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Aldabra Giant Tortoise: Characteristics, Diet, Facts & More [Fact Sheet]

The Aldabra giant tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea) is an extraordinary creature that symbolizes both longevity and endurance. Occupying the coral atoll of Aldabra in Seychelles, this reptile is one of the world’s largest tortoises and one of the longest-living animals on earth.

With their massive dome-shaped shells and sturdy legs, these tortoises are well adapted to their island home. The Aldabra giant tortoise is a survivor, enduring the passing of centuries and the onslaught of human exploitation, providing an invaluable study of island biogeography and evolutionary science.

This article will delve into the fascinating world of the Aldabra giant tortoise, exploring its biology, behaviors, and conservation status.

The Aldabra Giant Tortoise at a Glance


Class:Reptilia (Reptiles)
Species:A. gigantea

Essential Information

Average Size:Up to 48 in (122 cm)
Average Weight:Up to 551 lbs (250 kg)
Average Lifespan:Over 100 years (up to 200 years in some instances)
Geographical Range:Aldabra Atoll in Seychelles
Conservation Status:Vulnerable (IUCN Red List)

Species and Subspecies

The Aldabra giant tortoise is the last surviving species of giant tortoise that once lived on the islands of the Indian Ocean. The genus Aldabrachelys includes another species, the extinct Seychelles giant tortoise (A. hololissa).

Although both species lived in the same general area, they exhibited differences in size and shell shape, which likely corresponded to different ecological adaptations. The Seychelles giant tortoise was somewhat smaller and had a more domed shell than the Aldabra giant tortoise.

Aldabra tortoise


An Aldabra giant tortoise boasts a large, domed shell that can reach lengths of up to 48 inches (122 cm) and weights of 551 pounds (250 kg). The color of the shell varies from gray to tan.

The creature’s limbs are column-like, thick, and sturdy, equipped with sharp claws for digging and ripping apart vegetation. Their long necks, which can be extended quite a distance from their shell, aid in reaching food from tall shrubs.

Males are typically larger than females and have a longer, thicker tail. Males also have a concave underside to their shell, which helps in mating.

Habitat and Distribution

The Aldabra giant tortoise lives on the Aldabra Atoll, a coral atoll that forms part of the Seychelles archipelago in the Indian Ocean. It is the largest raised coral atoll in the world, comprising four large coral islands which enclose a shallow lagoon.

This atoll is home to a variety of habitats, including mangrove swamps, coastal dunes, and scrubland. The tortoise’s population is distributed throughout the islands, with a higher concentration in areas with free-standing water.

They are predominantly found in grasslands and low scrub areas, where they feed on a variety of plant matter.

Aldabra giant tortoise in a zoo


Aldabra giant tortoises are generally active during the cooler parts of the day, showing a diurnal behavior pattern. They are most active in the early morning and late afternoon, taking shelter from the hot sun during midday.

Despite their large size, they are quite mobile and can cover significant distances in search of food and mates. These tortoises live in a complex social structure that includes both solitary individuals and herds.

They communicate through body movements, touch, and occasionally make hissing sounds, especially during mating.

Diet and Feeding Behavior

As herbivores, Aldabra giant tortoises feed mainly on grasses, leaves, and woody plant stems. They will also eat small invertebrates and carrion, given the opportunity. Their diet changes with the season and the availability of food.

During the dry season, they are known to eat the droppings of other tortoises to obtain the necessary moisture and nutrients. The Aldabra giant tortoise has a slow feeding style; they take their time, nibbling at plants leisurely as they move across their territory.


The adult Aldabra giant tortoises have no natural predators due to their large size and the formidable protection offered by their hard shells. However, the eggs and young tortoises are vulnerable to predation.

Birds, lizards, and crabs are known to prey on eggs and hatchlings. Introduced species such as rats and pigs also pose a significant threat to eggs, often digging them up from nests.

Aldabra giant tortoises mating

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Aldabra giant tortoises reach sexual maturity between 20 and 30 years of age. Their breeding habits involve elaborate courtship displays where males try to outdo each other by stretching their necks out to their full length. Males will also ram into each other with their shells, trying to flip one another over. Successful males mate with females, who then lay between 9 and 25 eggs in a dry, sunny location.

The gestation period for the eggs is around eight months. Once hatched, the young tortoises are left to fend for themselves and have a relatively low survival rate due to predation and harsh environmental conditions. Those who survive can live for more than 100 years, with some individuals known to have reached over 180 years, making them among the longest-lived animals on Earth.

Conservation and Threats

The Aldabra giant tortoise is listed as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List due to past exploitation and ongoing threats from habitat loss and introduced predators.

Historically, sailors hunted these tortoises for meat, decimating their population. Today, they are threatened by the loss of their grazing habitats due to human encroachment and the effects of climate change, such as rising sea levels and increased frequency of droughts.

Conservation efforts for these tortoises are ongoing and have included strict legal protections and the establishment of protected areas. In fact, the Aldabra Atoll, where the majority of these tortoises are found, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site managed by the Seychelles Islands Foundation.

These efforts have been largely successful in maintaining the population of Aldabra giant tortoises, and they continue to be a key symbol for conservation in the Seychelles.

Fun Facts

  1. Aldabra giant tortoises can go without food or water for up to a year. This ability has allowed them to survive on their remote island habitats where food and water can be scarce.
  2. They are among the largest tortoises in the world. Some individuals have been known to exceed 550 pounds (250 kilograms).
  3. Although they are generally slow movers, Aldabra giant tortoises can be surprisingly agile when necessary and are excellent swimmers.
  4. These tortoises have been known to knock over small trees and shrubs to reach food or make a pathway.
  5. An Aldabra giant tortoise named Adwaita, who lived in the Alipore Zoo in Kolkata, India, was believed to be one of the longest-lived animals in recorded history. When he died in 2006, he was estimated to be around 255 years old.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long can Aldabra giant tortoises live?

They are one of the longest-lived animals on the planet. It’s common for them to live beyond 100 years, and some individuals have been known to live over 180 years.

What do Aldabra giant tortoises eat?

They are herbivores, feeding primarily on grasses, leaves, and woody plant stems. They are also known to eat small invertebrates and carrion.

Are Aldabra giant tortoises endangered?

They are currently classified as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List. While their populations are stable thanks to conservation efforts, they continue to face threats from habitat loss and climate change.

Do Aldabra giant tortoises have any natural predators?

Adult Aldabra giant tortoises have few natural predators due to their large size and tough, protective shells. However, eggs and young tortoises are vulnerable to predation by birds, crabs, and rats.

How fast can Aldabra giant tortoises move?

Despite their size, they are not fast movers. They typically move at a pace of about 0.2 miles per hour (0.3 kilometers per hour).

Where can I see an Aldabra giant tortoise in the wild?

The best place to see them in the wild is the Aldabra Atoll in Seychelles, a remote island group in the Indian Ocean. The atoll is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to the world’s largest population of these tortoises.

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