Most tortoises belong to the genus Testudo. Most famous are the giant tortoises of islands in the Indian Ocean (Testudo gigantea) and of the Galapagos islands (T. elephantopus). Galapagos tortoises may reach a length of over 4 ft (120 cm) and weigh over 500 lb (225 kg). There are about a dozen races of the Galapagos tortoise, most of them isolated on separate islands. These tortoises were a major source of meat for sailors in the 17th and 18th cent. and were often slaughtered wantonly. Once so abundant that the islands were named for them (galápago is Spanish for tortoise), they became extinct on some islands and were endangered on most of the others. The tortoises are now protected by law, and scientists from the Charles Darwin Research Station have bred some 2,000 and set free the different subspecies on the islands from which they came.
North American tortoises, genus Gopherus, are burrowing forms with flattened feet and heavy nails. Three of the four species are very similar. The desert tortoise, Gopherus agassizii, inhabits deserts from S Nevada to NW Mexico; the Texas tortoise, G. berlandieri, lives in arid brush country and open woods from S Texas to NE Mexico; the gopher tortoise, G. polyphemus, is found in high, sandy areas of Florida and the U.S. Gulf and Atlantic coasts. The desert and gopher tortoises reach a length of 13 in. (33 cm), while the Texas tortoise is about 81/2 in. (21.6 cm) long. The Mexican tortoise, G. flavomarginatus, is a large species of NW Mexico. It has been much used for food, and the survival of the species is threatened.
Tortoises are extremely long-lived; there are authenticated cases of individuals living over 150 years. They are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Reptilia, order Chelonia, family Testudinidae.
Galapagos tortoise (Geochelone elephantopus).
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There are many old wives tales about the age of turtles and tortoises, one of which being that the age of a tortoise can be deducted by counting the number of concentric rings on its carapace, much like the cross-section of a tree. This is, of course, not true, since the growth of a tortoise depends highly on the access of food and water. A tortoise that has access to plenty of forage (or is regularly fed by its owner) will grow faster than a Desert Tortoise that goes days without eating.
Tortoises generally have lifespans comparable with those of human beings, and some individuals are known to have lived longer than 150 years. Because of this, they symbolize longevity in some cultures, such as China. The oldest tortoise ever recorded, almost the oldest individual animal ever recorded, was Tu'i Malila, who was presented to the Tongan royal family by the British explorer Captain Cook shortly after its birth in 1777. Tui Malila remained in the care of the Tongan royal family until its death by natural causes on May 19, 1965. This means that upon its death, Tui Malila was 188 years old. The record for the longest-lived vertebrate is succeeded only by one other, a koi named Hanako whose death on July 17 1977 ended a 215 year life span.
The Alipore Zoo in India was the home to Adwaita, which zoo officials claimed was the oldest living animal until its death on March 23, 2006. Adwaita (sometimes spelled with two d's) was an Aldabra Giant Tortoise brought to India by Lord Wellesley who handed it over to the Alipur Zoological Gardens in 1875 when the zoo was set up. Zoo officials state they have documentation showing that Adwaita was at least 130 years old, but claim that he was over 250 years old (although this has not been scientifically verified). Adwaita was said to be the pet of Robert Clive. Harriet, a resident at the Australia Zoo in Queensland, was apocryphally thought to have been brought to England by Charles Darwin aboard the Beagle. Harriet died on June 23, 2006, just shy of her 176th birthday.
Timothy, a spur-thighed tortoise, lived to be approximately 165 years old. For 38 years she was carried as a mascot aboard various ships in Britain's Royal Navy. Then in 1892, at age 53 she retired to the grounds of Powderham Castle in Devon. Up to the time of her passing in 2004 she was believed to be the UK's oldest resident.
Most land based tortoises are herbivores, feeding on grazing grasses, weeds, leafy greens, flowers, and some fruits. Pet tortoises typically require a diet based on alfalfa, clover, dandelions, and some varieties of lettuce. Certain species occasionally consume worms or insects, but too much protein can be detrimental as it can cause shell deformation and other medical problems. Cat or dog foods should not be fed to tortoises, as these do not contain the proper balance of nutrients for a reptile; in particular, they are too high in protein. Additionally, it should not be assumed that all captive tortoises can be fed on the same diet. As different tortoise species vary greatly in their nutritional requirements, even commercial food pellets should be offered only to the species specifically listed on the label or packaging. The best approach to determining the proper diet is to consult a qualified veterinarian, a herpetologist, or a care sheet provided by a reputable source.
In Hinduism, Kurma (Sanskrit: कुर्म) was the second avatar of Vishnu. Like the Matsya Avatara also belongs to the Satya Yuga. Vishnu took the form of a half-man half-tortoise, the lower half being a tortoise. He is normally shown as having four arms. He sat on the bottom of the ocean after the Great Flood. A mountain was placed on his back by the other gods so that they could churn the sea and find the ancient treasures of the Vedic peoples. Tortoise shells were used by ancient Chinese as Oracle Bones to make predictions.
Tortoises to get new digs: The move is going slowly for crews trying to relocate 50 gopher tortoises from a DeFuniak Springs site.
May 25, 2006; Byline: Heather Civil May 25--DeFUNIAK SPRINGS -- It's moving time for a colony of 50 gopher tortoises that is being...