in their shells.

Their shell is actually attached to their ribs, so unless you’re into zombie tortoises, they are staying put!

3. The Galapagos tortoise shell is not solid.

Although these animals are very heavy, their shell is not the biggest culprit. The shell is made up of honeycomb shaped air chambers.While this lightens the load significantly, the tortoise’s ability to lift itself is still a sight to behold. I know I’m certainly not as strong as these gentle giants, but I couldn’t lift up that shell.

Some scientists believe that some tortoises may have gotten dumped off of boats near Wolf Volcano by whalers, and gotten to Isabela Island in Galapagos by floating on their backs with their long necks pointed straight up. Good for them; they didn’t become tortoise meat!


4. Galapagos tortoises are ferocious fighters…?

A Galapagos tortoise “fight” is quite a spectacle. The males will glare at each other, open their mouths, raise their heads as high as tortoise-ly possible, and then… that’s it. Highest head wins! The loser will suck his head in and slink away.A much smaller male with a longer neck may end up beating a very large male if he can raise his head high enough. If only men were as smart as tortoises the world would be a much more peaceful (and tall) place.

5. Why do Galapagos tortoises hiss?

The short answer is, they don’t. The impressive hissing noise occurs when they pull their heads back into their shells.They release the air in their lungs so they can have room for their heads, and this is what makes the hissing noise.

6. “Honey, what’s for dinner?”

Galapagos tortoises can go for a whole year without food or water. How do they do it?Their bodies slowly start breaking down their body fat, which produces water as a byproduct, allowing them to survive. How crazy is that!

7. Scales and scoots!

The skirt-like edges (scoots) on the shell of the Galapagos tortoise will wear down as the tortoise gets older, and the scales on the fronts of their legs will do the same.

The young tortoises have scales on their legs to protect their face and neck when they suck themselves into their shells.

8. An adult Galapagos tortoise has no natural predator.

While baby tortoises have lots of threats (see fact #13), the adult Galapagos tortoise has almost nothing to worry about. Which is good, because their protective scales and scoots wear down as they get older.

9. Weird feeding habits of the Galapagos tortoises.

Galapagos tortoises are herbivores and enjoy eating grass, fruit, leaves, flowers, cactus, and prickly pear – a fruit that grows on cactuses.



10. Galapagos tortoises begin their lives in a pee-soaked sand hole.

The mother digs a hole in the sand and promptly proceeds to pee all over it. Thanks a lot MOM. This is done so that the sand won’t collapse on the eggs. She then buries her eggs 12 inches (30 cm) deep, and then covers them with sand.

Galapagos tortoises lay up to 16 eggs. Yikes! I’m glad I don’t have 16 siblings. The eggs are hard-shelled and about as big as tennis balls.

11. Warm sand = more females.

The temperature determines the gender of the hatchlings! If it’s warmer, more females will hatch. Of course, the reverse is true: cooler sand temperature means more males. When I first heard about this, I couldn’t believe it.


12. Baby Galapagos tortoises have to dig their way out of the nest.

This process can take up to a month. To survive, they feed on their yolk sac (which can last up to seven months). Imagine if we had to dig our way out of our… hang on, that’s just getting weird.


13. Galapagos tortoises are vulnerable

These beautiful animals have been classed as “likely to become endangered.” When Charles Darwin visited the islands in 1835 there were 15 different types of giant tortoises in the Galapagos. Now, there are only 11 kinds, and some of these are on the brink of extinction.




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