20 Interesting Facts About Tortoises

  1. Tortoises are land-dwelling turtles. They are separate from sea turtles, freshwater turtles, and other terrestrial turtles (box turtles and wood turtles).
  2. There are nearly 50 species of tortoises. Galapagos giant tortoises (on Galapagos Islands) and Aldabra giant tortoises (on Aldabra Island) are the largest, having a length of 3.3 feet (1 meter) or more. Padloper tortoises, with a length of 6-8 cm, are the smallest species. The largest mainland tortoise is the African spurred tortoise.
  3. The oldest known living animal on land is Jonathan, a Seychelles giant tortoise. In 2022, its estimated age was at least 190 years. Jonathan is also the oldest tortoise ever, surpassing the former oldest tortoise that lived for 188 years and died in 1965. (Source) (Source)
  4. Like other turtles, the most prominent feature of tortoises is a hard shell encompassing their body. Nearly all tortoise species have domed-shaped shells. The most distinguishing feature of tortoises is their elephantine legs. Both turtles and tortoises lay their eggs on land.
  5. Tortoises cannot walk fast due to their heavy shell and other physical features that hinder fast movement. The fastest recorded speed by a tortoise is 0.28 m/s (1 km/h). (Source)
  6. Tortoises are the only animals with ribs locked into their shell. In this situation, they use a unique abdominal muscular sling to aid breathing. This structure is also present in the earliest known tortoises. (Source)
  7. Unlike other tortoises with hard shells, the African pancake tortoise has a thin and flat shell, which is ineffective against predators. This reptile uses camouflage and flexibility to avoid dangers.
    Three African pancake tortoises in a zoo
    Pancake tortoises have thin and flat shells

  8. Most turtles usually achieve maturity before eight years, but tortoises may take 20 years to reach this stage. Growth rings on tortoises’ shells can indicate their age. However, the reliability of this method decreases with the aging of the animal and with an increase in the length of its shell.
  9. There are some visible differences between male and female tortoises. Male tortoises have longer tails, a curved stomach (compared to a flatter stomach in females), and a V-shaped shell notch (in contrast to female’s U-shaped notch).
  10. New research has proved that tortoises are intelligent with long-term memory. Tortoises are not social animals, but this study in a zoo also shows that these reptiles can learn faster from each other when living together. (Source)
  11. Tortoises cannot swim in oceans like sea turtles. However, they can float for long distances using barnacles on their legs. In 2004, an Aldabra tortoise floated for several weeks or months to reach Tanzania from Seychelles, covering over 450 miles in the Indian Ocean. (Source)
  12. Two Russian tortoises were the first animals to orbit the moon and return to Earth in 1968. These tortoises were occupants of Zond 5, a Soviet spacecraft, which completed its mission successfully in seven days. (Source)
  13. Shell is a part of the tortoise body. Tortoises have Hip and shoulder bones inside the shell, made from keratin. Tortoises can feel any pressure or touch on their shells as they contain nerve endings.
  14. Testudo was a famous Roman military defensive formation to reduce casualties. Tortoises protected by shells inspired the Romans to develop this technique.
  15. Tortoises are present in all continents except Antarctica and Australia. They also inhabit several islands and can thrive in several habitats, from deserts to tropical forests.
  16. In contrast to the omnivorous diet of other turtles, tortoises are generally herbivorous. They usually eat grasses, leaves, vegetables, and algae. However, some species also eat dead animals, worms, and insects.
  17. Many people believe that a tortoise brought by Charles Darwin from Galapagos Island in 1835 died in an Australian zoo owned by Steve Irwin. However, historical records and DNA tests do not prove this claim. (Source)
  18. Some tortoise species hibernate during winter. These include desert tortoises, Russian tortoises, and a few others. Most of these species hibernate for four to six months.
  19. Tortoises usually dig holes up to 30 feet long and 8 feet deep. However, most of these burrows are shallow. The purposes of these holes are to take shelter in extreme weather, protection against predators, hibernation, etc.
  20. A family in Brazil found their pet tortoise alive after remaining locked in a room for over 30 years (1982 to 2013). These red-footed tortoises can survive without food for up to 3 years. Experts believe this omnivorous tortoise survived by eating termites from the wooden floors. (Source)


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