Galapagos Giant Tortoise

The Galapagos Giant Tortoise is the land animal that gave the "official name" to these set of Islands.


There are 15 sub-species of Galapagos giant tortoises. Some prefer the upland zones of the large islands because of humidity, grassy pastures and small ponds to drink and stagger about.

Others prefer islands with low elevations, dry terrain, and with lots of prickly vegetation like cactus. The largest populations are found in Alcedo Volcano on Isabela Island, and in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island.

Group of Galapagos Tortoises

galapagos turtles

The Galapagos giant tortoise keep growing for 30 or 40 years to almost 5 feet (1.5 m.) and weigh about 500 pounds (230 kg).

It is worth mentioning that no one knows exactly how long the Galapagos tortoises live, but it seems they can easily reach 150 years!

Shells Can Tell.- Giant Galapagos tortoises come in three versions, according to habitat:

  • Dome, carapaces characterize the animals living in islands of great humidity and luxuriant ground vegetation, like Santa Cruz Island, and some volcanoes on Isabela Island.
  • Saddle Backs, elevated in front (to facilitate extension of the neck), are for tortoises living in dryer, less vegetated Islands: Espanola, Fernandina, Pinta and Pinzon for instance with cactus trees and shrubs...
  • An Intermediate race, found in Santa Fe Island combines the features of the other two.

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Galapagos Giant Tortoise

galapagos giant tortoise

These patterns were crucial in showing Charles Darwin that different habitats allowed different versions of animals to thrive and evolve (over time) into new species.
The Galapagos Governor, in fact, told Darwin that tortoises with long necks are mostly found in Islands that are quite dry and with cacti as the predominant plant.

At that time, that simple fact didn't tell Darwin much, but that same simple fact is the one used in the Origin of Species.

Sometimes simple meanings can have complex applications.

The Pacific Green Sea Turtle also calls Galapagos home. It has a flatter, more streamlined shell.

Among turtles is the fastest and can swim, briefly, at a speed of 20 miles (32km) per hour.

There's always controversy about using the terms tortoise and turtle.

But, their definition is based on the habitat where the animals live, animals that are mostly aquatic (like sea turtles) should be called turtles.

While animals that are mostly terrestrial should be called tortoises, like the "Galapagos tortoise".

This doesn't mean that either one never goes on land or water.

In fact, turtles have to go to land to lay eggs, and Galapagos giant tortoises go to the water for drinking and cooling off.

The difference relies in where animals spend most of their time. More about the Galapagos Tortoise

The term terrapin, which describes an animal somewhat aquatic, somewhat terrestrial has no use in Galapagos Islands.

Terrapins do not live here. Turtles and relatives are not only complex, but also fascinating in their distribution and evolutionary biology.

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Recommended Reading

Ecuador & Galapagos (Insight Guides). Click to order from Amazon

Ecuador & Galapagos (Insight Guides)

With 250 photos and tons of great information, this is an essential addition to your pre-Ecuador and -Galapagos reading!

There are better guides if you are only interested in the islands, but for a combination trip taking in Ecuador as well, it's hard to beat.


Birds, Mammals, and Reptiles of the Galapagos Islands. Click to order from Amazon

Birds, Mammals, and Reptiles of the Galapagos Islands

Small enough to fit into your pocket, yet containing comprehensive information and pictures of all the species you will encounter in the islands, this book is a must-have for nature lovers.

Let's face it, Galapagos is largely about the wildlife. This book will NOT disappoint, and you'll have a great memento of your time with the seals, penguins and tortoises!


Galapagos: The Islands That Changed the World. Click to order from Amazon

Galapagos: The Islands That Changed the World

Definitely NOT a tourist's guide, but if you're like me, and find the history and geography of the islands irresistible, then this is a title you ought to invest in.

Stunningly illustrated, and painstakingly researched, those of you who have been there will be enchanted again -- and those of you who have not will begin planning your trip!


Moon Spotlight Galapagos. Click to order from Amazon

Moon Spotlight Galapagos Islands

If you're a seasoned Galapagos regular, then you will probably prefer something weightier.

But for first-timers looking for simple, down-to-earth advice on where to go, what to see and the best shopping and eating on the islands, this is the book for you.

Small, well-priced, and reliable!


Galapagos: Islands Born of Fire. Click to order from Amazon

Galapagos: Islands Born of Fire

The 10th anniversary edition of this photographer's tour of the Galapagos Islands is a stunning book, worthy of anybody's coffee table.

This is a perfect post-trip talking point -- a great way to remember what you've seen, and spread the word amongst your envious friends!


More About Galapagos

Where is Galapagos?

Information About the Galapagos Islands

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Lonesome George Tortoise

Galapagos Sailing

Galapagos Rabida Island

Galapagos Islands Kayaking

Galapagos Floreana Island

Galapagos Ecology

Economic Galapagos Tours

If you have any questions about the Galapagos Giant Tortoise or if you'd like to request more information about our recommended Galapagos Land Based Tours to explore these Islands, You can Contact us here

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