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Survivor!

It's one thing to survive a few weeks on a television show, but it's quite another to live 180 years and never be voted off the island! The tale of the ultimate survivor begins in a world of 18th century explorers, kidnappings, and tropical islands, when long-distance travel was by ship and many lands were still uncharted. The secret to this creature's longevity may be in its philosphy: Slow and steady wins the race.

By all accounts the longest-lived creatures on earth are turtles. It may have something to do with the slowed-down lifestyle and perhaps the protective armor. At any rate, tales abound of giant tortoises of the Galapagos, Seychelles, Madagascar, and other islands that lived well over 100 years. Sailors were said to carve their names and dates into the shells of these behemoths, providing something of a record of their lifespans. But it is quite difficult to track the lifespan of a wild animal, especially when the animal outlives the person keeping track!

The longest life of any tortoise of which there is an authenticated record is that of Marion's Tortoise, a Testudo gigantea. This giant tortoise, along with four of its companions, was taken as an adult from its native island in the Seychelles to Mauritius, where no tortoises occur, by the French explorer Marion de Fresne in 1766. It lived there for 152 years, until it died in 1918. Since it was a full-grown adult at the time of its capture in 1766, its actual age may be estimated at not less than 180 years and perhaps as much as 200 years.

Even the smaller members of the turtle order are known to be long-lived. One Box Turtle, passed down as a family pet, is said to have died at the ripe old age of 123. It was just one year older than the oldest human on record, a French woman named Jeanne Louise Calment (1875 to 1997).

Interestingly, turtles aren't only the longest-lived individuals known, they are the oldest type of living reptiles, vastly more ancient in lineage than the fossil dinosaurs and most of the other extinct forms. That makes them older than all mammals and birds, as well. Surely they are doing something right. There may be more to the tale of the tortoise and the hare (lifespan probably up to 8 or 10 years, if lucky!) than race strategy!

Click here to learn about North America's tortoises.

 

 

 

 

 

2007 eNature.com