Tortoises are amazing creatures even when they’re small little things and contrary to what many people think, when a tortoise needs to put a spurt on, they can move quite fast.
The tortoise is a land-dwelling reptile closely related to the sea turtle. The tortoises are found in most countries but mainly in the southern hemisphere they experience warmer weather for most of the year.
In many species of tortoise, the female tends to be bigger than the male. The male plastron curves inwards to aid reproduction. The simplest way to find out the sex of a tortoise is to check at the tail. As a general rule, the males have much longer tails that are pulled up and to the side of the rear shell, while the females have smaller tails that are dropped down.
Many land-based tortoises are herbivores. They feed on weeds, grasses, flowers, leafy greens, and some fruits, though some omnivorous species exist in this family as well. Pet tortoises usually need diets depending on leafy greens, weeds, wild grasses, and certain flowers.
Some species consume insects or worms and carrion in their normal habitats. Excessive protein is harmful to herbivorous species and has been linked to shell deformities and some other medical problems.
Since different species of tortoises vary significantly in their nutritional requirements, it’s important to research the dietary needs of individual tortoises thoroughly if you want to keep it as a pet. Below are some interesting facts you probably didn’t know about tortoises.
1. Tortoises cannot swim, but tortoises can hold their breath for an extended period. They are very tolerant of carbon dioxide. It is a perfect thing— tortoises always empty their lungs before they disappear into their shells. You will hear them exhale when they are startled and choose to hide.
2. The scales on the carapace (the outer layer of the shell) are known as scutes. Made of the same keratin found in hooves, hair, and fingernails, scutes protect the shell’s bony plates from infection and injury. The development rings around the scutes can be used to determine the estimated age of wild tortoises.
3. The tortoise inspired the Ancient Roman Military that led them to use what’s known as the ‘testudo’ formation (Latin for tortoise). It’s where they would form rows and hold shields over their heads and in front providing them protection.
4. The lighter the shell, the warmer the origin. Tortoises from tropical regions have lighter-colored shells than the tortoises from the cooler regions.
5. Tortoises’ shells are extremely sensitive to touch. Shells have nerve endings. Therefore, tortoises can feel every scratch, rub, or pet.
6. Tortoises are the ultimate conservationists. They can extract nutrients and water from even the paltriest bites.
Their hindgut system serves as a double digestive tract that separates water from the wastes. When water is scarce, they will hang on to the water waste and just excrete the urates that look like white toothpaste.
7. Sulcatas are one of the most common pet tortoises—and one of the largest. Sulcatas are the third largest species of tortoises in the world, behind the Aldabra giant and Galapagos tortoise. They can live over hundred years and weigh up to 200 pounds.
8. Tortoises can smell with their throats. Like other reptiles, they detect the faintest of the smells with their vomeronasal organ (Jacobson’s Organ), on the roof of their mouths. Tortoises don’t flick their tongues. Instead, they pump their throats to facilitate air circulation through the nose and around the mouth.
9. Tortoise’s brain is very small. In the 17th century, Francesco Redi carried out an experiment involving removal of a land tortoise’s brain, which then proceeded to live 6 months. Freshwater tortoises, when subject to similar experiment, continued similarly, but didn’t live for long.