|Geographical Range||Aldabra Atoll, part of the Seychelles Islands off the east coast of Africa|
|Habitat||Grasslands, scrublands, swamps|
|Scientific Name||Geochelone gigantea|
A Close Second
The Aldabra tortoise is second only to the Galapagos tortoise as the biggest land tortoise in the world. Aldabra tortoises can weigh more than 500 pounds, with a shell more than five feet long. Now that's big!
Males are larger than females, but all Aldabra tortoises share the same basic appearance. They have a high, domed shell that's dark brown or gray in color. Their legs are very stout, and the front ones are partly covered with big scales. Both front and back feet have powerful claws. The tail is short and has a claw-like spur on the tip. These tortoises don't have many enemies!
What's for Dinner?
Despite their appearance, Aldabra tortoises are not fearsome predators. In fact, they're mostly vegetarians. In dry open areas, they graze on low-growing grasses and herbs. In wooded and scrub areas, the tortoises browse on a variety of woody plants that grow up to three feet tall. That's how high the tortoises can stretch their long necks.
While plants are their favorite type of food, Aldabra tortoises also eat the dead, decaying flesh of crabs and other tortoises. Yum!
Abracadabra -- Baby Aldabras!
February to May is the breeding season for Aldabra tortoises. A few months later, the female digs a nest. Where the soil is deep enough, the nest may be a well-hidden hole 10 inches deep. Where the soil is thinner, the nest may be only a shallow depression in the ground.
The female lays between four and 14 eggs (each about two inches in diameter). A female living in an area with many other tortoises lays fewer eggs than a female living in an area with low tortoise density.
Between three and six months after they're laid, the eggs hatch. The young reptiles are only about three inches long. They've got a lot of growing to do!
These tortoises are active during the day. But like all tropical reptiles, they try to avoid the midday heat. How? They find shady shelter under trees and bushes, or cool off in pools or mud holes.
The Aldabra tortoise is the last known survivor of a group of giant tortoises once found on Madagascar and the Seychelles Islands. People over-hunted the other species, wiping them out completely. The Aldabra tortoise almost suffered the same fate: by 1900, the species was hanging on by a thread.
Fortunately, the Seychelles government stepped in to protect the remaining Aldabra tortoises. This protection, combined with an international agreement that restricts trade in the species, has helped the reptiles begin to recover. Today there about 100,000 to 150,000 of the reptiles in the wild. They aren't out of the woods yet, though, and are still considered threatened (see Conservation Status).
Aldabra tortoises usually live for 65 to 90 years. But they've been known to live even longer: the record is 152 years!