Galapagos Tortoises Species
There are 15 species of the Galapagos tortoises. Isabela Island, the largest island in the archipelago, is the one with the largest number of species. Up to 5 species have been counted, around each of the island’s volcanoes (Sierra Negra, Wolf, Alcedo, Darwin and Cerro Azul). In Santa Cruz, which is the second largest island, two different species are also observed, those of Santa Cruz Island, and another descendant of Pinta Island, which were the largest specie and to which the Solitaire George belonged. Scientists believe that Pinta Island Tortoises are found in Santa Cruz, because pirates left some specimens due to they could not carry the excess weight. In the rest of the islands, specimens with different characteristics have also been found.
Each of them has been adapted to the habitat of each island and they have variations in their morphology, size and shape of the shell. For this reason, tortoises from the Española, Santa Fé, Fernandina, Floreana, Santiago, Pinta and Pinzon islands are considered differentiated species. Of these, those on Pinta Island were the first to become extinct due to poaching by pirates. Also the Fernandina, Santa Fé and Floreana tortoises have become extinct, due to volcano activity or lack of vegetation.
Isabela Island Galapagos Tortoises
On Isabela Island, there are different species of tortoises, characteristic of each of the island’s regions, marked by the areas surrounding the volcanoes: Sierra Negra, Alcedo, Cerro Azul, Darwin and Wolf. However, the differences between these species are sometimes not easy to distinguish at first, since many of the subspecies are very similar. The two main species of Isabela tortoises, and their features, are the following:
Isabela Galapagos Tortoise – Chelonoidis vicina
The shell of the Isabela giant tortoise is thick, heavy, domed, and not previously narrowed. Males are larger; females have more dome shape.
The species inhabits two thirds of the southern part of Isabela Island, and it is estimated that there are currently around 2,500 specimens. You will be able to see several specimens in freedom on the way to the Wall of Tears
Wolf Volcano Galapagos Tortoise – Chelonoidis becki
The shell of this galapagos tortoise has a grayish color of about a meter in length and more rounded, as it feeds on low vegetation. Its natural habitat is on the slopes of the Wolf volcano, and within its crater.
They have a life expectancy of 60 years. The thick and arid vegetation of the area has provided them with food, as well as protection against humans and other invasive species. They are considered a species derived from two species of giant tortoises that inhabited this Isabela Island volcano: one on the north face and one on the south face.
Currently there are about 2,000, although historically it is estimated that there were 25,000 tortoises.
San Cristobal Giant Tortoise – Chelonoidis chathamensis
It has a shell of greater height and flattened in its upper part, with the front part elevated to be able to feed on elevated vegetation. They are estimated to have a life expectancy of between 100 and 150 years.
The species, which reached 25,000 specimens, suffered a brutal extermination during the 17th and 19th centuries, until its population was reduced to 800 specimens in the early 1970s.
Currently about 1,800 specimens inhabit the northeast part of San Cristobal Island.
San Cristobal is an arid island with less vegetationdue to dry weather , and this is why the shell of the giant tortoise is more open at the front, in order to expand the range of plants to support. It allow them to take the fruit of cactus and higher bush that are part of San Cristobal vegetation.
Isla Pinta Galapagos Tortoise- Chelonoidis abingdonii (extinct)
They are characterized by having a longer neck, and by the special shape of their shell, with the front part being narrower and slightly raised, while the back part is wider and rounder.
This allowed him to reach the bottom of the cacti, which were the basis of his diet. The appearance of goats on the island, which fed on the same vegetation, and their capture by sailors who frequented the island, led to its extinction.
Solitaire George was the last specimen of its kind. Despite several attempts to reproduce the species, George’s sexual apathy did not allow the species to be saved.
Opposite to Solitaire George was the case of Diego Tortoise, which history will tell you below
Santiago Island Galapagos Tortoise – Chelonoidis darwini
The island’s tropical vegetation gives its shell and skin the darkest color. The species suffered invasion by goats and pigs, as well as poaching.
In addition, the appearance of invasive vegetation (avocado, naranjilla and blackberry) much thicker than the endemic, made it difficult for them to move around the island in search of food.
After being reduced to around 700 specimens in studies carried out in the 1970s, currently around 250 specimens are bred in the Santa Cruz breeding center.
Since the eradication of goats and pigs in the late 1990s, tortoises once again breed in the wild, and can easily be found throughout the island.
Santa Cruz Galapagos Tortoise – Chelonoidis porteri
The Galapagos Giant Tortoises inhabits the western part of the island, known as La Reserva. Until 2015, all the tortoises on the island were considered the same species, but since 2015 this species was separated from those on the eastern part, named from that moment on Chelonoidis donfaustoi in honor of its discoverer.
The upper part of the island is inhabited by males, and as we descend we can find the young and females of this species.
They are characterized by their black and oval shell, just over a meter long, with a domed shape higher in the center than in the front, and open at the front.
In Santa Cruz, there is the El Chato reserve, which is the best place on the island to see them up close. In this center you can find turtles of species from different islands, since it is responsible for the breeding and protection of various species, until they breed a sufficient number of specimens, which return to their natural habitat.
You can visit Chato on the Highlands tour, which you can do with our tour upon landing in Baltra, on the way to Puerto Ayora.