There were originally fifteen different races of Galapagos giant tortoise each evolved to suit the conditions on the different islands. Four of the races are now extinct and one, the Pinta race, only has one male left.

Overview

Picture of a Galapagos TortoiseDistribution: Galapagos Islands

Description: High convex shell and tough scales over legs. Feet are not webbed unlike turtles.

Size: Length - 1.5m (5ft) Weight: 140-180kg (300-400lbs)

Life Span: At least 100 years.

Diet: Grass, leaves and cacti.

One day in February 1535, a Spanish ship sailed from Panama bound for Peru. During the voyage a great storm arose and for the next eight or nine days the crew battled against towering seas and terrifying winds to keep their ship afloat. Eventually the storm abated and both the ship and its crew survived, but they had been blown far from their course and they were short of food and water.

Then, on March 10th an island was sighted which later proved to be just one of a group of thirteen major islands and many smaller islets, all of volcanic origin. The Spaniards were surprised to find many strange animals on the island, including great numbers of giant tortoises.

So impressed were they by these tortoises that they gave the island group the name Galapagos - a Spanish word for tortoise. To this day we know the islands as the 'Galapagos Islands'.

Because the islands of the Galapagos are of volcanic origin they were never part of a main continent. They simply rose from the sea-bed as a result of massive volcanic activity millions of years ago. The islands are situated about 600 miles to the west of Ecuador in South America, so there is no mainland mass anywhere near the islands.

Despite this fact, animals of many kinds have colonized the islands including many species of birds, giant lizards, seals and of course, the huge tortoise. Nobody is absolutely certain just how the tortoise arrived or how it spread to most of the islands in the group. Perhaps we will never know.

However, it does seem quite likely that the tortoise arrived by sea, floating on a natural raft of driftwood. We know that the tortoise can survive for long periods without food or water, so the theory is a reasonable one. This would not necessarily explain the fact that each of the islands in the Galapagos group has (or had) its own particular form of tortoise, each with a differently marked shell.

Read More: Habits