RESEARCH: Why does the Giant Tortoise live for a century or more?

Why does the Giant Tortoise have a long life span? 

Why does the Giant Tortoise, particularly the Galapagos Island Giant Tortoise, a land tortoise, live for a century – a 100 years – or more? 

An individual Pinta Island Giant Tortoise (Chelonoidis abingdonii), called Lonesome George, died in 2012, at the age of 100 or more. Scientists used his body for research to determine why he lived so long.

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Fallacy: Tortoises will come out of their shell if they are frightened

Tortoises and turtles will come out of their shell if frightened. This is not true. This is a fallacy.

Actually, the reverse is true. Tortoises pull their head and feet into their shell so that predators cannot harm or eat them. They are too slow to run away, so hiding in their shell is their way of protecting themselves.

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Leopard Tortoise

The Leopard Tortoise (Geochelone pardalis) is a high-domed land reptile from Africa. It is a chelonian (all turtles, terrapins and tortoises are chelonians).

The Leopard Tortoise has a high-domed carapace (shell) with nearly vertical sides and a V-shaped notch at the front of its shell. It has a background yellow or yellow-brown colour with dark brown or black spots in a leopard-like pattern. Its head, legs, and tail are yellow-brown.

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Bell’s Hinge-Back Tortoise

The Bell’s Hinge-Back Tortoise (Kinixys belliana)is a reptile – it is medium-sized African chelonian.

The Bell’s Tortoise is a light brown colour. It has a hinge on the back of its top shell (carapace). It has a 90-degree hinge, which protects its back legs and tail. The hinge is a broad band of flexible connective tissue. The shell is slightly domed and elongated. It has five claws on each front foot.

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African Helmeted Terrapin

The African Helmeted Terrapin (Pelomedusa subrufa) is also known as the Marsh Terrapin, the Crocodile Terrapin, or the African Side-Necked Terrapin. It is a semi-aquatic reptile from Africa, like tortoises and turtles – a chelonian.

The African Helmeted Terrapin looks like a helmet. Instead of its neck sticking in and out, it has a side-necked position where it places its head sideways in its shell. It black or brown shell (carapace) is slightly domed. Its tail and legs are grey-brown, and its underbelly is yellowish. The male has a long thick tail. The female has a shorter tail.

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Pancake Tortoise

The Pancake Tortoise (Malacochersus tornieri) is a flat-shelled tortoise from southern Kenya and northern Tanzania in east Africa. It is a reptile – a chelonian.

The Pancake Tortoise has a brown carapace (upper shell) with geometric patterns and a pale-yellow plastron (lower shell). The top shell is not domed like other tortoises. It is flat, thin, and flexible. Its head, legs, and tail are brown.

It is a fast mover – faster than the larger, domed tortoises. It is a good climber, and can climb over rocky ground. For protection against predators, it hides in crevices and gaps in rocky areas.

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Chelonians – hidden neck or side neck?

Tortoises and turtles are called Chelonia.

In the order Testudines (tortoise-like or turtle-like), there are two suborders: Cryptodira (hidden neck) and Pleurodira (side neck).

Cryptodira means that the chelonians pull their neck right into their shell—most chelonians are in this category. Their necks go in and out.

Pleurodira means that the chelonians tuck their neck sideways under their shell.

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How can you tell a male from a female tortoise?

A tortoise is a land reptile with an exoskeleton, which is a hard shell.

In fact, there is a hard shell on the top (called a carapace) and a hard shell underneath (called a plastron).

How can you tell a male tortoise from a female tortoise? One way to tell the difference between a male and a female tortoise is to turn it around and look at the plastron – the underbelly shell.

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Tortoises and Turtles: Flat shell or domed shell?

What is the difference between flat-shelled or dome-shelled tortoises and turtles?

The tortoise has a domed shell. The tortoise lives on land. The domed shell is heavy and acts like a shield or armour to protect them from predators.

The turtle has a flat shell. The turtle lives in water. Flat shells are lighter and better for swimming in water.

The terrapin has a flat shell. The terrapin lives partly on land and partly in the water.

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