Tortoises are reptiles that have a large shell on their back for protection. Unlike other turtles, tortoises live almost exclusively on land, While most turtles are aquatic, meaning they live primarily in water. Most tortoises are herbivores, and they live in diverse habitats across the world.
Depending on the specific species, tortoises vary in size. Some tortoises are tiny, with shells less than ten centimeters long. However, other tortoises, such as the Galápagos giant tortoise, can grow over 1.2 meters in length.
Tortoises are generally active in the daytime, known as being diurnal. However, many tortoise species are involved in the twilight but sleep through the night. Tortoises are also highly long-lived and the longest-living land animal in the world. Most tortoise species have a lifespan of about 80-150 years, but some can live for over 200 years.
Tortoises are also very slow-moving due to their slow metabolic rate. The average walking speed of a tortoise is 0.2-0.5 kilometers per hour.
Where do Tortoises live?
Tortoises, including the Mediterranean, North America, South America, Eurasia, Southeast Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and many islands, including Madagascar, can be found worldwide. Tortoises can live in many habitats depending on the species, with some living in forests or rainforests, some living in deserts, and others living in grasslands.
Amazingly, tortoises have been able to migrate to small islands throughout the world; even though they cannot swim, tortoises can survive for a long time without food or water and float on their shells.
This means that tortoises have spread to isolated islands. On the other hand, suppose tortoises have lived on an island for a long time. In that case, they will eventually begin to adapt to their environment across many generations, leading to several varieties specially adapted to eat the plants in their habitat.
What do Tortoises eat?
Most tortoises are herbivores and eat grass, leaves, flowers, and fruits. However, some tortoises are omnivores, and these will eat insects and worms.
Tortoises that had adapted to eat different types of plants contributed to Charles Darwin creating the Theory of Evolution, as he noticed that tortoises that lived on islands with tall plants had adapted longer necks and upward-pointing hoods on their shells to allow them to reach up higher, While tortoises that lived on islands with lots of vegetation on the ground did not have these features.
Are Tortoises an Endangered Species?
Many tortoise species are endangered, including all the varieties of Galápagos giant tortoise. The main reason they are threatened is that they have been hunted by Humans, as tortoises are considered a delicacy in many cultures. In addition, their shells were a valuable trading commodity.
Many zoos worldwide are home to examples of vulnerable or endangered tortoise species. For example, at one point, only 3,000 Galápagos tortoises were left, but thanks to conservation efforts, the number has risen to over 19,000. However, this is still much lower than the 250,000 giant tortoises in the 16th century.
Why do Tortoises have shells?
Tortoises have shells for protection and can withdraw inside their shells to hide from predators. However, unlike other armored species like armadillos, the shell of a tortoise is part of its bone structure; this is why tortoises cannot leave their shells.
Tortoise shells are tough and protect them from predators like hawks. The tortoise’s shell can also protect it from other threats, and the color of the shell of a tortoise determines its species. The shell of a tortoise is also good at absorbing heat from the sun, which tortoises need to survive as they are cold-blooded.
Fun facts about tortoises
- Tortoises have tiny brains
- Tortoises lay eggs, and females will bury their eggs to keep them safe from predators
- A tortoise called Jonathon is currently the longest-living land animal in the world, at 189 years old!
- Tortoises have existed for over 55 million years
- A group of tortoises is called a Creep