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Why Do Turtles and Tortoises Have Such Long Lifespans?

Turtles and tortoises are renowned for their impressive lifespans, often outliving humans. This longevity is attributed to their slow metabolism, which reduces stress on their bodies, and their robust defense mechanisms, like hard shells. Additionally, being cold-blooded helps them conserve energy. Intrigued by these resilient creatures? Discover how their unique traits contribute to their lengthy lives in our full article.

Turtles and tortoises get a lot of grief for being so slow, but it turns out that slow and steady wins the longevity race. Not only do these shell-dwelling reptiles move at a snail's pace, but they also exist that way. In other words, their metabolic rate is incredibly slow, which delays the aging process, and at the chromosomal level, they have a relatively slow rate of telomere shortening compared to many other creatures.

This means, in layman's terms, that turtles and tortoises are not as susceptible to DNA replication errors as most other creatures. Therefore, they don't have to deal with life-shortening cell damage until very late in life. How late? Well, Guinness World Records lists a South Atlantic tortoise named Jonathan as the world's oldest living animal. He was born in 1832, so you can do the math.

Shelling out some turtle facts:

  • Turtles and tortoises survived Earth's mass extinction event of 260 million years ago by burrowing and living in water.

  • While most turtles live on vegetation, the alligator-turtle – you should look up a picture if you like being scared – is completely carnivorous.

  • Turtles from warmer regions tend to have lighter-colored shells (or carapaces), while those from cooler places have dark shells.

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    • Compared to other animals, turtles and tortoises have a very slow metabolic rate and a slower rate of telomere shortening, both of which help them to live longer.
      Compared to other animals, turtles and tortoises have a very slow metabolic rate and a slower rate of telomere shortening, both of which help them to live longer.