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Wild Personalities: Giant Tortoise

Get to know this iconic island dweller

Order: Testudines

Family: Testudinidae


SpeciesC.n. complex

Range: Native to the Galápagos Islands: Santa Cruz, Española, Isabela, San Cristobal & Pinzon

Population: 10,000-15,000

IUCN Red List Status: Vulnerable


How to Spot Them: They’re hard to miss! Large, bony shell in grey or black color; long, skinny necks; large feet with dry, scaly skin; can reach up to 6 feet in height/length; males can reach up to 500 lbs in weight; females average 250 lbs.

Discover fun facts about the Galápagos tortoise.

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There’s nothing quite as remarkable as coming upon your first Galápagos giant tortoise in the wild. The slow, deliberate strides; the leisurely chewing; the languid naps in the mud—the iconic traits of these giants have captivated many over the centuries. One among them was Charles Darwin, whose theory of evolution was partly inspired by how these tortoises had traits unique to each island in the archipelago. Having floated from mainland Ecuador—a distance of nearly 700 miles— millions of years ago, the tortoises morphed upon reaching the archipelago.

Besides inspiring his Eureka! moment, the tortoises also amused Darwin in other ways: he tried to hitch a ride on their shells, but alas, kept falling off.

Watch the video above to learn more about these gentle giants.