Zoology

Giant Tortoises of the Galapagos Islands



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The history of the giant tortoises of the Galapagod Islands is an interesting one. It's amazing how these tortoises have survived over the years, and are still surviving to this day on the Islands. These giant tortoises are idealy suited to the climate of the Galapagos Islands. Tortoises are known for being able to survive with very little food or water. The giant tortoises have had very few predators for a a long period of time.

There were around 100,000 giant tortoises occupying the Galapagos Islands when humans first discovered them. Fishermen, whalers and buccaneers came to the island, and became a threat to the existance of the tortoises. The people invaded the island, bringing horses and cattle that would eat what little vegetation there was on the island. Small tortoises would also be crushed under the feet of these animals. The Glapagos National Park Service and the Charles Darwin Research Station began to help the tortoises in 1969. By this time there was 11 species of the animal on the island. Their goal was to stabalize the environment and encourage the species to breed.

The Charles Darwin Research Station set up an establishment where the eggs could be taken and hatched. The small tortoises are put back on the island when they are of significant survival age. This method has been a success, ten of the 11 species are still in existance today. The Espaola species is one of the more succesful breeds, having had 300 tortoises born from an original number of 2 females and 11 males.

The Galapagos tortoise is the largest tortoise weighing over 660 pounds in adult size, and grows to around 4 feet in length. They live on a diet of leaves, vines, fruit and cactus, with fresh grass being a favorite food of the toroise. The giant tortoise is a slow moving creature, traveling at speeds of about 18 miles per hour. However, they have been known to go faster when they have a particular goal in mind. Tortoises are cold blooded creatures that will bask for around two hours after dawn to preserve energy through their shell. They also enjoy being in and drinking water, the tortoise can drink about ten gulps of water per minute.

Between January and February there is an increase in the mating season, although mating occurs at any time of the year. It takes several hours for a female to dig a nest for her eggs. The nest is normally built close to the shoreline. The eggs are about the size of a tennis ball and laid in a foot deep nest. If the nest temperatute is low there will be more males, if it is of high temperature then more females will hatch. At this time only around 15,000 are evident on the Galapagos islands. The tortoises reach their full size after about 40 years of growth. The Charles Darwin Research Station continues to help the survival of this endangered species.

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