Fun Tortoise Facts For Kids

Moumita Dutta
Oct 26, 2022 By Moumita Dutta
Originally Published on Aug 05, 2021
Edited by Jacob Fitzbright
Fact-checked by Abdulqudus Mojeed
Kids will love to read tortoise facts

If you have heard Aesop's classic fable about the tortoise and the hare, you will know that the tortoise is known for its extremely slow-paced walking. But, did you know that there are many more interesting facts about these amazing reptiles with a dome-shaped shell?

Found in diverse habitats around the world, tortoises are often confused with very similar-looking turtles. While both have shells, the most significant difference between them is that, unlike turtles, tortoises are exclusively terrestrial animals. Further, tortoises are complete vegetarians, unlike their omnivorous turtle cousins.

With about 49 species scattered in different regions and habitats, tortoises are presently the land animals in the world with the longest lifespan. With some as small as the speckled tortoise of South Africa to the giant tortoises such as the Galapagos tortoises and Aldabra tortoises, these reptiles with shells come in different shapes and sizes.

Some well-known species of tortoises include the sulcata tortoises (Centrochelys sulcata), Mediterranean spur-thighed tortoises (Testudo graeca), gopher tortoises (Gopherus Polyphemus), leopard tortoises (Stigmochelys pardalis), and the Russian tortoises (Testudo horsfieldii).

Read on for more engaging facts and trivia about the tortoise!

If you like reading about tortoises, you may also enjoy reading interesting facts on the Galapagos tortoise and the desert tortoise.

Tortoise Interesting Facts

What type of animal are tortoises?

Tortoises are terrestrial reptiles belonging to the family Testudinidae.

What class of animal do tortoises belong to?

Tortoises belong to class reptilia, that is, they are reptiles.

How many tortoises are there in the world?

There is no exact figure regarding the number of tortoises in the world. However, many among the 49 species of these animals are either endangered or their numbers are fast decreasing due to habitat loss and poaching.

Where do tortoises live?

Tortoises live in a wide range of habitats, right from sea level to the mountains. Their habitats include deserts, scrublands, wet tropical forests, and arid grasslands.

What is a tortoise's habitat?

Except for Australasia and Antarctica, tortoises are found in parts of North America, South America, Europe, Asia, around the Mediterranean basin, Madagascar, sub-Saharan Africa, the Aldabra Atoll, and on some islands in the Pacific Ocean (Galapagos).

Different types of tortoises occupy different habitats that range from deserts to wet evergreen forests.

Mostly, a part of the day of tortoises is spent foraging for food, and the nights are spent in burrows. However, since tortoises are more suited to warmer climates, they may hibernate in their burrows in winter.

While some tortoise species such as the desert tortoise may spend most parts of the year in burrows, others such as the Galapagos giant tortoise may regularly move away from their homes to swim or in search of food.

Who do tortoises live with?

Tortoises in the wild are known to be solitary animals and spend most of their lives alone, even the very young ones. But they do come together to breed.

Talking about pet tortoises, two male tortoises cannot live together because they usually fight, two female tortoises may probably not get along, and keeping a male and a female together will result in an overwhelming number of offspring.

How long do tortoises live?

Tortoises are the longest-living reptile species inhabiting the land. The lifespan of tortoises varies with the species but most of them live for around 80 to 150 years. For instance, the giant Galapagos tortoise species is known to live for a good 150 years!

How do they reproduce?

Except when they are hibernating, mating can take place anytime for tortoises. Breeding rituals may be different with different tortoise species but usually involve the males following the females, the males biting the females, or characteristic head bobbing by the males.

The males bite the front edges of the shell or the front legs of the females that cause the latter to retract her head and limbs into the shell. This is followed by the males mounting the females from the rear and copulating.

Tortoises are oviparous, that is, they lay eggs. A female tortoise may typically lay one or two eggs and, depending on the species, the eggs may have an incubation period between 60 and 120 days.

However, the eggs are left unattended by the parents and the hatchlings break out of the eggs and are left to survive on their own.

What is their conservation status?

Even though many species of this reptile are not extinct, several are included in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List due to poaching, illegal trade for pet tortoises, water contamination, and habitat destruction.

For instance, the plowshare tortoise, pancake tortoise, and radiated tortoise are Critically Endangered, while the African spurred tortoise, and the Volcán Darwin giant tortoise are classified as Endangered.

Others, such as the common tortoise, Travancore tortoise, and Home's hinge-back tortoise are Vulnerable.

Tortoises Fun Facts

What do tortoises look like?

lose up of an African Spurred tortoise

The body of a tortoise is suited for life on land. Like turtles, tortoises have a hard and bony shell with two parts -the upper part is called the carapace and the lower portion is known as the plastron.

The carapace and the plastron together form a hardy skeletal structure made up of bones and cartilage that protects the animals from predators.

The tortoise's shell is covered with scutes, a substance made of keratin. But these terrestrial animals do not shed the scutes of their shell, and just like nails, new scutes arise by the addition of layers of keratin to the base of pre-existing scutes.

Tortoises have unique hind limbs and hind feet that are elephantine (shaped-like elephants' legs). Each digit (toe) on their hind feet and forefeet has two or lesser phalanges (bones that make up the toes). With slight differences among species, the shells of tortoises are usually high-domed or almost spherical with a flat base.

Other than the unique shells and elephantine limbs, tortoises have a distinct head and neck with the head having a box-like shape and a beak. The neck is long and wrinkled with five vertebrae.

The beak is very unlike that of birds and is used by the tortoise for grinding and shredding food. Tortoises do not have an external ear as we do.

Instead, their ears are internal and simply covered by a flap of skin or scale and located above the jaw and behind the eyes.

The eyes of a tortoise are narrow and placed on the side of their head. Both males and females have a tail but the males have longer tails and the females carry a shorter and stouter tail.

How cute are they?

A tortoise with its agreeable face, dome-shaped shell, and non-threatening demeanor looks quite cute and appealing. Its narrow eyes often make it seem like they are squinting.

How do they communicate?

Even though wild tortoises are primarily solitary animals, they do communicate with members of their species through a variety of methods. They use their visual, auditory, tactile, and olfactory senses to communicate during social interactions.

They have color vision, an excellent sense of smell, and are very sensitive if touched. One of the vocal characteristics of a tortoise is that when it is about to take food into its mouth, it may make a deep panting sound or a hiss.

But hissing and deep exhaling can also be an indication of fear. Besides, tortoises also communicate during mating through gestures such as bobbing their head and biting the females.

How big are tortoises?

These reptiles with shells have varying sizes. The largest is the Galapagos giant tortoise and the Aldabra giant tortoise with an average carapace length of 35.43 - 55.12 in (90  - 140cm).

The smallest is the speckled cape tortoise with shells that have an average length of 2.36 - 3.15 in (6 - 8cm). The average length of the largest tortoise species is about half of that of a leatherback turtle.

How fast can tortoises move?

Tortoises are very slow movers with an average walking speed of about 0.12 mph - 0.31 mph (0.2 kph - 0.5 kph).

How much do tortoises weigh?

Weight differs with the species. The Aldabra giant tortoise has an average body mass of 352.42  - 550.66 lb (160 - 250 kg). The smallest of the lot, the speckled cape tortoise adult has an average body mass of 3.35 - 5.64 oz (95 - 160 g).

What are their male and female names of the species?

There are no distinct names for the male and female tortoises.

What would you call a baby tortoise?

A baby tortoise is called a hatchling.

What do they eat?

Tortoises are herbivores and their diet is comprised of plant-based matter such as fruit, flowers, and foliage.

Are they aggressive?

Tortoises are not at all aggressive and are quite approachable. They do not bite.

Would they make a good pet?

With the right care and attention, tortoises make really good pets due to their sheer non-aggressive and friendly nature.

Did you know...

Desert tortoises (Gopherus agassizii) have the status of being the state reptile of the states of Nevada and California.

The cherry head tortoises (Chelonoidis carbonarius) from northern South America are named so due to the characteristic brick red scales around the head and neck region.

Radiated tortoises (Astrochelys radiata) have intricate star-shaped patterns on their carapace (dorsal part of the shell), hence their name.

Tortoises are cold-blooded animals, meaning, their body temperature fluctuates with the changing environmental temperature.

A group of tortoises go by the name 'creep.'

Some of the best pet tortoise breeds are the leopard tortoise, spurthigh tortoise, the Indian star tortoise, and the red-footed tortoise.

Being extremely tolerant to carbon dioxide, tortoises can hold their breath underwater for 45 minutes to an hour.

The price of a pet tortoise depends on its exoticism but may cost you anywhere between $50 - $1,000.

Tortoises are slow-growers and reach only six or seven inches (15.2 to 17.8 cm) in their first year.

Can tortoises swim?

Since tortoises are land-dwelling creatures, they are not adapted to swimming. However, some species can float and drift in water but are poor swimmers.

Why do tortoises live so long?

Tortoises have a very slow rate of metabolism, which means that they burn energy slowly and cause less harm to their body cells over time. Reduced injury to cells implies slower cell death, leading to a longer lifespan.

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 the bog turtle and the giant tortoise.

You can even occupy yourself at home by drawing one on our Galapagos tortoise coloring pages.

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Written by Moumita Dutta

Bachelor of Arts specializing in Journalism and Mass Communication, Postgraduate Diploma in Sports Management

Moumita Dutta picture

Moumita DuttaBachelor of Arts specializing in Journalism and Mass Communication, Postgraduate Diploma in Sports Management

A content writer and editor with a passion for sports, Moumita has honed her skills in producing compelling match reports and stories about sporting heroes. She holds a degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the Indian Institute of Social Welfare and Business Management, Calcutta University, alongside a postgraduate diploma in Sports Management.

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Fact-checked by Abdulqudus Mojeed

Bachelor of Law

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Abdulqudus MojeedBachelor of Law

A versatile professional with a passion for creative writing and technology. Abdulqudus is currently pursuing his Bachelor of Law from the University of Lagos and has experience as a tutor, intern assistant, and volunteer. He possesses strong organizational skills and is a detail-oriented person.

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