The best looking 175 year old on earth
November 21, 2005 3:29 AM   Subscribe

Galapagos tortoises look like friendly dinosaurs. One of them just turned 175.
posted by leapingsheep (20 comments total)
I would not like to live to anywhere near such an age if my mental and physical capacities were limited to those of, say, a 75 year old at the present time. Extension of the abilities of a person, through mental exercise and physical exercise well into the winter years can extend life. But the illnesses of old age, such as arthritis, sciatica, osteoporosis, glaucoma and brittle bones mean that any extension of mere years for a person in this condition would be a torture for most.
posted by malusmoriendumest at 4:14 AM on November 21, 2005

I have yet to see a friendly-looking tortoise.
posted by Gator at 4:20 AM on November 21, 2005

Malusmoriendumest, one of the main points of the BBC article the poster linked was that scientists believe they'll be increasing people's "health" span as well as life span.
posted by Zinger at 4:54 AM on November 21, 2005

Well, human longevity is one thing. I just wanted you all to see video of a tortoise happily eating some flowers.
posted by leapingsheep at 5:07 AM on November 21, 2005

Ha ha, I didn't notice that there was a video on that page at first. Watching it, I do have to agree: Harriet the Tortoise looks like something right out of "The Land of the Lost."

I'm accustomed to seeing tortoises pulling this cranky-ass shit whenever I try to take pictures of 'em:

posted by Gator at 5:16 AM on November 21, 2005

Another one apparently has adopted a baby hippo. Those tortoises can do anything a people can!

posted by illovich at 6:15 AM on November 21, 2005

"Harriet the giant tortoise has celebrated her 175th birthday and is now probably the world's oldest living creature."

Not by a long shot. Some years ago (2000) a 250 million years old bacteria was revived in laboratory after being found in suspended animation. A bristlecone pine from the White Mountains of California has more than 4,789 years. The oldest koi fish on record died in Japan some years ago at the age of 225 years (so one can suppose others exist).
posted by nkyad at 6:27 AM on November 21, 2005

They don't sexually mature until they're 30.
It will be a long, long, long time before they're back up to the numbers that Darwin witnessed.
posted by Aknaton at 6:39 AM on November 21, 2005

I'll precis from Paul Chambers wonderful 'A sheltered life'.
She is kept at Steve irwin's Australia Zoo (Crickey!) where the handlers have little or no knowledge other that that what is written on a sign about her links with Darwin, John Wickham and the Beagle. This leaves a gap between of forty-odd years between the Beagles return to to England in 1836 and Harriets appearance in Queensland. Unfortunately a mighty flood in 1893 destroyed many documents relating to the Botanical Gardens which may have contained early references to Harriet.
In 1837 Darwin sourced some 'young' Galapos tortoises and took them to the British Museum to see whether he could tell from which island they came from (they have distinctive shell shapes).
There are four recorded on the Beagle voyages: two to Captain FitzRoy plus Darwin mentioned two juvenile tortoises in his records
Covington's little tortoise {Charles Island {Santa Maria}
Mine from Saint Kames{ San Salvador}

Then comes the paradox:
If John Wickham did take Harriet to Australia between 1841 and 1843, Harriet must have been living somewhere in England. Where did she live between 1837 and 1843? Covington had remained aboard the ship after her arrival in England and he departed for work in Darwin and was in charge of Darwin's specimens so they may have left with him. But... Covington left Darwin's employment around May 1939 and emigrated to Sydney Australia, 'working his passage' so it seems doubtful that he took with him two ten-year-old Galapagos turtles (around 50kg each).
The Darwin's were going through a particularly stressful period (Charles' continued poor health, witnessing a full-fledged riot in the street below them and the loss of a chid in its third month) so they were unlikely to be the babysitters of the tortoises.
So, where did Harriet come from and how old is she really?
posted by tellurian at 6:56 AM on November 21, 2005

So we were in the galapagos this past April.

One of the most amazing moments for me was being in the highlands and staring at one of these tortoises, figure no more than 6 inches from me.

To sit and stare at something that's 175+ years old, quietly chewing on some grass, truly amazing..

Here are 2 of my favorites. My wife took some of me/turtle staring at each other, but I don't have those..

WARNING: These are VERY big (8mp) jpgs.

This one was at the Charles Darwin Research center:
Pic 1
This one was at a turtle preserve in the highlands
Pic 2
posted by Lord_Pall at 7:27 AM on November 21, 2005

Don't kid yourself Jimmy, that tortise would just as soon eat you and me, if we don't eat it first!
posted by blue_beetle at 7:56 AM on November 21, 2005

Mmm.... vegetarian tortoise meat artifically created partially hydrogenated grilled substitute alternative..... *gasp of breath* mmmm......
posted by malusmoriendumest at 8:27 AM on November 21, 2005

We vegetarians get a bad rap as wackos. Why no! It's the vegans you need to worry about- *They're taking over the world with a mixture of dark magic and gum disease*
posted by malusmoriendumest at 8:28 AM on November 21, 2005


Er, those are great pics, Lord_Pall. In my neck of the woods, we just have gopher tortoises, which only live to be sixty or so.
posted by Gator at 8:32 AM on November 21, 2005

Um, how do they know that the turtle is 175 years old?
posted by LittleMissCranky at 9:11 AM on November 21, 2005

DNA testing, evidently.
posted by Gator at 9:24 AM on November 21, 2005

Lord_Pall, that was absolutely the highlight of my trip to the Galapagos, too. We were lucky enough to see them in the wild, on the property of a farmer who knew our guide. They were on their way down to the coast from the highlands to breed. I find it impossible to explain why putting on rubber boots and slogging a mile through shin-deep mud in the pouring rain to look at these creatures was so extraordinarily moving, but it really was. I'd do it again, every second of it, in a heartbeat.

The whole trip exists in my memory as something beyond the descriptive capabilities of English language adjectives, yet this stood out.
posted by jesourie at 9:31 AM on November 21, 2005

Um, how do they know that the turtle is 175 years old?

they chopped it in half and counted the rings.
posted by tnai at 1:09 PM on November 21, 2005

There are two live Galapagos tortoises on display right now at the American Museum of Natural History, as part of a new exhibition on Darwin. I learned about it from the New Yorker, and now, good lord, I see there is even a Tortoise Cam for the benefit of those of us who don't live in New York.
posted by verstegan at 3:54 PM on November 21, 2005

Yeah. Still won't let go of her drivers license either.
posted by Smedleyman at 6:16 PM on November 21, 2005

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