Galapagos Tortoise

page header

Tortoises at the Zoo:
Two females, Bella (250 lbs.) and Darwin (200 lbs.). Darwin can be identified by her bumpier shell. They are both 20 years old and can live over 150 years.

The Galapagos Islands off Ecuador. Some subspecies live on other various islands of the Galapagos archipelago.

Volcanic islands from semiarid lowlands to moist uplands. It spends the cooler part of the day in the lowlands, and the warmer part in the uplands where it swims and feeds on the lush plants that grow there.


Galapagos tortoises have a black, brown, or gray carapace that varies in shape from domed and rounded to saddle shaped. Each foot has five claws and no webbing. The saddle shape enables the tortoise to raise its long neck to graze on the higher parts of plants.

Up to 3.6 feet long weighing 330 to 440 lbs. Females will weigh around 350 lbs.

Lichens growing on its shell can give it a mottled appearance, but it is generally black, brown, or gray.

Sexual dimorphism:
Males are larger than the females

Diet in Zoo:
Hay, produce, fruit, melon for treats, strawberries, cactus, romaine lettuce, kale, collard and mustard greens

Diet in Wild:
Galapagos tortoise is herbivorous. It eats grasses, forbs (any herb that is not a grass), cacti and other succulents, sedges, fruits and leaves of bushes.

Breeding season/period:
January through August

Breeding habits:
The male begins sniffing the air for a female’s scent. When he finds the scent he chases the female down and courts by intimidation. He rams her with the front of his shell until she draws in her legs and is immobilized. He then proceeds to mate with her.

Nesting is usually between June and December. The female lays around ten eggs in a nest, which she buries with her back legs. Incubation ranges from three to eight months. Newly hatched baby tortoises fend for themselves.

Over 100 years. The oldest living Galapagos tortoise was a about 152 years old.

They sleep under vegetation or overhanging rocks at night. When approached by Darwin’s finches the tortoises stand erect on all four feet and let the finches groom their skin to get rid of ticks and other parasites. Their Spanish name is tortuga galapago.

Unique Behaviors:
The female tortoise has been known to return to the same nesting place each year. Galapagos tortoises tend to travel in groups on the same paths so often that the paths are literally carved into the earth.

Wild cats, dogs, rats, goats, and pigs (all introduced). Throughout the peak of maritime travel, pirates and merchant sailors slaughtered the tortoises for food until few remained.

IUCN Red List: Endangered. The tortoise is near extinction with 11 surviving subspecies