Galapagos, Part 5: Dinosaurs with shells

I’ve had a request for a post on the Giant Tortoises of the Galapagos. Linda, this one’s for you!

Galapagos actually means tortoises so these big fellows are responsible for the very name of the islands they live on. And they are indeed big, weighing in at up to about 880 lbs. with shells nearly 6 feet in length. They often live over 100 years. To me, they looked liked dinosaurs with shells.

Doesn’t he remind you of a brontosaurus?

The Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz has a very successful breeding program which has repopulated most of the islands with the seven surviving subspecies of tortoises.  Here are some of the young ‘uns waiting to be released into the wild.

The Galapagos tortoises nearly went extinct because us humans took advantage of their lack of fear and their slow speeds to use them for food supplies on ships. The tortoises could live a year without food or water so they remained fresh and ready to eat. Not a pretty thought about how we treat our fellow creatures.

The breeding programs have been very successful, except for poor Lonesome George, the last of his subspecies.

He looks very sad, doesn’t he?  However, the truth is that he now shares his pen with four lusty females whose DNA is very similar to his, so they are hoping he will pass it along to some offspring soon.  Of course, he will still be the last pure-blood of his kind.

You will probably be able to figure out what this fellow is up to.

We could hear him long before he saw him.  Evidently, tortoises are almost entirely mute except for when they mate.  Then the male is quite vocal, emitting loud grunting noises. The sound of the two shells pounding together is pretty impressive too.

Aside from the Charles Darwin Research Station, the giant tortoises wander about in the wild.  Here’s one fellow just hanging out in a meadow with an admiring audience.

I was quite surprised to discover that they graze just like a horse or cow, ripping up the grass with their mouths.

We came upon this big guy in the woods.

When all that bulk moves through the trees, it sounds like a bit like an elephant as branches crack and bushes get crushed beneath the tortoise’s great weight.

Their shells come in all sorts of different shapes, although the two major divisions are saddleback and domed.  However, there are many variations in between. Here are a few samples.

Finally, here’s my favorite tort, giving me the evil eye.

Not cute and cuddly like the sea lions, but quite impressive for their sheer mass.

No comments yet to Galapagos, Part 5: Dinosaurs with shells

  • Thanks Nancy. What fun! I hope I get there someday. I loved reading your descriptions and reactions, and I was happy to see that the more times I clicked on the pictures, the bigger they got. It was great to get “up close and personal” with these ancient creatures.

    Really, they are dinosaurs in shells, as their species can be traced back to 6-12 million years ago! Anyone who is interested should read the Evolutionary History portion of the the Wikipedia page.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gal%C3%A1pagos_tortoise

  • Linda, I’m so glad you enjoyed the pix. I was quite fascinated by their extraordinary eyes myself.

    Wow, I didn’t realize they are such an old species; I just thought they LOOKED ancient and a little scary at times. Not that I felt threatened–even I am faster than a giant tortoise. However, I felt as though they considered me pretty insignificant in their world.

  • I have a little mini-series called Turtle Tidbits on my own blog. The series is meant to call attention to interesting things about turtles in the news. I try to add a couple of links that will amplify the information in the original item, which is often just a picture with a short caption. Anyway, your blog post is now “Turtle Tidbit #5.”
    http://truffles-turtles-tunes.blogspot.com/2011/08/galapagos-tortoises.html

  • Linda, I’m honored to be a Turtle Tidbit!

  • DeeDee

    I would love some day to be able to travel to the Galapago’s Island to see these amazing creatures. I truly love my Tortoise Family and would never have guessed how much my shelled family would mean to me. It is a real joy to read your story and see the pictures of these beautiful Tortoises!

  • Joseph Dodge

    When anyone asks me,what is my dream vacation,The Galapagos Islands,Ialways say.When asked why there! I say I want to live with the Tortoises! Well the looks I get are ???!!!.You just have to feel it.

  • Princess Jay Perez

    I never knew about these creatures until yesterday and when I started reading and researching about them I thought that they were super interesting so I just had to learn some more! Its so cool how they live and especially how big they are I mean woah! They’re huge! 🙂

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