Fascinating Tortoise Facts

  • Any shelled reptile belonging to the order Chelonii is a turtle.
  • The term “tortoise” is more specific, referring to terrestrial turtles.
  • A group of tortoises is called a creep.
  • The physical difference between tortoises and turtles is that tortoises have stumpy legs while turtles’ legs have developed into flippers, enabling them to swim.
  • Tortoises have been around for over 200 million years – longer than lizards, birds, mammals, crocodiles and snakes.
  • Tortoises are cold-blooded – they draw heat from their environment and are more active during the day than at night.
  • Tortoises hibernate in the winter and, before they do, they starve themselves so their stomachs are empty to be ready for hibernation.
  • Tortoises are what is known as herbivores. They eat grass, ferns, flowers, tree leaves and fruit.
  • Although they have no teeth, tortoises have strong mouths and horned ridges to mash their food.
  • The tortoise shell is made up of 3 main parts: the top carapace, the bottom plastron and the bridge which merges them together.
  • The shell is made up of 60 different bones all connected to each other.
  • The scales on the top of a tortoise shell are known as scutes.
  • The scutes are the same keratin found in fingernails and hooves.
  • Scutes protect the bony plates of the shell from injury and infection.
  • The growth rings around scutes can be counted to determine the approximate age of wild tortoises.
  • Shells have nerve endings, so tortoises can feel every rub, pet or scratch.
  • Tortoises can retract their heads and limbs, including their tails, into their shells when they feel threatened, or are attacked by predators.
  • The hotter the climate they live in, the lighter the colour their shell is, so tortoises from hot places tend to have lighter-coloured shells than tortoises from cooler areas.
  • Underneath it’s shell, a tortoise has a spine, ribs and a collar bone.
  • Females dig burrows in which they can lay up anything from 1 to 30 eggs.
  • Tortoise eggs incubate for   between 90 to 120 days to hatch out.
  • When baby tortoises break out of their shells they’re called hatchlings.
  • As a reptile species, the surrounding  temperature affects whether fertilised tortoise eggs are born male or female.
  • You won’t be able to tell a tortoise’s sex until it reaches a certain size, which varies by breed.
  • A male tortoise has a longer tail than that of a female. This is one way of identifying the sex of the tortoise.
  • Male tortoises tend to have a longer, protruding neck plate than their female relatives.
  • During the breeding season, males can become very territorial and will rise up tall on their legs and extend their long necks to display dominance.
  • Tortoise hatchlings are capable of eating solid food in about 3 – 7 days.
  • 30 Tortoises have good all- round vision and a very good sense of smell.
  • They can smell with their throats. Tortoises detect the faintest of smells with the vomeronasal organ, or Jacobson’s Organ, on the roof of their mouths.
  • They use the Jacobson’s organ to smell, like other reptiles. However, they do not flick their tongues, but rather pump their throats to move the air around their nose and mouth.
  • Tortoises can extract water and nutrients from even the most paltry bites.
  • They don’t have external ears, just one small hole on either side of the head.
  • Tortoises can hold their breath for long periods of time.
  • The average age a tortoise can live to, ranges from 90 to 150 years
  • Tortoises can vary in size from a few centimetres to, up to, two metres in length.
  • Famed for their lack of speed, tortoises, can cover large distances – up to 6.4km every day.


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