Giant land turtles.. amazing cognitive abilities and strong memory like elephants

Far from being known for being slow-moving animals, giant tortoises have amazing cognitive abilities. Since they appeared around the same time period as the first dinosaurs, keeping them from extinction is a priority.

and in a report Published by the French magazine L’OBs, writer Jean-Paul Fritz said that the tortoise’s gait suggests that its mental perceptions are just as slow as its movements. But scientists who conducted studies on the cognitive abilities of the turtle confirmed the opposite.

The writer mentioned that turtles are divided into two categories, sea turtles that we often see in aquariums or in diets in some countries, and land turtles, the most famous of which are giant turtles that live in the Galapagos Islands. The second type has received special attention.

This type of reptile has an amazing memory, just like elephants (Getty Images)

Special Personality

This type of reptile has an amazing memory just like elephants. Despite the lack of scientific studies on giant tortoises in the Galapagos Islands; The experts who were interested in this species formed an idea of ​​her mental abilities.

According to the British scientist Charles Darwin, who studied how these organisms evolved, Galapagos turtles make long trips between food sites, water sources, the place where they sleep and where they take mud baths, and remembering all of this requires a good memory.

A scientific team led by scientist Tamar Gutnik of the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology in Japan has been studying these intriguing turtles.

Dr. Gutnick had previously had the opportunity to closely follow the Seychellois giant tortoise at the Vienna Zoo when she was a master’s student. “When I met these turtles, I fell in love with them instantly. It was obvious to me that they had a very special personality and that often bothered them,” says Guntik.

Tamar Gutnik had no idea about the memory capabilities of this species of turtle. In a study published in Animal Cognition, Gutnick and her colleagues detail their work on giant tortoises in the Galapagos and Seychelles and at zoos in Vienna and Zurich. In this study, the turtles performed 3 tasks of increasing difficulty, and were rewarded each time they succeeded in eating their favorite foods such as carrots, beets and dandelions.

Giant tortoises are known to be antisocial animals (Getty Images)

memory of elephants

As part of this study, the scientists’ first task was to train turtles to bite a colored ball at the end of a stick. Once the exercise was perfected, the researchers moved the ball a meter or two so that the turtles would move with it and continue to bite the ball. Finally, they assigned a specific color to each animal and taught the turtles how to identify their ball among all the other colored balls.

After 3 months of training, the scientists had the turtles repeat the same tests. The turtles performed the first two tasks without hesitation. And 5 out of 6 turtles were able to learn to distinguish colors faster.

The researchers stated that “3 Seychellois turtles learned to bite bullets 9 years ago, yet they were able to remember the first two tasks, which shows that they have a very strong memory suitable for their long life.”

The author stated that the turtles that learned the exercises in groups were able to learn faster than those that were trained separately. Dr. Gutnick says that this “result was really unexpected” because “giant tortoises are known to be antisocial animals”. The team of scientists concluded that giant turtles in the wild learn useful information such as the locations of water and food sources by observing other congeners.

Wild turtles are rather lonely creatures (Getty Images)

Baby turtles know faces

Tortoises are fairly lonely creatures, but they may have innate social abilities. According to a study by Elisabetta Versace’s team, from the Department of Biology and Experimental Psychology at Queen Mary University of London, baby turtles tend to approach shapes that resemble faces.

The writer stated that this feature was observed only in social animals, such as monkeys and chicks, and this was not expected in turtles. Dr. Versace and her colleagues tested the reactions of 5 different species of tortoises, showing the baby turtles different shapes, and noticing that they moved toward the shapes most similar to faces.

This discovery is important not only for the study of turtles, but also for the evolutionary history of mammals in general and humans in particular. Because all these species need parental care, Versace says, this early adaptation was thought to be important in helping young animals respond to their parents or interact with other members of the same species. This behavior was also found in newborn turtles.

The most characteristic of giant turtles is their longevity (Pixaby)

The long life of a giant turtle

The most characteristic of giant turtles is their longevity. The Galapagos tortoise can weigh more than 130 kilograms and live for more than 100 years. A team led by Scott Glaberman from the Department of Environmental Sciences at George Mason University in the United States of America explored the genome of this extraordinary turtle and compared it with the genome of other turtles in order to understand the secret of their long life.

It turns out that these turtles have several copies of certain genes that protect them from aging and cancer, and improve the process of eliminating damaged cells called “programmed cell death.” And when the cell isn’t doing its part properly, the organism’s body tries to destroy it by releasing what looks like a code of self-destruction. If this natural process fails, unwanted cells can multiply, form tumors, and cause cancer.

Giant tortoises ‘apoptosis’ is activated more quickly, especially if proteins are damaged in response to certain types of stress. Professor Vincent Lynch, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Buffalo in the United States, says that Galapagos tortoise cells have the ability to kill themselves before stress turns them into cancerous cells.

These findings are interesting because it is assumed that large, long-lived animals have higher rates of cancer than others because they have many cells, and the more cells in the body, the greater the chances of cancer mutations.

If they can determine how this process occurs in turtles, Lynch says, maybe they can find a way to translate these findings into something that benefits human health. Glaberman adds that the giant tortoises of the Galápagos may have the answer to how to address many human challenges, such as aging and cancer. The extinction of these organisms means that the world will forever lose an element of unique biology.

Turtles appeared around the same time as the first dinosaurs (Pixaby)


Turtles appeared around the same time as the first dinosaurs, more than 200 million years ago. Dinosaurs became extinct after a meteorite fell while turtles survived. Today, however, most testudines species are in danger of extinction.

A study published in 2018 in the journal Bioscience showed that 61% of the 356 known species of turtles worldwide, both marine and terrestrial, are threatened with extinction.

Scientists note that turtles are among the most endangered animals in the world due to their exploitation for food or the destruction of their natural habitats, as well as climate change.

The author warned that the disappearance of turtles would constitute catastrophic damage to the environment, given the diverse roles they play in different ecosystems. Scientists explain that the various nutritional habits of turtles make them affect the lives of other creatures. The desert turtle that lives in the southwestern United States, for example, digs large burrows that are a haven for other types of animals. Turtles are also among the animals that contribute to the dispersal of the seeds of many plants.

The goal is to raise awareness of the critical ecological roles of turtles on a global scale, according to Professor Witt Gibbons of the University of Georgia, USA, a scientist involved in this study.

Lovich stresses that turtles are a critical component of many environments, including deserts, wetlands, marine and freshwater ecosystems, and their extinction or harm would have negative impacts on other species, including humans.

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