Tortoises big and small

I promised you tortoises.

In the Galapagos Islands, on the island of Santa Cruz, near the town of Puerto Ayora, is the Charles Darwin Research Station. The center has a captive breeding program for giant tortoises, including incubators for tortoise eggs and enclosures for tortoises that are one, two, and three years old.

The eggs are about the size of ping-pong balls; the temperature at which they incubate determines the sex of the babies, so warmer nests (above 86 degrees F or so) result in mostly female babies, while cooler nests (in the lower 80s F) will hatch mostly male tortoises. Since the tortoises are a threatened species, they keep the eggs warm to have more females than males, so more tortoises will grow up to lay eggs. Which won’t happen until they’re at least 40 years old.

At the breeding center, they number the tortoises on their shells. The color of the number tells the researchers which subspecies (i.e., which island) the tortoises are from. Each year, the tortoises move to more and more naturalistic enclosures. When they’re four years old and about 1.5 kg (3.3 pounds), they’re repatriated to the islands their parents came from.

The baby tortoises are only a few inches long and are hopelessly cute, even with all their leathery wrinkles. Look.

One little tortoise.

Let’s look at her a little more closely.

I just think this little gal is adorable.

Two little tortoises, chewing on pieces of cactus.

Lots of little tortoises.

And a not-so-little tortoise.

There are also big tortoises at the center. There are several that were once pets. Since no one knows which island subspecies they’re from, they can’t be repatriated anywhere. So now they (including the guy above) will live out their (very, very long) lives in the tortoise sanctuary.

The most famous tortoise there is Lonesome George, who is the last of the Isla Pinta subspecies. The very last one. Poor lonely guy.

Later that day, we went inland, driving uphill into the green hills where cows grazed and people displayed huge puppets that they were going to burn on New Year’s Eve the next day. We got to a farm where a ton of tortoises graze amongs the cows and horses; its owners have opened the land to the public. So we got to see the wild tortoises, who are just as sedate as captive tortoises. They walked around, chomped on grass, and immersed themselves in mud puddles.

But mostly they ate.

Yes, this tortoise is licking his lips. If he has lips.


Filed under travel

4 responses to “Tortoises big and small

  1. The photo of all the cute wrinkly turtles converging looks a lot like dinner time at my grandpa’s senior living center.

  2. Jessica

    @alonewithcats, ha!

    So much cute! It takes them 4 years to get over 3 pounds?! They are not trying very hard. Also, fertility at 40, yeesh!

  3. Samantha

    Awesome! So temperature determines sex… interesting. Love the pics. So remind me of my pet box turtle that my grandad scooped up from the middle of 4 lanes of traffic. They do eat like I’d imagine dinosaurs would. A joyful biting pounce, but it’s all in the neck, eh?

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