Galapagos Giant Tortoises

Photos and article by Lucy Schroeder

The Galapagos Islands are home to a number of fascinating and rare animals. It is also where Charles Darwin formed his theory of evolution. One of the animals in Galapagos that inspired Darwin’s theory of evolution was the Giant Tortoise. Scientists have found that the tortoises on different islands are actually different species of Giant Tortoises. Some species of Giant Tortoises have shells with a curved neck hole called saddle-backed so they can stretch their long neck up to reach food up high. Others have a flatter shell called domed and eat the food closer to the ground. These differences allow the tortoise species to live in different kinds of environments. Scientists call these kinds of special characteristics adaptations.

Galapagos Giant Tortoises truly are giants. Some of these tortoises can grow up to 6 feet long and weigh over 500 pounds. That is about the same weight as 3 full grown adult humans! Male tortoises are bigger overall than female tortoises. They also have a longer, curved tail. Even though these tortoises are so big, they are very shy. If a tortoise feels threatened, it will quickly pull its head into its shell.

Giant Tortoises can live for a very long time—over 100 years! They are herbivores, which means that they eat only plants, such as leaves, fruits, flowers, and stems. One of their favorite snacks in the Galapagos is the prickly pear cactus. Tortoises are part of the reptile family, which means that they are cold-blooded so they rely on the outside temperature to heat and cool their bodies. To escape the scorching sun of the Galapagos, Giant Tortoises will wallow in freshwater mud pits.

The Galapagos Giant Tortoises are classified as a vulnerable species. They face threats from invasive species such as dogs, cats, rats, and wild goats that eat their food and their young. To combat the decrease in tortoise numbers, breeding centers have been created where conservation workers care for and protect the baby tortoises until they are old enough to be safely released into the wild.

The Giant Tortoise is a special and famous creature of the Galapagos Islands. The islands are even named after the Spanish word for saddle, galapego, which is what Spanish sailors used to call the Giant Tortoises. 

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