Longevity of Galapagos Islands Giant Tortoises

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Some people would love to live for over 100 years. Why this may not always be possible for humans, it is quite common for the Galapagos giant tortoises. The oldest reported giant tortoise is believed to have been Harriet, who is estimated to have been at least 176 years old when she died in 2006 while on display at the Australia Zoo in Brisbane, Australia. Handpicked by Charles Darwin himself when she was approximately five years old, even he could not have imagined the possibility of her outliving her human caretakers to such a degree (Franklin 45). Her longevity however, is not unique. The giant tortoises of the Galapagos Islands have repeatedly demonstrated an increased lifespan due to their unique body structure, diet, and lifestyle.

The Galapagos Islands provide a habitat to one of only two known remaining groups of giant tortoises in existence today (Alderton 151). Scientists speculate that smaller tortoises drifted to the Galapagos Islands where they found plentiful vegetation and practically no indigenous predators. Over time they evolved into the humble, lumbering giants that exist today. The phenomenon of gigantism evolution is seen in many island ecosystems where there is no need to hide from predators and no competition for food (Orenstein 108). This lack of predation would not last forever. In the nineteenth century the Galapagos Islands were frequented by sailors and fishermen who coveted the fresh meat available in abundance from the giant tortoises. They were prized for their quantity and ability to be stored for months on end without food or water (Hoagstrom 1623). This adaptability for drought stricken times could be a direct link to their evolution of body structure and greatly enhance their capacity for longer...

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...tective body structure. This adaption possibly occurs due to the slow metabolism, vegetarian diet and evolutionary protection of its own shield, the shell.

Works Cited

Alderton, David. Turtles & Tortoises of the World. New York: Facts on File, 1997. Print.

Fernando, Carmen. “Geochelone nigra”. Animal Diversity. University of Michigan, 2000. Web.

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Franklin, Carl J. Turtles: An Extraordinary Natural History 245 Million Years in the Making.

St. Paul: Voyageur Press, 2007. Print.

Hoagstrom, Carl W. ed. Magill’s Encyclopedia of Science: Animal Life. Pasadena: Salem Press,

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Jackson, Michael H. Galapagos A Natural History. Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2000.

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Orenstein, Ronald. Turtles, Tortoises and Terrapins. Buffalo: Firefly Books Inc., 2001. Print
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