Friday, July 24, 2015

Fun Friday Facts #115: Tortoises (and Turtles)



The other day the dude and I went swimming at the lake and whilst undergoing the grueling several-minute hike from the parking lot to the swimming beach, we crossed paths with a couple of his friends, having a picnic with their respective pets. This was interesting because one of the pets was a bird of some kind (I can’t remember what species, but it was tropical; guess I should’ve taken notes), and the other pet was a red-footed tortoise. It was surprisingly adorable, and now I want one.

Unfortunately, over-collection has made this species vulnerable to extinction.
Red-footed tortoise by user OldUncleMe from Wikipedia.com.

Until today, I thought that tortoises stayed on land and turtles live in the water. I must have thought that because l spent too much time hanging around with British people (ha, as if such a thing were possible) because that’s consistent with British usage. In American usage, however, “tortoise” is used to describe slow-moving, land-dwelling turtles, specifically those of the order Testudines. Examples include the Aldabra giant tortoise, one of the world’s largest tortoise species, which is native to the Aldabra Atoll in the Seychelles.

“Turtle,” on the other hand, is a general term referring to all members of the order, whether land or water-dwelling. Box turtles, for example, are not tortoises, but dwell on land.

Speaking of box turtles, did you know that they can die if you take them away from their territory? A box turtle that is removed from the area in which it lives may “wander aimlessly” in an attempt to return home, until it expires. You heard it here first, people – don’t pick up box turtles and carry them off to release in your back yard or whatever. It kills them.

"Don't kill me!"

Also, you should probably not keep a box turtle as a pet, or if you do, do your research first and don’t get it as a pet for a child. Box turtles are pretty hard to care for. They need to hibernate in the winter and require a varied diet consisting of earth worms, insects, millipedes, fruits, berries, and vegetation. Box turtles need to spend time in an outdoor enclosure, so they can get sunlight. Pressure from the pet trade is threatening box turtle populations in many areas. As many as half of box turtles captured in the wild die in captivity before making it to market. In many states, it’s illegal to collect box turtles from the wild, and your state may require a permit for these animals.

While box turtles live for an average of 50 years, it’s more than possible for these turtles to live for more than 100 years. As you may already know, tortoises (and turtles) are some of the longest-lived animals. Individual tortoises have been known to live longer than 150 years. Green sea turtles can live for 80 to 100 years or longer. The oldest known tortoise that ever lived was called Tu’i Malila. It was a radiated tortoise that lived from 1777 to 1965, or 188 years, and was allegedly a gift from Captain James Cook to the royal family of Tonga. The body of the tortoise is supposedly preserved on display at the Tongan National Center on the island of Tongatapu. Only one other vertebrate has been confirmed to have lived longer than Tu’i Malila, a koi named Hanako who died in July 1977 at the age of 226.

But you can't get a goldfish to live for a week.

Adwaita, an Aldabra giant tortoise that lived in India’s Alipore Zoo, was another extremely elderly tortoise. Adwaita took up residence in the zoo when its keeper, Lord Wellesley, gave it to the Alipur Zoological Gardens in 1875. Zoo records confirm that the tortoise was at least 150 years old, but unspecified “other evidence” suggests that the tortoise may have been as much as 250 years old. A Seychelles giant tortoise, Jonathan, currently living on St. Helena, may be between 178 and 182 years old, making him the oldest living animal on the planet.

Here he is as a young tortoise of 70 years.

When I was a little girl, a man in the neighborhood killed a snapping turtle and brought it to my grandparents. Grandpa apparently loved to eat snapping turtle, and in his excitement, he showed me how to butcher the animal. I fear Grandpa wasted his time, because I have never felt the need to eat a turtle and, barring an apocalypse, I never will. I hope there isn’t an apocalypse because I don’t really remember much of that long-ago lesson, but I do remember Grandpa removing the snapping turtle’s heart from its body and placing it in my hands, with the words, “A snappin’ turtle’s heart keeps beatin’ for hours after its death.” And yes, friends, that snapping turtle’s little heart sat there in my palm and pumped away for no reason at all.

I mention that because 17th century Italian naturalist (that’s that they called scientists back then) Francesco Redi performed an experiment in which he removed a tortoise’s brain, presumably to see how long it lived. It lived for six months.

I'll show myself out.



2 comments:

  1. Always were facinated by turtles and tortoises. Very cool creatures.

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  2. Kids exposed to books at an early age never have problems with putting words or sentences together, and thus have a better grasp over language, vocabulary, conversational skills, social concepts, science, and math that they are presented with when they begin elementary school.
    Names For Turtles

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