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Galapagos For Kids: Cool Facts About The Giant Galapagos Tortoise

Drew Haines is a young Canadian expat living in Ecuador. She writes the Galapagos for Kids series. Learn about the Galapagos from a kids perspective.

There are Giants in the Galapagos!

What came to your mind when you read the title? Dragons? Well unless you are thinking of marine iguanas, dragons don’t live in Galapagos … but maybe you would find one in a castle :). You probably didn’t think of turtles. But the fact is that the Galapagos Tortoises are giants.

They can grow up to 4 ft. (1.2 m) long! I think their scientific name is funny: Geochelone elephantopus. The second word reminds me of an elephant. Maybe they call it that because of the elephant-like toenails and the funny floppy neck?

More reading: Red Mangrove Tour Packages

Want a free coloring sheet of a Galapagos Tortoise? Download it here.


Cool Facts About The Giant Galapagos Tortoise!

  1. Giant Tortoises used to live in every continent (except Antarctica)! Before we went to Galapagos, I thought that Galapagos tortoises were all the same. But it turns out that almost every island in the Galapagos has its own species! There used to be 15 species of these tortoises, but now there are only 11. Some have gone extinct since humans first arrived on the islands.
  2. The temperature affects whether the eggs come out boys or girls. When it is hot, more boys are born. So during an El Niño current, there are lots and lots of baby boys!
  3. When they go back in their shells, they make a really neat sound. Do you want to sound like a tortoise? Here’s how: Take a medium size glass, and put your top lip on top of it and the rest of your mouth inside (don’t push the glass up against your cheeks and chin) and blow as hard as you can for as long as you can. You will sound like a tortoise. Happy blowing! Do you know why they make that sound? They make that sound because as they pull their head in, all the air whooshes out as their lungs compress.

Did you know … about Galapagos Tortoises?

  • Did you know that some tortoises (like Lonesome Gorge) are saddleback? And that the word “Galapagos” means saddleback? So when you are in Galapagos, you can pretend to be standing on a saddleback tortoise!
  • Did you know that saddleback shells help the tortoise reach higher plants to get their food?
  • Or did you know that the dome shaped shell helps those tortoises to graze on grass? When we were touring the Charles Darwin Foundation our guide told us that if the scales on their shell are touched, it doesn’t hurt them. But if the white lines between the scales are touched it does hurt them; it might be like a nerve. But don’t touch the tortoises, it’s not aloud.

Warning: Just because they are called saddle-back, doesn’t mean you can ride them – so don’t. At the Charles Darwin Foundation, you used to be able to go in the enclosures but you can’t now. That’s because people were riding the tortoises and it hurt them.

Would you like to see these gentle giants up-close? Check out these land-based tours of Santa Cruz and Isabela Island.

About the author: Drew Haines Hi, I’m Drew Haines.

{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Nana June 13, 2012, 8:49 PM

    I have been waiting for you to write about the
    Galapagos Giant Tortoise . We saw them at the Miami Zoo & thought they are so cool. I like your Did You Know feature. Keep up the good work

  • Papa June 26, 2012, 5:01 AM

    Last summer I saw a leatherback turtle about 6 feet long in Nova Scotia, but this is a rare occurance and lasted only a few moments. It’s really cool that you could see so many very large turtles so easily in the Galapogas. Keep up the good writing.


  • disqus_lRnGSp4UqT November 26, 2012, 9:07 PM

    do you know of any relatives of giant Galapagos tortoise in the United States

    • Bryan Haines November 27, 2012, 9:16 AM

      From what I understand, giant tortoises are unique to islands. While they used to be in many other places, the only places they remain are in the Seychelles, the Mascarenes and the Galapagos Islands.

  • WALLY October 22, 2014, 12:12 PM

    I LIKE TURTLES !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • owen January 22, 2015, 9:34 AM

      turtles are awesome !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • lakeysha August 23, 2015, 8:02 PM

    good turtles

  • charles August 31, 2015, 4:37 PM

    I have been researching on turtles and this Is the best web site for a report on turtles. love the turtles!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


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