How long do they live? They live well over 100 years and show no signs of aging [1].  One captive tortoise lived to be 170 years old.

Where are they found at? The Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean. See Figure 1. They are also found in a lot of zoos just in case you can’t make it to the Galapagos Islands.

galapagosmap
Figure 1. Where you can find adorable tortoises roaming freely.

What do they eat? They are herbivores and eat vegetation (in other words, they’re vegans).

What do they look like? Like the most adorable thing on the planet. See Figures 2 and 3.

galapagos_giant_tortoise_geochelone_elephantopus
Figure 2. Galapagos tortoise.
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Figure 3. Look at that face.

How do scientists know how old they are? They must know the date of hatching since growth rings are not all that reliable [2]. Bear in mind they live a lot longer than we do and they do not display the typical signs of aging, which makes it extremely hard to guesstimate ages of these organisms. Perhaps amino acid racemization could help out here [3]? Or methylation patterns?

How do they reproduce? I’m just going to assume that it’s really slow. The Galapagos tortoise reaches sexual maturity between 20 to 25 years old. Fertilization is internal and eggs are buried in the sand where they will remain until they hatch 3 to 8 months later depending on the temperature of the environment [4].

So what are we lacking? A good start would be definitive age data. Some telomere research would be interesting since cells cultivated from young tortoises outlived human cell cultures [5]. There’s no information regarding the genome of Geochelone nigra uploaded to NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information), which I find odd because a few papers actually reference genomic data from the Galapagos tortoise. I could not find any information regarding reproductive senescence in this species.

Conservation status: Endangered and highly protected. If you really want to bum yourself out, Google how this gentle and defenseless giant became almost extinct. Hint: We’re kind of awful and we eat everything.

Please contact me if you any information about how these creatures avoid the sands of time. Also, any information about their genome would be greatly appreciated, I know it’s out there somewhere, but Google will not easily give up that information to me.

  1. Nigrelli, Ross F. “SECTION OF BIOLOGY*: SOME LONGEVITY RECORDS OF VERTEBRATES.” Transactions of the New York Academy of Sciences16.6 Series II (1954): 296-299.
  2. Determining the Age and Sex of Your Desert Tortoise. The Tortoise Group. https://tortoisegroup.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/sex-and-age-of-tortoise-infosheet02.pdf Accessed 2016/9/9.
  3. Today’s Chemiset at Work. Amino Acid Racemization. American Chemical Society. http://pubs.acs.org/subscribe/archive/tcaw/10/i02/html/02brignole.html. Accessed 2016/9/9.
  4. Galapagos Tortoise, Chelonoidis nigra. San Diego Zoo Global. http://library.sandiegozoo.org/factsheets/galapagos_tortoise/tortoise.htm. Accessed 2016/9/9. 
  5. Goldstein, S. “Aging in vitro: Growth of cultured cells from the Galapagos tortoise.” Experimental cell research 83.2 (1974): 297-302.