The Galápagos Giant Tortoises (Chelonoidis sp), El Chato Ranch, the Village of Santa Rosa, Isla Santa Cruz, the Galápagos Islands, Ecuador.

The Galápagos Giant Tortoises (Chelonoidis sp), El Chato Ranch, the Village of Santa Rosa, Isla Santa Cruz, the Galápagos Islands, Ecuador.

The Galápagos Giant Tortoises (Chelonoidis sp), El Chato Ranch, the Village of Santa Rosa, Isla Santa Cruz, the Galápagos Islands, Ecuador.

The giant tortoises of Galapagos are among the most famous of the unique fauna of the Islands. While giant tortoises once thrived on most of the continents of the world, the Galapagos tortoises now represent one of the remaining two groups of giant tortoises in the entire world — the other group living on Aldabra Atoll in the Indian Ocean. The Galapagos Islands were named for their giant tortoises; the old Spanish word galapago meant saddle, a term early explorers used for the tortoises due to the shape of their shells.

The tortoises are ectothermic (cold-blooded), so bask for 1–2 hours after dawn to absorb the sun’s heat through their dark shells before actively foraging for 8–9 hours a day. They travel mostly in the early morning or late afternoon between resting and grazing areas.

They have been observed to walk at a speed of 0.3 km/h (0.2 mph).

On the larger and more humid islands, the tortoises seasonally migrate between low elevations, which become grassy plains in the wet season, and meadowed areas of higher elevation (up to 2,000 ft (610 m)) in the dry season. The same routes have been used for many generations, creating well-defined paths through the undergrowth known as “tortoise highways”. On these wetter islands, the domed tortoises are gregarious and often found in large herds, in contrast to the more solitary and territorial disposition of the saddleback tortoises.

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