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Leopard tortoiseLeopard tortoise Tortoises are land-dwelling reptiles that have, like their aquatic relatives the turtles, strong, bony shells. But while turtles have flippers for limbs, tortoises have stumpy, scaly legs with short toes. Ranging in size from a few centimetres up to 2 metres (6.6 feet) in length, tortoises move about slowly, relying on their high-domed, heavy shells to protect them from predators. They are mainly plant-eaters. Many species live for 70–80 years, and some individuals for 100 or more.

Inside a tortoise's shellInside a tortoise's shell


Tortoise shells are made of bone fused to their skeletons. The shell is in two parts, one forming a dome over the back, the other covering the belly, with a bony bridge connecting the two. For extra protection, the shell is covered with thick, horny scales. If threatened, most tortoises are able to draw their heads and necks backwards into their shells.

Giant tortoise eatingGiant tortoise eating


Tortoises do not have teeth. Instead they have sharp, horny, beak-like mouths. They are mostly plant-eaters, feeding on grasses and flowers, but some kinds also feed on insects, snails and even small mammals and birds.

Female tortoises lay their eggs in burrows, usually at night. Then they abandon them. The hatchlings break out of their shells using their egg teeth, then they dig their way to the surface where they must fend for themselves. Juveniles of plant-eating species eat worms and insects to supplement their diet until they are older.

A tortoise's shell has blood vessels and nerves, so the tortoise can feel it being touched.

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