Giant Tortoises of the Galapagos Islands

The most recognized symbol of the Galapagos is the tortoise. In fact the island earned its name because of a tortoise. The Spanish ship came upon the islands because they had been tossed off course. They noticed the shape of the tortoise shell was much like a saddle, hence the name Galapagos, the Spanish word for saddle.

Since these are islands how did these creatures arrive? They do not have webbed feet so swimming is not their forte. Most naturalists agree that they must have arrived on the islands by clinging on pieces of driftwood from a river mouth along the Pacific Coast. Sub-species developed on the different islands as they mated and adapted to their surroundings.

Charles Darwin found the Galapagos Tortoises excellent research material for his theory of evolution. The Galapagos Islands had perfect examples of how the tortoises were able to adapt, survive and develop sub-species. His influence has been a strong one for the tortoise. The Charles Darwin Research Station was established as breading center. Eggs are collected and incubated in the center free from predators and returned to the wild as young tortoises with strong shells.

Some of these animals are huge. They can weigh up to 500 pounds. What are they eating to get to that incredible amount of weight? Salad. They eat cactus fruit, grass, flowers, and stems. Salad. Even more amazing in connection with their size and eating habits, these guys can go a year without eating or drinking.

Some basic facts
*tortoises spend about 16 hours of their day sleeping
*tortoises don’t reach sexual maturity until about age twenty
*tortoises spend large amounts of time partially submerged in water
*tortoises lay between three to twelve eggs in a clutch one or twice a year
*Hatchlings incubate for six to seven months

The story of the tortoise is truly a sad one, as total species die out. In 1971 it was confirmed that “Lonesome George” was the last of his subspecies. They moved him to the Darwin Station with hopes that he could breed with a female tortoise. They chose Wolf Volcano females as potential mates as they were the closest species. Unfortunately there were no new tortoiseshatched. They were easy prey for sailors “tortoise soup” and thousands were slaughter that way. Goats were introduced to the islands as a food source for sailors and killed the vegetation for the tortoise. Again, thousands were lost for lack of food.

No matter what your stance is on Charles Darwin and his theories, these are amazing giants to see. They take tiny slow steps as they make a deliberate march to their destination. It’s worth the trip to see the giants.