How Long do Tortoises Live?

Table of Contents

Tortoises are reptiles. They live on land. They have four stocky legs, and their body is protected by a hard shell or carapace. The shell is used for protection against predators. Tortoises can retract their head and legs inside their shells.

 

They are the longest-living land animals in the world. But how long do tortoises live? It all depends on the species. Most live between 80 and 100 years old. But others have been recorded as much older than that.

Galapagos giant tortoises are some of the oldest animals in the world
Galapagos giant tortoises are some of the oldest animals in the world. Credit: Matthew Field/Wikimedia Commons

There are many different species of tortoise. They live all around the world, from North and South America to Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Pacific Islands. Some live in desert habitats and others in wet evergreen forests.

 

Some tortoises are tiny, only a few inches long, whereas others are huge. The smallest species of tortoise is the speckled tortoise, which lives in South Africa and only grows to 10 cm (3.9 in.) in shell length. The giant tortoises, such as those found in Seychelles and the Galapagos, can grow up to 5 feet long (1.5 m) and weigh more than 900 pounds.

How old is the oldest known tortoise?

An Aldabra giant tortoise named Adwaita was thought to be 255 years old. It is believed he was born in Seychelles in 1750 and was taken to a zoo in India in 1875 where he lived until his death in 2006.

 

Another giant tortoise named Harriet was made famous by her collector. His name was Charles Darwin, the British naturalist who came up with the theory of evolution. She was born on the Galapagos Islands and was taken to England by Darwin, and then later to Australia. She died at 175 years old in Australia Zoo under the care of Steve and Terry Irwin. DNA  analysis was used to determine her age.

 

Jonathan is currently the oldest living tortoise known on the planet. He lives in Seychelles and is 190 years old.

Photo of Jonathan, the oldest living tortoise, taken in 1900. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Why do tortoises live for so long?

It is believed that tortoises live so long because they have a very slow metabolism. This means that they burn energy at a slower rate than other animals. It also means that their cells are less likely to become damaged.

 

Tortoises also have a slower breathing rate—about four breaths per minute—and a slower heart rate—about 25 beats per minute. It has been observed that lower breathing rate and heart rate can increase life expectancy. This effect is in direct relation to metabolism, as when these muscular organs have a slow work rate, they use less energy and can be powered by a slower metabolism.

 

Tortoises, like all reptiles, are cold-blooded. This means that they use the environment, like the sun, to warm up their bodies. Mammals, like us, are warm-blooded. This means that we use a lot of energy to keep our bodies warm without relying on the environment. Because of this difference, warm-blooded animals usually have a faster metabolic rate  than cold-blooded animals.

 

Another theory put forward by scientists is that animals with some form of protection, like a shell, venom, or poison, live longer than those without. The researchers suggested that protecting themselves from predation meant that they lived longer and were able to age at a slower rate.

 

As we humans won’t ever be able to grow a shell, maybe the answer to a long life is to slow down our metabolism and live life a little more slowly!

Check out this video of Jonathan, aged 190 years old!

Flesch Kincaid Grade Level: 6.8

 

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Glossary

DNA: Deoxyribonucleic acid, which codes for all genes or traits that are passed on to the next generation

 

Metabolism: chemical reactions inside our bodies that keep us alive, including the breakdown of food and water to be used by the body.

 

Metabolic rate: the speed at which metabolism works in order to produce energy.

 

Cells: the smallest unit of a body that can live on its own; the units that make up all cells and organs in the body.

 

Wikipedia (2023) Tortoise. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tortoise Accessed on 12th February 2023

 

Wikipedia (2023) Aldabra Giant Tortoise. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aldabra_giant_tortoise Accessed on 13th February 2023

 

Wikipedia (2023) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gal%C3%A1pagos_tortoise Accessed on 13th February 2023

 

Rogers, P. (2022) Big Think Why do tortoises live so long? It’s the shell. https://bigthink.com/life/tortoise-aging-shell/ Accessed on 13th February 2023

Contributors

  • Kate Lewis, Ph.D.
    I studied for my BSc Zoology degree in Swansea University, UK in 2009 and competed my PhD in Agriculture in 2014 at Aberystwyth University, UK. I'm passionate about science, in particular zoology. I've worked in research for over 10 years. This work is usually broad and extensive. It has involved finding solutions to problems associated with farming, antibiotic resistance, animal and human nutrition, and reducing the impact of agriculture on climate change. I have had the pleasure of working both in the UK and overseas. My most enjoyable project to date, has been working along the African Rift Valley. I love talking about these topics and trying to convey my enthusiasm for them through scientific writing. Writing for Smore Magazine allows me to do that.

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