DIET: Herbivore

STATUS IN THE WILD: Critically Endangered

RANGE: Galapagos Islands


Galapagos tortoises are the largest tortoises in the world, reaching up to five hundred pounds and five feet long. They have a large, dull gray or brown, dome-shaped, bony shell fused to their ribs. They can pull their legs, head and neck into the shell if needed for protection. Their large column-like feet have thick, roughly scaled skin. Both front feet have five claws, while both back feet have four.

While the shells of Galapagos tortoises may change as they grow, they keep one characteristic throughout their life, which is their scute or segmented pattern. Though they acquire rings on their shells annually, this cannot be used to age tortoises as most outer rings are often worn off over time. These tortoises can live one hundred years or more.


Galapagos tortoises are most active in early morning hours and late afternoons. Typically they bask for one to two hours before setting out to forage. They have a mutualistic relationship with some Galapagos finches and mockingbirds. The finches will hop dramatically in front of the tortoises until the tortoises signal to the birds by rising up and stretching out its neck and legs. This movement exposes all the crevices and areas usually inaccessible, so the birds can then reach them. The birds benefit by getting food, and the tortoises can get rid of any parasites.

Mating between Galapagos tortoises can occur any time of the year but most it frequently happens between February and June during the rainy seasons. Mating can be very aggressive. Males nip at a female’s feet and ram her shell before mounting her. This can be awkward because he has to stretch to maintain his balance while mounting the female’s shell. During July to November, females travel to the sandy coasts. Females can lay up to sixteen eggs that range in size from eighty-two to one hundred fifty-seven grams and can lay up to four clutches of eggs per season.


These tortoises are found in the Galapagos Islands.


They live in the volcanic lowlands and shrub land of the Galapagos Islands.


Galapagos tortoises eat cacti, grasses, berries, oranges, lichens, melons, leaves, milkweed, and other vegetation.