Meet the world’s largest tortoises
Galápagos giant tortoises are the largest tortoises in the world, with some fully grown tortoises weighing up to 300kg. As their name suggests, Galápagos giant tortoises are native to the Galápagos islands in the Pacific Ocean. There are 15 different subspecies of Galápagos tortoise, 2 of which are extinct. The tortoises live across many of the islands within the archipelago, and their slight evolutionary differences were what helped to inspire Darwin’s theory of natural selection! You can meet these incredible gentle giants in Butterfly Kaleidoscope, where they share their home with hundreds of butterflies from around the world.
An icon of natural selection
There are slight differences between the giant tortoises that live on each of the Galápagos islands as they’ve all evolved to be able to survive in their environment. The main difference between subspecies is their shell type. On the cooler islands with more vegetation, you’ll find domed shells on the giant tortoises, but in the dryer, more scarcely vegetated islands, saddleback tortoises are found. The saddleback tortoises have a flatter shell that allows them to extend their neck further to reach higher leaves and taller cacti.
Galápagos giant tortoises rarely engage in aggressive contact. Instead, tortoises will “fight” for dominance using their size. They extend their necks as far as possible and whichever tortoise can make themself the tallest wins. The tallest tortoise gets first pick of food and the sunniest spot to snooze in!
An uncertain future
The historic poaching of Galápagos giant tortoises for food by explorers and merchants had a detrimental impact on their populations. Thankfully, in the 1960s, the Galapagos National Park was created to protect the tortoises’ habitats, regulating where visitors can go when they’re on the islands. Now, the tortoises face invasive species like goats, rats, cats and dogs, all of which threaten the tortoise, other native species and their precious habitat.
Help us care for our Galápagos giant tortoises