From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Testudinidae)
Jump to: navigation, search
For other uses, see Tortoise (disambiguation).
A. gigantea Aldabra Giant Tortoise.jpg
An Aldabra giant tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea)
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Testudines (=Chelonii)
Suborder: Cryptodira
Superfamily: Testudinoidea
Family: Testudinidae
Batsch, 1788
Type species
Testudo graeca
Linnaeus, 1758

Tortoises (/ˈtɔːr.təs.ɪz/) are a family, Testudinidae, of land-dwelling turtles in the order Testudines. Contrary to popular belief, tortoises are in fact turtles rather than part of a separate group. Like most turtles, tortoises are shielded from predators by a shell. The top part of the shell is the carapace, the underside is the plastron, and the two are connected by the bridge. The carapace is fused to both the vertebrae and ribcage, and turtles are unique among vertebrates in that the pectoral and pelvic girdles are inside, rather than outside, the ribcage. Tortoises can vary in size from a few centimeters to two meters. They are usually diurnal animals with tendencies to be crepuscular depending on the ambient temperatures. They are generally reclusive animals.

Use of the term "tortoise"[edit]

Although the word "tortoise" is used by biologists in reference to the family Testudinidae only, in colloquial usage, it is often used to describe many land-dwelling Testudines. The inclusiveness of the term depends on the variety of English being used.[1]

  • British English normally describes these reptiles as "tortoises" if they live on land and cannot swim.
  • American English tends to use the word "tortoise" for land-dwelling species, including members of Testudinidae, as well as other species, such as box tortoises, though use of "turtle" for all chelonians is as common.
  • Australian English uses "tortoise" for terrestrial species, including semiaquatic species that live near ponds and streams. Traditionally, a "tortoise" has feet (including webbed feet) while a "turtle" has flippers.



Adult male Leopard tortoise, South Africa
Young African Sulcata tortoise

Female tortoises dig nesting burrows in which they lay from one to 30 eggs.[2] Egg-laying typically occurs at night, after which the mother tortoise covers her clutch with sand, soil, and organic material. The eggs are left unattended, and depending on the species, take from 60 to 120 days to incubate.[3] The size of the egg depends on the size of the mother and can be estimated by examining the width of the cloacal opening between the carapace and plastron. The plastron of a female tortoise often has a noticeable V-shaped notch below the tail which facilitates passing the eggs. Upon completion of the incubation period, a fully formed hatchling uses an egg tooth to break out of its shell. It digs to the surface of the nest and begins a life of survival on its own. Hatchlings are born with an embryonic egg sac which serves as a source of nutrition for the first three to seven days until they have the strength and mobility to find food. Juvenile tortoises often require a different balance of nutrients than adults, so may eat foods which a more mature tortoise would not. For example, the young of a strictly herbivorous species commonly will consume worms or insect larvae for additional protein.


Adult tortoise

The number of concentric rings on the carapace, much like the cross-section of a tree, can sometimes give a clue to how old the animal is, but, since the growth depends highly on the accessibility of food and water, a tortoise that has access to plenty of forage (or is regularly fed by its owner) with no seasonal variation will have no noticeable rings. Moreover, some tortoises grow more than one ring per season and in some others, due to wear, some rings are no longer visible.[4]

Tortoises generally have the longest lifespans of any animal, and some individuals are known to have lived longer than 150 years.[5] Because of this, they symbolize longevity in some cultures, such as China. The oldest tortoise ever recorded, and one of the oldest individual animals ever recorded, was Tu'i Malila, which was presented to the Tongan royal family by the British explorer Captain Cook shortly after its birth in 1777. Tu'i Malila remained in the care of the Tongan royal family until its death by natural causes on May 19, 1965, at the age of 188.[6] The record for the longest-lived vertebrate is exceeded only by one other, a koi named Hanako whose death on July 17, 1977 ended a 226-year life span.[7]

The Alipore Zoo in India was the home to Adwaita, which zoo officials claimed was the oldest living animal until its death on March 23, 2006. Adwaita (sometimes spelled with two ds) was an Aldabra giant tortoise brought to India by Lord Wellesley, who handed it over to the Alipur Zoological Gardens in 1875 when the zoo was set up. West Bengal officials said records showed Adwaita was at least 150 years old, but other evidence pointed to 250. Adwaita was said to be the pet of Robert Clive.[8]

Harriet was a resident at the Australia Zoo in Queensland from 1987 to her death in 2006; she was believed to have been brought to England by Charles Darwin aboard the Beagle and then on to Australia by John Clements Wickham.[9] Harriet died on June 23, 2006, just shy of her 176th birthday.

Timothy, a spur-thighed tortoise, lived to be about 165 years old. For 38 years, she was carried as a mascot aboard various ships in Britain's Royal Navy. Then in 1892, at age 53, she retired to the grounds of Powderham Castle in Devon. Up to the time of her death in 2004, she was believed to be the United Kingdom's oldest resident.

Jonathan, a Seychelles giant tortoise living on the island of St Helena may be as old as 182[10][11] or 178 years.[12] If this is true, he could be the current oldest living animal on Earth.

Sexual dimorphism[edit]

Many species of tortoises are sexually dimorphic, though the differences between males and females vary from species to species. In some species, males have a longer, more protruding neck plate than their female counterparts, while in others, the claws are longer on the females.

In most tortoise species, the female tends to be larger than the male. The male plastron is curved inwards to aid reproduction. The easiest way to determine the sex of a tortoise is to look at the tail. The females, as a general rule, have smaller tails, dropped down, whereas the males have much longer tails which are usually pulled up and to the side of the rear shell.


The brain of a tortoise is extremely small. Redi performed an experiment involving removing the brain of a land-tortoise, which then proceeded to live six months, fresh-water tortoises, when subject to the same experiment continued similarly, but did not live so long. Redi also cut the head off a tortoise entirely, and it lived for 23 days. [13][14][15]

General information[edit]

Giant tortoises move very slowly on dry land, at only 0.17 mph (0.27 km/h).[16] The fastest recorded tortoise speed is 5 mph.[17]


Baby tortoise feeding on lettuce

Most land-based tortoises are herbivores, feeding on grasses, weeds, leafy greens, flowers, and some fruits, although some omnivorous species are in this family. Pet tortoises typically require diets based on wild grasses, weeds, leafy greens and certain flowers. Certain species consume worms or insects and carrion in their normal habitats. Too much protein is detrimental in herbivorous species, and has been associated with shell deformities and other medical problems. As different tortoise species vary greatly in their nutritional requirements, it is essential to thoroughly research the dietary needs of an individual tortoise.


The following species list largely follows van Dijk et al., 2014,[18] this is a work in progress.

Skeleton of a tortoise
Fossil of the extinct Ergilemys insolitus
Achilemys cassouleti, the most primitive testudine

Family Testudinidae Batsch 1788[19]

  • Chersina Gray 1830:5

In religion[edit]

Bas-relief from Angkor Wat, Cambodia, shows Samudra manthan-Vishnu in the centre, his turtle Avatar Kurma below, asuras and devas to left and right

In Hinduism, Kurma (Sanskrit: कुर्म) was the second Avatar of Vishnu. Like the Matsya Avatara, Kurma also belongs to the Satya Yuga. Vishnu took the form of a half-man, half-tortoise, the lower half being a tortoise. He is normally shown as having four arms. He sat on the bottom of the ocean after the Great Flood. A mountain was placed on his back by the other gods so they could churn the sea and find the ancient treasures of the Vedic peoples.

Tortoise shells were used by ancient Chinese as oracle bones to make predictions.

The tortoise is a symbol of the Ancient Greek god, Hermes.

Cultural depictions[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Turtle". Retrieved 2012-09-16. 
  2. ^ Highfield, Andy. "Tortoise Trust Egg F.A.Q". Retrieved 2009-04-07. 
  3. ^ Highfield, Andy. "Tortoise egg incubation". Retrieved 2009-04-07. 
  4. ^ Veterinary Services Department, Drs. Foster & Smith, Inc. "Shells: Anatomy and Diseases of Turtle and Tortoise Shells". Retrieved 2013-10-22. 
  5. ^ Moon, J. C.; McCoy, E. D.; Mushinsky, H. R.; Karl, S. A. (2006). "Multiple Paternity and Breeding System in the Gopher Tortoise, Gopherus polyphemus". Journal of Heredity 97 (2): 150–157. doi:10.1093/jhered/esj017. PMID 16489146.  edit
  6. ^ "Tortoise Believed to Have Been Owned by Darwin Dies at 176". Associated Press via FOXNews. 2006-06-26. 
  7. ^ Barton, Laura (2007-04-12). "Will You Still Feed Me...". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2013-01-08. 
  8. ^ "World | South Asia | 'Clive of India's' tortoise dies". BBC News. 2006-03-23. Retrieved 2009-04-07. 
  9. ^ Thomson, S., Irwin, S. and Irwin, T. (1995). "Harriet, the Galapagos tortoise: disclosing one and a half centuries of history". Intermontanus 4 (5): 33–35. 
  10. ^ Meet Jonathan, St Helena's 182-year-old giant tortoise BBC, March 13, 2014
  11. ^ Jonathan the 176-year-old tortoise revealed as world's oldest animal in Boer War photo Daily Mail, December 5, 2008
  12. ^ Boer War memento puts years on Jonathan the tortoise. The Times, December 4, 2008
  13. ^ Georges Cuvier (baron), C Hamilton Smith, E Pidgeon, J E Gray, P A Latreille, G R Gray - The animal kingdom arranged in conformity with its organization, Volume 9 (p.54) Printed for G. B. Whittaker, 1831 [Retrieved 2015-3-26]
  14. ^ The London Literary Gazette and Journal of Belles Lettres, Arts, Sciences, Etc H. Colburn, 1831 [Retrieved 2015-3-26]
  15. ^ W J Broderip - Leaves from the Note Book of a Naturalist (p.83, left column) E. Littell & Company, 1852 [Retrieved 2015-3-26](...In the beginning of November he opened the skull of a land-tortoise, removed every particle of brain, and cleaned the cavity out...instead of dying or remaining motionless, it groped it's way about....)
  16. ^ 2003 Grolier Encyclopedia, The Great Book of Knowledge, The Speed of Animals, pp. 278.
  17. ^ 2007 Grolier Encyclopedia, The Great Book of Knowledge, The Speed of Animals, p. 297.
  18. ^ Turtle Taxonomy Working Group [van Dijk, P.P., Iverson, J.B., Rhodin, A.G.J., Shaffer, H.B., and Bour, R.]. 2014. Turtles of the world, 7th edition: annotated checklist of taxonomy, synonymy, distribution with maps, and conservation status. In: Rhodin, A.G.J., Pritchard, P.C.H., van Dijk, P.P., Saumure, R.A., Buhlmann, K.A., Iverson, J.B., and Mittermeier, R.A. (Eds.). Conservation Biology of Freshwater Turtles and Tortoises: A Compilation Project of the IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group. Chelonian Research Monographs 5(7):000.329–479, doi:10.3854/ crm.5.000.checklist.v7.2014.
  19. ^ Batsch, A.J.G.C. 1788. Versuch einer Anleitung zur Kenntniss und Geschichte der Thiere und Mineralien. Erster Theil. Allgemeine Geschichte der Natur; besondre der Säugthiere, Vögel, Amphibien und Fische. Jena: Akademischen Buchandlung, 528 pp.
  20. ^ Loveridge, Arthur and Williams, Ernest E. 1957. Revision of the African tortoises and turtles of the suborder Cryptodira. Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology 115(6):163–557.
  21. ^ Gray, John Edward. 1873. Notes on the genera of turtles (Oiacopodes), and especially on their skeletons and skulls. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 1873:395–411.
  22. ^ Gray, John Edward. 1872. Appendix to the Catalogue of Shield Reptiles in the Collection of the British Museum. Part I. Testudinata (Tortoises). London: British Museum, 28 pp.
  23. ^ Fitzinger, Leopold J. 1835. Entwurf einer systematischen Anordnung der Schildkröten nach den Grundsätzen der natürlichen Methode. Annalen des Wiener Museums der Naturgeschichte 1:105–128.
  24. ^ Testudinidae, The Reptile Database
  25. ^ a b c Fitzinger, Leopold J. 1835. Entwurf einer systematischen Anordnung der Schildkröten nach den Grundsätzen der natürlichen Methode. Annalen des Wiener Museums der Naturgeschichte 1:105–128.
  26. ^ Austin, J. J.; Nicholas Arnold, E. (2001). "Ancient mitochondrial DNA and morphology elucidate an extinct island radiation of Indian Ocean giant tortoises (Cylindraspis)". Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 268 (1485): 2515. doi:10.1098/rspb.2001.1825.  edit
  27. ^ Rafinesque, Constantine Samuel. 1832. Description of two new genera of soft shell turtles of North America. Atlantic Journal and Friend of Knowledge 1:64–65.
  28. ^ Duméril, André Marie Constant and Bibron, Gab riel. 1834. Erpétologie Générale ou Histoire Naturelle Complète des Reptiles. Tome Premier. Paris: Roret, 439 pp.
  29. ^ Lindholm, Wassili A. 1929. Revidiertes Verzeichnis der Gattungen der rezenten Schildkröten nebst Notizen zur Nomenklatur einiger Arten. Zoologischer Anzeiger 81:275–295.
  30. ^ Gray, John Edward. 1834. Characters of several new species of freshwater tortoises (Emys) from India and China. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 1834(2):53–54.
  31. ^ Falconer, H. and Cautley, P.T. 1837. On additional fossil species of the order Quadrumana from the Siwalik Hills. Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 6:354–360.
  32. ^ Bell, Thomas. 1827. On two new genera of land tortoises. Transactions of the Linnean Society of London 15:392–401.

Further reading[edit]

  • Chambers, Paul (2004). A Sheltered Life: The Unexpected History of the Giant Tortoise. London: John Murray. ISBN 0-7195-6528-6. 
  • Ernst, C. H.; Barbour, R. W. (1989). Turtles of the World. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press. 
  • Gerlach, Justin (2004). Giant Tortoises of the Indian Ocean. Frankfurt: Chimiara. 
  • Antoinette C. van der Kuyl; Donato L. Ph. Ballasina; John T. Dekker; Jolanda Maas; Ronald E. Willemsen; Jaap Goudsmit (February 2002). "Phylogenetic Relationships among the Species of the Genus Testudo (Testudines: Testudinidae) Inferred from Mitochondrial 12S rRNA Gene Sequences". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 22 (2): 174–183. doi:10.1006/mpev.2001.1052. ISSN 1055-7903. PMID 11820839. 

External links[edit]