- A-Z Animals
Tortoises are any of the slow-moving, terrestrial, reptile species belonging to the family Testudinidae. Although a tortoise has a protective outer shell similar to that of a turtle, it can be differentiated from turtle species by being land-dwelling. Turtles, on the other hand, are Testudines that are either aquatic or semi-aquatic. Tortoises are the oldest living terrestrial animals in the world, with some species having a life expectancy of more than 150 years.
Approximately 49 different species of tortoises are categorized under 18 extant genera. Some of the most commonly found tortoise species are listed below:
Size: Their length varies depending on the tortoise species, with the smallest species being the speckled padloper, having a shell length of 2.4-3.1 inches while the largest is the Aldabra giant tortoise and Galapagos tortoise, both with an average shell length of 36-48 inches.
Weight: The smallest species of tortoise, the speckled padloper, weighs about 95-160 g while the largest, Aldabra giant tortoise weighs about 150-250 kg.
Body: It has a small- to large-sized body characterized by cylindrical hind feet and hind limbs, with each digit in its feet having two or lesser number of phalanges. Its front legs are flat and have large scales while the back legs resemble that of an elephant.
Shell: Its carapace or shell is high-domed, but some species have spherical shells with a flat base.
Sexual Dimorphism: The differences between females and males vary from one species to another. Male tortoises, in some species, have a longer neck plate than the females and the plastron (the underside) is bent inwards. In general, the females have smaller, dropped down tails while the males have longer tails that are pulled up to the side.
Tortoises are distributed across Southern North America, Southern South America, the Mediterranean basin, in sub-Saharan Africa, Madagascar, Eurasia, Southeast Asia, and various Pacific islands.
Tortoise species are typically found inhabiting various types of natural environments, including arid grasslands, deserts, wet evergreen forests, scrublands, and places at sea level or mountainous regions.
Tortoises are possibly the longest-living land dwellers in the world, but the longest-living species is a topic of debate. While most tortoise species usually survive for 80-150 years, Galapagos tortoises are known to live for more than 150 years. Adwaita, an Aldabra giant tortoise, is believed to have died at an age of 255 years.
Most tortoise species are herbivores and they typically feed on weeds, grasses, flowers, leafy greens, and a few fruits. Some species may eat insects, worms, and carrion. Pet tortoises are usually given fresh vegetables, including dandelions, collard greens, and kale; some fruits such as grapes, melon, and apples, and a small amount of alfalfa and timothy hay.
Wild tortoises typically attain sexual maturity at 15-20 years of age. Female tortoises are ready to mate when the length of their shell reaches about 7-8 inches. Courtship and mating can occur any time that they are not hibernating. It involves the male bobbing its head and nipping at the front edges of the shell and the front legs of a female. It causes the female to stop and retract its head and limbs, after which the male moves to the rear and mounts.
The female usually lays a clutch of 4-8 eggs from early May-middle of July. It may lay two clutches several weeks apart and incubate the eggs for about 90-160 days. Before laying the eggs, the female tortoise digs a shoe-shaped nest about 4 inches deep. After laying a clutch of eggs, the female covers them with soil using its hind legs. It soon leaves her eggs and moves away from the nest without showing any interest in the hatchlings.
There are some critically endangered tortoise species including the Angonoka or Ploughshare tortoise, Indian star tortoise, and Burmese star tortoise that are threatened by poaching for the pet trade. Several organizations and conservation groups, including the Global Wildlife Conservation, Turtle Conservancy, and IUCN, work together to protect the habitat of endangered tortoises, as well as monitor illegal trade to combat poaching.
Tortoises are land-dwelling reptiles and cannot swim. They will simply drown when kept in deep water.
Tortoises, specifically the giant tortoises, have slow metabolism implying that they burn energy at a much slower rate as compared to the faster animals. Slow metabolism means less energy is burnt, which is why less damage is caused to their cells.
Jonathan, a Seychelles giant tortoise, is the oldest living tortoise in the world with an estimated age of 188 years.
Tortoises have an eardrum (hidden under the scales) located on the side of their head or neck. However, tortoises do not have the ability to hear much. They can hear and respond to only a few sound frequencies made by dueling adults, hatching eggs, or the mating process.
Yes, reptiles including tortoises and turtles carry salmonella bacteria that can be transmitted to people.
No, turtles and tortoises completely lack teeth. They do, however, have strong beaks.