Sunday, March 27, 2011
Species of the Day: Aldabra Tortoise
Scientific Name: Dipsochelys dussumieri
Average Adult Size: 36 to 48 inches long, 350 to 550 pounds
Range: The Aldabra Atoll, with introduced populations on the Reunion, Mauritius and Seychelles islands among other granitic islands of the Indian Ocean.
Habitat: Mostly grasslands and areas of low shrubs
Aldabra tortoises are found on the islands of the Aldabra Atoll, and they are one of the largest tortoises in the world, second in size only to the giant tortoises of the Galapagos islands. However, it is a male Aldabra tortoise at the Fort Worth Zoo that holds the world record of largest tortoise at an enormous 800 pounds. The tortoises are born a gorgeous black color all over, with shiny, almost obsidian-like shells, although their skin will fade to a darker gray color as they age. Aldabra tortoises are threatened in their natural habitat and so are very rare in captivity, and also very expensive through captive breeders. However, these are very rewarding tortoises to keep and are well worth the money if you can manage to find a captive-bred specimen. Aldabra tortoises are very long-lived, with some animals living past 200 years of age.
Aldabra tortoises the mornings and early evenings foraging for food, spending the hotter parts of the day under a shady tree or wallowing in a nice, muddy water hole. They are deceptively quick and as nervous babies will go sprinting away if they sense danger, however if they think you have food they will be falling over themselves to get to you. This tortoise is a natural grazer, and will wander about munching grasses, broad-leafed plants and fallen fruit for most of its natural life in the wild. In captivity, they make great lawn mowers as they happily nip away at grasses and leafy weeds such as dandelions. They also will eat chopped vegetables, flowers, cactus, fruits and commercial tortoise diets.
Naturally these tortoises exist in a wide variety of habitats from grasslands to jungles, all with moderate to high humidity and temperatures. Although adults can easily handle variable amounts of humidity, baby tortoises should be kept humid to ensure smooth and proper growth. They do not hibernate, but will go through a slow-down period during the cooler months. As adults, they can handle body temperatures as low as 45 degrees F at night as long as they are able to heat up into the 70s during the day. Summer highs of up to 120 degrees F can be tolerated as long as they have a cool place to retreat to and a shallow pool to soak in. Because of their size and huge space requirements, it's best to keep Aldabra tortoises outdoors so that they can have access to natural sunlight for proper health and growth. For the colder months a warm tortoise house will need to be built to maintain proper temperatures. Large dog houses work very well for this, and you can supplement heat with lamps and/or large outdoor-use heating pads ("pig blankets").
Adult Aldabra tortoises are interactive and curious once they are past the nervous baby stage, which lasts for the first few years of their lives. They are usually not aggressive toward each other and can be kept in mixed-sex groups. Despite their large size they are actually not very damaging on their environment, rarely digging holes or pushing against enclosure walls or decor. Most Aldabra tortoises will happily follow their owners around once they are comfortable in their environments. They are smart, personable and very entertaining. Just sitting outside and watching them forage and explore can calm the nerves after the most hectic of days.