Fun Galapagos Tortoise Facts For Kids

Martha Martins
Jan 12, 2023 By Martha Martins
Originally Published on Aug 06, 2021
Edited by Monisha Kochhar
Amaze yourselves with these fascinating facts on the Galapagos tortoise
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Age: 3-18
Read time: 8.4 Min

If you are planning on visiting the Galápagos islands, be careful while strolling near large rocks - they might actually be the Galápagos giant tortoises! The Galápagos giant tortoise species complex houses 15 different species under it.

The Galápagos Islands were discovered all the way back in the 16th century, and named after the Spanish word - keep reading to know more about this. But how did this reptile come to these islands?

Well, scientists have to say that individuals of this giant tortoise species migrated all the way from South America about 2-3 million years ago! Quite a long journey, isn’t it?

Unfortunately, the species under this complex are endangered, and many measures are being taken for their conservation. These reptiles come in two different types - those with dome-shaped shells living on humid islands, and the other with ‘saddlebacks'.

Breeding activities of the giant tortoise take place throughout the year. This species has one of the longest lifespans, extending up to more than 100 years.

Amazed with these facts on the Galapagos giant tortoise? You can read more on other reptiles on our pages of the African spurred tortoise and the mata mata turtle!

Galapagos Tortoise Interesting Facts

What type of animal is a Galapagos tortoise?

The Galápagos tortoise is a type of tortoise.

What class of animal does a Galapagos tortoise belong to?

The Galápagos tortoise belongs to the class of reptiles.

How many Galapagos tortoises are there in the world?

About 15,000 individuals of the Galapagos tortoise population survive on the earth today.

Where does a Galapagos tortoise live?

These giant tortoises are found primarily on the Galápagos Islands of Ecuador and are native to seven of these islands.

What is a Galapagos tortoise's habitat?

The Galápagos tortoise habitat is usually around the dry lowlands. However, various islands pose different climatic conditions. They enjoy their time in the water as well as relaxing out in the sun.

As all reptiles are cold-blooded, they prefer enjoying the heat of the sun to warm up their bodies. As the hours get dark, they relax and stay partially under water or mud surfaces. However, if it gets too hot around the Galapagos Islands, they might go up to the cooler highlands.

Who do Galapagos tortoises live with?

These giant tortoises live in small groups.

How long does a Galapagos tortoise live?

Well, well. These reptiles are known to live for about 100 years! The oldest one of this species was said to live for up to 175 years old!

How do they reproduce?

The breeding activity might take place any time in the year, however, it is more frequent between the months of February to June. When the male tortoises are ready to mate, they all meet up, facing each other with dominance flashing in their eyes.

They stretch their necks out and stand tall on their feet, trying to be the alphas of the group. There may be instances where they might resort to head-biting, however, the shorter one would accept defeat and back off.

The alpha male Galápagos tortoise would forcibly nip his female’s legs and aggressively mate with her. In the months between July to November, the female tortoises would travel large distances for nesting in the dry coasts.

The entire process of digging the nest might take a lot of time, within the range of a few hours to many days. This nest is about a 1 ft (30 cm) deep hole, in the shape of a cylinder.

In this nest, about 16 eggs are laid, about the size of golf balls.

The average clutch size varies for various species of these Galápagos tortoises. The female tortoise does not actually perform incubation duties - they create a muddy plug with their urine mixed with soil, and seal their nests with it and leave it all to the sun rays for incubation.

Throughout the breeding season, the female tortoise may lay one to four clutches of tortoise eggs. Here’s one surprising fact for you - the gender of the hatchlings is actually dependent on the temperature! Nests having lower temperatures produce male young tortoises, whereas those having higher temperatures produce female young tortoises!

The young tortoises come out of the nests four to eight months after being laid. As they’re dug in the soil, they must dig through the soil to come up on the surface.

This might take some weeks, but the yolk sac is sufficient to help them survive down there, and they can live for a while without eating.

If the environmental conditions are too dry, the hatchling might not survive and they might get stuck within the hard soil. In case the water levels are too high, these nests can get flooded, and the young tortoises would drown

These tortoises mature at the age of about 20-25 years when kept in captivity, and about 40 years in their habitat.

What is their conservation status?

In general, the Galápagos tortoise population is Vulnerable.

Galapagos Tortoise Fun Facts

What do Galapagos tortoises look like?

These tortoises are named ‘Giant tortoises’ because they are the largest of all the tortoises in the world!

The tortoises of the Galapagos Islands have large bony shells. These shells are usually of a dull gray hue, but sometimes they might be in shades of brown as well. The shell has plates that are fused together in a protective rigid cover with ribs.

These tortoises have specific scute patterns on their shells, which are carried out throughout their lives. These shells also act as a protection for the tortoises - they can withdraw their forelimbs, head as well as neck in the shell in case of threats.

Their legs are stumpy and large. These legs have hard scales and dry skin. The forelimbs have five claws each, while the hind limbs have four claws on each limb.

If you observe the Galapagos giant tortoises carefully, you can make out that there are two distinct shell forms on these tortoises. These shells correlated with the geography of the place they are living, as well as the biology of these species.

One is the ‘saddleback’ shells, while the other is a ‘domed’ shell found mainly in the larger islands. If you notice the saddleback tortoise, you can spot a large gap over the neck, when it withdraws its forelimbs and heads back inside the shell.

The domed shelled tortoises are considerably larger and have shorter limbs and necks.

Also, when distinguishing between all the male and female tortoises, the females have a wider and elongated carapace shape in comparison to the males. The carapace is the upper portion of the tortoiseshell whereas the plastron is the lower half.

The Galapagos giant tortoise is the largest of all living tortoise species in the world.

How cute are they?

Some might find them cute, but others might find their large size and wrinkly skin unappealing.

How do they communicate?

There are numerous ways in which tortoises can communicate! They are known to convey messages through sounds, visually, or even by touch.

If the male tortoise is interested in a mate, he would stick out his neck and bob his head, while staring at his female mate. Some tortoises might even ‘boop’ their noses to express a good relationship with the others. If tortoises raise their shells high, they are trying to establish dominance. Apart from these, they make loud grunts.

How big is a Galapagos tortoise?

These giant tortoises of the Ecuadorian islands can grow up to a body length of 6.1 ft (1.86 m)! This makes them almost six times the size of radiated tortoises.

How fast can a Galapagos tortoise move?

These Giant tortoises of the Galapagos Islands can move at a speed of 0.162 mph (0.26 kph).

How much does a Galapagos tortoise weigh?

The Galápagos tortoises can become so big, they can up to 700 lb (317.5 kg)!

What are the male and female names of the species?

No distinct names have been labeled for the female and male individuals of this species.

What would you call a baby Galapagos tortoise?

Once the little tortoise hatches open from the eggs, they are called hatchlings.

What do they eat?

These reptiles have really slow metabolisms. When it comes to food, the Galápagos tortoises are primarily herbivores.

Their diet contains a lot of plant matter. They feed on cacti, oranges, leaves, grasses, lichens, melons, and even berries! Researchers have also found out that this giant tortoise eats poison apples, water fern, Galápagos tomatoes, and even airplants (of genus Tillandsia) for food.

This giant tortoise of the Galápagos islands can go for long periods without drinking water, even more than six months, by entirely surviving on the moisture content in dew and vegetative sap (mainly in cacti).

They can even survive without food or water for up to an entire year - their body fat is broken down and the water produced as a byproduct is used up by the body.

They gulp down large sips of water quickly, and this is stored in their bladders and pericardium. This might surprise you, but tortoises do not have teeth!

The strong edges of their mouth are used to munch down and mash the food! After it is properly mashed, the food is swallowed down. Their vision is the main sense to find food, as they cannot smell, and they are generally attracted to anything of a bright red hue!

Are they poisonous?

No, this tortoise of the Galápagos islands is not poisonous at all!

Would they make a good pet?

Galápagos tortoises are pretty gigantic! We absolutely would not recommend keeping them as pets!

Did you know...

The Galapagos giant tortoise is really aggressive.

The assured conservation efforts of the giant tortoise began when all uninhabited regions of the Galápagos were declared as a national park.

The differences in the shell shapes of the Giant tortoise are thought to be effective Galapagos tortoise adaptations, helping them evolve according to their habitats.

In the earlier days, one of the main native predators of this species was the Galapagos Hawk. However, in recent times, rats, dogs, feral pigs, and even cats are known to prey on the tortoise eggs and hatchlings.

Galápago is actually a Spanish word, which translates to ‘tortoise’.

Are Galapagos Tortoises extinct?

The Galápagos giant tortoise complex comprises 15 different species. Of these, two to three species have become extinct, while the remaining have been labeled as extant.

What is the biggest tortoise?

The world’s biggest tortoise is Esmeralda! Esmeralda is the largest and heaviest tortoise that is freely roaming. He has a bodyweight of about 670 lb (304 kg), and is said to be about a 170-year-old tortoise! Esmeralda belongs to the Aldabra giant tortoise species.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other reptiles including snapping turtle facts and desert tortoise facts pages.

You can even occupy yourself at home by coloring in one of our free printable Galapagos tortoise coloring pages.

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Written by Martha Martins

Bachelor of Arts specializing in Linguistics

Martha Martins picture

Martha MartinsBachelor of Arts specializing in Linguistics

Martha is a full-time creative writer, content strategist, and aspiring screenwriter who communicates complex thoughts and ideas effectively. She has completed her Bachelor's in Linguistics from Nasarawa State University. As an enthusiast of public relations and communication, Martha is well-prepared to substantially impact your organization as your next content writer and strategist. Her dedication to her craft and commitment to delivering high-quality work enables her to create compelling content that resonates with audiences.

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