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.

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Animal facts

Key facts about the Galápagos giant tortoise

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I’m found in the Galápagos 

These tortoises live on almost all of the major islands in the Galápagos archipelago

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My favourite food is leaves 

Galápagos tortoises live on a diet of grasses, leaves and cacti

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I helped to inspire Darwin’s theory of natural selection 

The island-specific evolution of the Galápagos tortoises helped Darwin to develop his theory 

150+ years

estimated lifespan

0.16mph

average speed

6ft

max length

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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.  

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Size matters 

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!  

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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