10 cool facts about tortoises

Who doesn’t love tortoises? They are such interesting creatures – let’s take a look at what makes them so amazing.

1. Wrinkles in time

In the wild, when a tortoise is healthy, he can live for an exceptionally long time – up to 150 years. Some have been recorded to live up to 250 years. A tortoise named Jonathan, currently owned by the Government of Saint Helena, hatched around the year 1832, making him about 186 years old. Another tortoise, Adwaita, who died in 2006, allegedly lived to the age of 255 years!

2. Touchy feely

A tortoise’s shell is made up of 60 different bones, which are all connected to one another. Some people believe that a tortoise can be separated from his shell, but this is a myth. Another untruth is that a tortoise cannot feel it when something touches his shell – in fact, they have nerve endings in their shells and can feel the slightest of touches.

3. Best of both worlds

A tortoise has two skeletons: an exoskeleton and an endoskeleton. The exoskeleton is the hard layer on the outside that shelters and protects the animal’s body. The endoskeleton is the hard frame that supports the body on the inside. Tortoises have ribs, collarbones and spines just like humans do.

4. Slow and steady wins the race

Tortoises are renowned for their lack of speed. They move at 0.21 to 0.48km/h when walking. Despite this, they can cover up to 6.4km in a day. How do they achieve such distances going at that speed? Well, like in the famous Aesop fable, The Hare and the Tortoise, they have astonishing willpower and staggering endurance.

5. Weather detectors

The gender of a tortoise egg isn’t determined right away. Being a reptile, a tortoise’s life revolves around the climate of a region. When the surrounding temperature of the eggs is warmer, more female tortoises hatch; when it’s colder, more males hatch.

6. Staying cool

Another way in which the tortoise is influenced by the climate is noticed in the colour of his shell and skin. Hotter places, such as the Sahara Desert, cause tortoises to have lighter colours on their shells. It is thought that a lighter colour absorbs less heat and ensures that the tortoise stays cool.

 7. Hold it right there

The most striking difference between a tortoise and turtle is the fact that turtles are able to swim underwater. Tortoises, however, can’t swim. But they can hold their breath for quite some time. Sometimes you’ll hear a tortoise exhaling before he disappears into his shell. This is because their lungs need to be empty for this. Some species have been recorded to hold their breath for over half an hour.

8. Open wide

Tortoises are able to smell with their throats like most other reptiles. The vomeronasal organ, also called the Jacobson’s organ, is situated on the roof of the mouth. It is responsible for the tortoise’s acute sense of smell. Unlike other reptiles, they don’t flick their tongues outside of their mouths to ‘smell’, but pump their throats to pass air through the nose and around the mouth.

9. Ultimate survivor

Tortoises are experts at surviving in harsh conditions. This is because they have a special skill: extracting water and nutrients from even the tiniest bite of food. They do this by means of a very clever ‘hindgut system’ that works like a double digestive tract. This ability is especially crucial when water is scarce.

10. Old toothless

It is well known that tortoises don’t possess teeth. However, they are still able to ‘chew’ their food. Tortoises have sharp edges along their upper and lower jaws. These edges are clamped down so forcefully by muscles in their necks that they are able to bite off chunks of vegetation. Finally, their tongues are able to move the food down the rear of their mouths for them to swallow.