59 Interesting Facts About Tortoises

Last updated on May 31st, 2023

53. The tortoise is revered among the people of the Tahitian islands. It is considered the lord of the oceans and the shadow of the gods.

54. In Polynesian culture, the tortoise is the personification of Tu, the war god. This is why its image is used to tattoo warriors.

55. The tortoise plays a significant role in many creation stories. In one story, the World Turtle lays eggs from which people are hatched.

56. During the heyday of the Roman Empire, soldiers would sometimes use the “testudo” formation. In this military formation, the soldiers formed several rows, holding the shields in front and/or above them, forming a “shell” over the soldiers. This protects them from attacks from all sides.

57. In modern usage, “testudinal” refers to anything that pertains to or resembles a tortoise or its shell.

Tortoise and hare racing.
Photo © James Group Studios, Inc.

58. In the famous fable by Aesop, the tortoise defeated the hare because it persevered. The hare was overconfident of its abilities, so it lost the race. This is why many cultures revere the tortoise because it symbolizes stability, calmness, and resoluteness.

59. The collective term for tortoises is creep. So if you see a group of them together, you could say, a creep of tortoises. It’s not likely you would use this term, however, because tortoises are solitary beings and you might not find them congregating in groups.

After reading some interesting tortoise facts, let us learn about some 14 types of tortoises.

1. Greek Tortoise Facts

The Greek tortoise
The Greek tortoise. Tortoise facts. Photo © Mrehssani

The Greek tortoise doesn’t live in Greece. The Greek tortoise, along with five other species, is from the Mediterranean. Today, you can find Greek tortoises in Europe, Asia, and Africa.

This tortoise got its name from the patterns on the shell.

They have large colored dots that can be gold, dark yellow, brown, and black, with borders similar to a traditional Greek mosaic.

The tortoise has a flat head, large scales on its legs, and very strong claws.

The Greek tortoise can live in dry, temperate, and cold climates and is found in forests, woodlands, mountains, and temperate grasslands.

Tortoises that live in colder climates hibernate during the cold months, and tortoises that live in warmer temperatures don’t hibernate.

They are grazing tortoises and eat herbaceous grasses and plants.

2. Indian Star Tortoise Facts

Indian star tortoise
The Indian star tortoise. Tortoise facts. Photo © Ravindu Praveen

The Indian Star tortoise is small and has a star-shaped shell and unique patterns, making it easy to identify this tortoise.

It has bright patterns on the shell that look like stars, and the patterns depend on the tortoise’s origin. For example, tortoises from India don’t have contrasting color patterns on the shells, while tortoises from Sri Lanka have bright yellow designs.

The tortoise is native to India and Pakistan, and you can also find this species in India and Sri Lanka.

The Indian Star tortoise is a threatened species. The tortoise was added to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species in 2016. The population is dwindling due to loss of habitat and poaching.

The Indian Star tortoise is said to have medicinal purposes, brings good fortune, and is smuggled all over the world.

3. Leopard Tortoise Facts

A Leopard Tortoise
A Leopard Tortoise. Tortoise facts. Photo © Andries Alberts

The Leopard tortoise is native to the dry savannas of southern and central Africa.

This species is easy to identify thanks to its dome shape with contrasting black and yellow patterns, and males grow to be larger than females. 

The Leopard tortoise doesn’t have ears and navigates using vibrations.

This tortoise has two defense mechanisms against predators. They have an impregnable shell and will go inside the shell when they are in danger.

They also have a defense mechanism against humans. If you pick up a Leopard tortoise, it will evacuate its bowels, and everything stored will get all over you.

4. Red-Footed Tortoise Facts

Red-footed tortoise
Red-footed tortoise. Tortoise facts. Photo © R Kris Hartanto

Red-footed tortoises are found throughout South Africa and the Caribbean islands of Barbados and Trinidad and are popular pets.

They have bright red, orange, and yellow patches on their legs, heads, and tails, with bumpy concave shells that can be gray, brown, or black.

Male and female red-footed tortoises identify each other using head movements as signals, which is pretty incredible.

Red-footed tortoises are herbivorous, and most of their food comes from grasses, leaves, fruits, flowers, and fungi. They also eat small amounts of animal matter, often from small invertebrates.

Female red-footed tortoises lay around 15 eggs at a time, and it takes about 150 days for the eggs to hatch. This tortoise can live for 50 years or more.

5. Pancake Tortoise Facts

Pancake Tortoise
A Pancake Tortoise. Tortoise facts. Photo© Jason Ondreicka

Of all the species of tortoises, pancake tortoises are one of the most unique.

Their shell is flexible, thin, and flat, which helps them run fast, making the pancake tortoise the fastest tortoise.

Most tortoises have strong solid shells, and pancake tortoises have holes in their shell, making them agile and lightweight.

Most tortoises hide in their shells from predators, but the pancake tortoise doesn’t because they are fast enough to flee from danger. The shell is flexible, making it possible for them to crawl into narrow rock crevices to hide. This also allows them to live in a habitat that isn’t suitable for other species.

The pancake tortoise has predators, including wild dogs, mongooses, and humans.

The pancake tortoise’s diet includes dry grasses and other vegetation. They also eat fruit that has fallen to the ground and aloe and other succulents.

6. Hermann’s tortoise Facts

Hermann`s tortoise
Hermann’s tortoise. Tortoise facts. Photo © Tadeasvonh

There are two subspecies of Hermann’s tortoises, the eastern Hermann’s and the western Hermann’s.

This tortoise has very thick scales, is yellow-brown, and is native to Mediterranean Europe.

The Hermann’s tortoises are typically found in oak and beech forests and rocky hillsides in Mediterranean Europe and can live to be 70 years old.

The eastern and western Hermann’s tortoises have orange, yellow, or brown shells with unique black markings.

The main difference between the two is that the western subspecies have a higher domed shell.

It takes about seven years to tell the difference between a male and a female. Males have thicker, longer tails but are about 12 percent smaller than females.

Both western and eastern Hermann’s tortoises feed on vegetables, leafy greens, and fallen fruit.

7. Russian Tortoise Facts

Russian tortoise
A Russian tortoise. Tortoise facts. Photo © Wrangel

Russian tortoises are also known as Afghan tortoises, Central Asian tortoises, four-clawed tortoise, and the Russian steppe tortoise, but the Russian tortoise is the most common name.

This species is native to Russia, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and a few Central Asian countries. Sadly, this tortoise is threatened due to human activities in its native habitat.

The color of this tortoise varies, but the shell is either brown or black, which fades to yellow in some areas. Most have yellow and brown bodies, depending on the subspecies.

Male tortoises have longer tales and claws than females, and females have short, flat tails with shorter claws.

Russian tortoises feed on grasses, leaves, flowers, and other vegetation. The biggest threat to the Russian is humans, and their predators include raccoons, coyotes, and foxes.

8. Sulcata Tortoise Facts

Sulcata tortoise
A Sulcata tortoise. Tortoise facts. Photo © Pumppump

The Sulcata tortoise is also known as the African Spurred Tortoise and is one of the largest mainland tortoises.

This species can reach 30 inches or more in length and weigh well over 100 pounds, while males can reach 200 pounds.

The only tortoises that surpass the Sulcata are the Galapagos and Aldabra.

Sulcata tortoises live in very hot climates, where the temperature can reach 120 degrees. When it’s this hot, they dig dens up to ten feet deep to keep cool.

Sulcata tortoises eat grasses, weeds, flowers, and cacti. In captivity, Sulcatas are often given tortoise diet pellets and calcium.

Sulcata tortoises can go weeks without food and water. When the tortoise finds a water source, it can drink up to 15 percent of its body weight.

The Sulcata tortoise is a popular pet, but people who plan to get a Sulcata tortoise as a pet should know about tortoises, and understand they can live 80 to 100 years.

9. Yellow-footed Tortoise Facts

A Yellow footed tortoise
A Yellow footed tortoise. Tortoise facts. Photo © Jaap Bleijenberg

The yellow-footed tortoise is native to the rain forests in South America. They are found in southeastern Venezuela, French Guiana, Guyana, and Brazil. They are also found in the Amazon basin to eastern Columbia and Ecuador, as well as northeastern Bolivia and northeastern Peru.

This tortoise gets its name from the yellow or orange scales on its limbs.

This species can communicate with one another using rapid head movements.

Males are bigger than females and can be identified by the concave shape of the lower shell.

This species eats grass, leaves, and fallen fruit and occasionally dines on insects or carrion.

Adult yellow-footed tortoises grow to 15 to 20 pounds; however, on rare occasions, a yellow-footed tortoise can reach over 100 pounds.

The most significant threat to the yellow-footed tortoise is humans because they are considered a delicacy in parts of South America. Sadly, this species is considered vulnerable to extinction.

10. Egyptian Tortoise Facts

Egyptian tortoise
An Egyptian tortoise. Tortoise facts. Photo © Matthijs Kuijpers

The Egyptian tortoise is native to the desert around the southern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. There was a time that this species was found in Israel, Egypt, and Libya, but now they are isolated to small patches of Libya and are considered extinct in other areas.

It gets very hot where the Egyptian tortoise lives, and their small size helps them adjust their body temperature quickly to prevent overheating.

The tortoise is pale and the color of sand, which helps reflect heat while blending into their surroundings to avoid predators.

The Egyptian tortoise is active during the day but only forages when it’s cool and rests when it’s very hot.

All living things need water to survive, but there’s no water in the desert where the Egyptian tortoise lives. To get water, they suck on the moisture from desert plants.
Monitor lizards prey on Egyptian tortoises. In addition, ravens prey on tortoises and their eggs, but humans are the most significant predator.

11. Horsfield Tortoise Facts

Horsfield`s tortoise
Horsfield’s tortoise. Tortoise facts. Photo © Georgesixth

The Horsfield tortoise is unlike other species because it can handle harsh climates. They are often found in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Asia, and Western China.

This tortoise differs from other tortoises because they have four claws on each foot, while most have five. Also, their shells are flatter than other species.

The shell varies in color from olive green to mustard yellow. Female tales are shorter and rounded, and male tails are longer, pointed at the end, and often tuck their tail to one side.

Horsfield tortoises are good climbers, which helps them navigate through rocky terrain. They hibernate from October through March due to the cold temperatures and lack of food.

The Horsfield tortoise has several threats, and most are small animals. Domestic dogs often destroy nests, so the eggs never get a chance to hatch.

Humans are also a threat because they take the tortoises from their natural habitat and sell them for money. Finally, the Horsfield tortoises’ habitat is getting smaller and smaller due to overgrazing livestock.

12. Gopher Tortoise Facts

Gopher Tortoise
A Gopher tortoise. Tortoise facts. Photo © George Bailey

The gopher tortoise is native to the southeastern parts of the United States.

They have forefeet that are excellent for burrowing and elephantine hind feet and have scales on their legs to protect themselves while burrowing.

This tortoise is dark brown or gray, and the bottom of the shell is yellow. The bottom of the shell is also different; on a male, it’s concave, and on a female, it’s flat.

Gopher tortoises are scavengers, and they eat over 300 species of plants. They also eat broad blades of grass, mushrooms, and fallen fruit.

Gophers are burrowers and spend up to 80 percent of their time digging burrows. The burrows are often around 15 feet long and 6.5 feet deep and often dig to the depth of the water table. The burrows are essential for protecting the tortoise from the heat in the summer, cold in the winter, predators, and fire.

Gopher tortoises reach maturity at 10 to 15 years old and can live for over 40 years.

13. Galapagos Tortoise Facts

Galapagos Tortoise
A Galapagos Tortoise. Tortoise facts. Photo © Rico Leffanta

There are 13 species of Galapagos tortoises, and they live longer than any other land vertebrates, living for over 100 years.

They are also known as giant tortoises and are native to the Galapagos archipelago, off Ecuador. The tortoise got its name after the Spanish sailors who explored the region in 1535 named the string of islands for them.

This tortoise has thick legs and small air chambers inside their shell, designed to help hold them up.

There are two main types of Galapagos tortoises, the domed tortoise lives in cooler regions, and the saddle-back tortoises live in dry environments on the coast.

This tortoise has an easy life. They spend 16 hours a day grazing on leaves, grass, and cactus and bask in the sun.

Galapagos tortoise has a very slow metabolism, and can store large amounts of food and water, and can survive for a year without food and water.

Galapagos tortoises are massive in size and can grow to be six feet long, and can weigh up to 573 pounds.

Despite their enormous size, these tortoises have predators such as dogs, cats, rats, goats, donkeys, and feral pigs.

These animals prey on tortoise eggs and hatchlings and compete with the Galapagos tortoise for food.

The average lifespan of this tortoise is between 80 and 100 years.

14. Elongated Tortoise Facts

Elongated Tortoise
An Elongated Tortoise. Tortoise facts. Photo © Wzfan

The elongated tortoise is native to India, Nepal, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and southern China and is found in forests and shrubland.

This tortoise is unique, with a considerably depressed shell that is twice as long and deep as other types of tortoises.

This tortoise is relatively small, growing to around 12 inches long and seven pounds. Females are broader and more rounded than males. In addition, the bottom of the male shell is concave, and the female is flat.

These tortoises are omnivores and feed on soft leaves, fallen fruit, mushrooms, and invertebrates. They also occasionally eat carrion.

Sadly, this tortoise is considered critically endangered. Their most significant threat is from humans who collect them to sell for food and traditional medicine. They are also used in some religions, and their shells are turned into decorative masks in some areas. In addition, their habitat has been reduced due to logging, and the habitat has been reduced by as much as half.