The Galapagos Islands are named after the giant tortoises that live on the islands - 'galapago' in Spanish means 'saddle' and refers to the tortoise shell. We've given you some of the fast facts on the Galapagos Tortoise below, but there's nothing like learning first-hand. On our 10-day Galapagos Land and Sea Adventure 'Tortuga' trip, you'll visit a giant tortoise breeding centre and hike in the Santa Cruz highlands, to see these majestic creatures in their natural habitat.
The 3 Types of Galapagos Tortoises
The Galapagos tortoise comes in three versions, which are distinguished by the shape of their shells, sizes, colors and behavior:
Mostly found on the lower drier islands. They have raised shells, long necks and limbs which allows them to reach sparse vegetation found higher off the ground.
Found on the upper parts of the islands, where plant growth is dense and thick. They have round shaped shells, very short necks and limbs.
This third race is a mix between the two described above.
Old and wise
The Galapagos Giant Tortoise can keep growing for 30 or 40 years, reaching almost 1 1/2 metres (5 feet) and weighing up to 230 kilograms (500 pounds). These are the largest tortoises in the world and the longest living of all vertebrates (animals with backbones). Because of their life span, it's possible that some of the old-timers in the Galapagos Islands that are around today, hatched about the time of Darwin's visit in 1835!
The oldest giant tortoise on record lived 152 years, but reliable records of tortoise life spans aren't available yet because people haven't been observing them long enough.
Then and now
In the 19th Century sailors and whale hunters visited the Islands and quickly discovered that these giant tortoises were an excellent food supply, being easy to catch and able to live for months without food or water. In vast numbers the animals were flipped on their backs and stacked in the cargo hold of ships, giving the sailors a ready source of fresh meat when there was no land in sight. Sadly, many thousands of giant tortoise were collected this way and today there are only around 15,000 left, a fraction of what there once was.