Tortoise hunts birds by drawing them under its shell

Tortoise hunts birds by drawing them under its shell

Galapagos Tortoise hunts birds by drawing them under its shell. It then withdraws its limbs, crushing the bird beneath its weight.

The Galápagos tortoise is the largest living species of tortoise and 13th-heaviest living reptile, reaching weights of over 400 kg (880 lb) and lengths of over 1.8 meters (5.9 ft). With life spans in the wild of over 100 years, it is one of the longest-lived vertebrates. A captive individual lived at least 170 years.

The tortoise is native to seven of the Galápagos Islands, a volcanic archipelago about 1,000 km (620 mi) west of the Ecuadorian mainland. Spanish explorers, who discovered the islands in the 16th century, named them after the Spanish galápago, meaning tortoise.

Tortoise hunts birds by drawing them under its shell

Shell size and shape vary between populations. On islands with humid highlands, the tortoises are larger, with domed shells and short necks – on islands with dry lowlands, the tortoises are smaller, with “saddleback” shells and long necks. Charles Darwin’s observations of these differences on the second voyage of the Beagle in 1835, contributed to the development of his theory of evolution.

Tortoise hunts birds by drawing them under its shell

Tortoise numbers declined from over 250,000 in the 16th century to a low of around 3,000 in the 1970s. This decline was caused by exploitation of the species for meat and oil, habitat clearance for agriculture, and introduction of non-native animals to the islands, such as rats, goats, and pigs. Ten subspecies of the original fifteen survive in the wild; an eleventh subspecies (C. n. abingdonii) had only a single known living individual, kept in captivity and nicknamed Lonesome George until his death in June 2012. Conservation efforts, beginning in the 20th century, have resulted in thousands of captive-bred juveniles being released onto their ancestral home islands, and it is estimated that the total number of the species exceeded 19,000 at the start of the 21st century. Despite this rebound, the species as a whole is classified as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature

Tortoise hunts birds by drawing them under its shell

Tortoises share a mutualistic relationship with some species of Galápagos finch and mockingbirds. Small groups of finches initiate the process by hopping on the ground in an exaggerated fashion facing the tortoise. The tortoise signals it is ready by rising up and extending its neck and legs, enabling the birds to reach otherwise inaccessible spots on the tortoise’s body such as the neck, rear legs, cloacal opening, and skin between plastron and carapace. The birds benefit from the food source and the tortoises get rid of irritating ectoparasites.

Some tortoises have been observed to insidiously exploit this mutualistic relationship. After rising and extending its limbs, the bird may go beneath the tortoise to investigate, whereupon suddenly the tortoise withdraws its limbs to drop flat and kill the bird. It then steps back to eat the bird, presumably to supplement its diet with protein

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