Giant land tortoises… strong memories like elephants and critical environmental roles | Sciences


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

In a report published by French magazine L’OBs, writer Jean-Paul Fritz said the turtle’s gait suggests that its mental perceptions are just as slow as its movements. But scientists who have conducted studies on the turtle’s cognitive abilities have confirmed otherwise.

The author mentioned that turtles are divided into two types, sea turtles which are often seen in fish ponds or diets in some countries, and wild turtles, the most famous of which are giant tortoises who live in the Galapagos Islands. The second type has received particular attention.

This type of reptile has an incredible 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 Galápagos Islands; Experts who cared about this guy had some idea of ​​his mental abilities.

According to British scientist Charles Darwin, who has studied the evolution of these organisms, Galápagos tortoises travel long distances between food sites, water sources, where they sleep and where they bathe in water. mud, and remembering all this requires a good memory.

A scientific team led by scientist Tamar Gutnick from the Japan Institute of Science and Technology in Okinawa studied these interesting turtles.

Dr Gutnick once had the opportunity to closely follow the Seychelles giant tortoises at Vienna Zoo when she was a masters student. “When I met these turtles, I immediately fell in love with them. It became clear to me that they had very special personalities and that often annoyed them,” says Gontik.

Tamar Gutnik had no idea of ​​the memory capacities of this species of turtle. In a study published in the journal Animal Cognition, Gutnik and his colleagues detail their work on giant tortoises from the Galapagos Islands, Seychelles, and zoos in Vienna and Zurich. In this study, turtles performed 3 tasks of increasing difficulty, and were rewarded each time they succeeded by eating their favorite foods like carrots, beets and dandelions.

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

memory of elephants

For this study, the scientists’ first task was to train the turtles to bite a colored ball on the end of a stick. Once the exercise was mastered, the researchers moved the ball a distance of one or two meters so that the turtles moved with it and continued to bite the ball. Finally, they assigned each animal a specific color and taught the turtle how to identify its 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 said that “3 Seychellois tortoises learned to bite bullets 9 years ago, but 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 said that turtles who learned the exercises in groups were able to learn faster than those who were trained separately. Dr Gutnick believes that this “really unexpected result” because “giant tortoises are known to be antisocial animals”. The team of scientists concluded that giant tortoises in the wild learn useful information such as the location of food and water sources by observing other conspecifics.

Tortoises are somewhat solitary creatures (Getty Images)

Baby turtles know faces

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

The author said this feature was only seen in social animals, such as monkeys and chicks, and it was not expected in turtles. Dr. Versace and his colleagues tested the reactions of 5 different species of tortoises. They showed the baby tortoises different shapes and observed that they moved towards the shapes that most closely resembled faces.

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

What sets giant tortoises apart the most is their longevity (Pixaby)

The long life of giant tortoises

The most important feature of giant tortoises is their longevity. Galapagos tortoises can weigh over 130 kilograms and live for over 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 these exceptional turtles and compared them with the genome of other turtles in order to understand the secret to their longevity.

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 “apoptosis”. When a cell is not functioning properly, the organism’s body attempts to eliminate it by triggering something like a self-destruct code. If this natural process is deficient, unwanted cells can multiply, form tumors and cause cancer.

In giant tortoises, the “apoptosis process” 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 at Buffalo in the US, says Galapagos tortoise cells have the ability to kill themselves before stress turns them into cancer cells.

These results are interesting because large animals that live long are believed to have higher cancer rates than others because they have many cells, and the more cells the body has, the greater the chance of developing cancerous mutations.

Lynch says that if they can determine how this process occurs in turtles, maybe they can find a way to translate these findings into something beneficial for human health. Glaberman adds that the Galapagos giant tortoises may have the answer to how to cope with many human challenges, such as aging and cancer. Their extinction means the world will forever lose a piece of its unique biology.

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


Turtles appeared around the same time as the first dinosaurs, over 200 million years ago. The dinosaurs died out after a meteor hit, while the turtles survived. Most testudines are now in danger of extinction.

A 2018 study published in the journal Bioscience showed that 61% of the world’s 356 known species of turtles, whether marine or terrestrial, are threatened with extinction.

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

The author warned that the disappearance of turtles would constitute catastrophic damage to the environment, given the diverse roles they play in various ecosystems. Scientists explain that the various eating habits of tortoises cause them to affect the lives of other creatures. other types of animals. Turtles are also among the animals that help disperse the seeds of many plants.

According to Professor Whit Gibbons of the University of Georgia, USA, co-scientist in the study, the aim is to raise awareness of the critical ecological roles of turtles on a global scale.

For his part, Lovich points out that turtles are an essential part of many environments, including deserts, wetlands, and marine and freshwater ecosystems, and their extinction or damage would have negative effects on other species. , including humans.


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