Discover The Largest Galapagos Tortoise

Written by Emilio Brown
Updated: March 7, 2023
© galaro/
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The largest type of tortoise is the Galapagos tortoise. 15 species of Galapagos tortoise exist, but only around 12 are alive today. The species are all struggling and are inching closer to becoming extinct. All of the species are threatened, with some being critically endangered.

The Galapagos tortoise size is one of its most impressive features. Most of these tortoises live in the Galapagos Islands, becoming famous for housing these giants. The Galapagos Islands are named after this tortoise and attract many visitors to view this giant. 

The giant tortoises of the Galapagos islands have impressive characteristics like their long lifespan, slow speed, and large size. In this article, you will learn about how big a Galapagos tortoise can get and the largest one to ever be discovered. Their size is impressive, and it may surprise you how large they can get. 

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Goliath The Largest Galapagos Tortoise

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Galapagos tortoises can grow to more than 900 pounds!

© Seeto

Goliath was the largest Galapagos tortoise ever recorded. He weighed an amazing 919 lbs (417kg).

Galapagos tortoises grow to be larger than any other tortoise species. For perspective, the largest tiger ever recorded was a Siberian tiger kept in captivity that weighed 932 pounds. That is to say, the largest tortoise was similar in size to one of Earth’s most impressive apex predators!

Goliath measured 4.5 ft long (135.8cm) and 3.4 feet (102cm) wide.  Goliath lived for 42 years, from 1960 to 2002 (a young age for tortoises!). He was housed at the Life Fellowship Bird Sanctuary in Florida. Even for a Galapagos tortoise, Goliath was huge. He outweighed the average size of other tortoises of its species by nearly 400 lbs (181kg). Since Galapagos tortoises are the largest tortoises, Goliath also holds the records for the largest tortoises ever recorded. 

How Large Do Galapagos Tortoise Get

The Galapagos tortoises are giants, and it is common for them to reach several hundred lbs. Males are larger than females and can weigh up to 500bls (227kg), and females weigh around 250lbs (113kg). This tortoise can grow up to 6ft (1.8 meters) when measured from head to toe. Their width is around 4 to 5 feet  (1.2 to 1.5 kg), and females will be smaller. 

Where Galapagos Tortoises Live

Galapagos Tortoise, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Galapagos tortoises can live past 190 years of age.

©Ian Kennedy/

Giant tortoises are a dwindling species endemic to the Galapagos Islands. Six species live in the Albemarle island of Ecuador, and the other six inhabit the islands of James, Ducan, Hood, Chatham, Indefatigable, and Abingdon. Grasslands with volcanic outcropping are the habitat they live in. Depending on the island they live on, they may inhabit different habitats like deserts. 

Being so large, they have long, bulky legs to help carry their weight. Their shell is also giant and made up of honeycomb-type sections. Their necks are long, and they have sharp beaks to help them eat. The slight differences seen in the Galapagos tortoise are because of the different species. Each species is suited for its habitat within the island they live on. They are herbivores that feed on their island’s variety of fruits and vegetation. Tortoises on islands with less vegetation will have longer legs and necks to help them reach more food.

Galapagos tortoises are slow and move at around 0.16 mph (.26kilomerters per hour.) To put that into perspective, humans walking speed is around 2.8 mph (4.5 kilometers). Their slow metabolism gives them a long lifespan and allows them to not eat or drink for up to a year. Some have been able to live for as long as 190 years. On average most will live longer than 100 years. They are docile creatures that spend most of their time basking in the sun and will sleep for 16 hours a day. 

Species of Galapagos Turtles

There were around 14 to 16 species of Galapagos tortoise, and most are considered threatened. The number of species varies, as some have become extinct, and limited studies have been done on them. Today, only 12 Galapagos tortoises exist, with minor differences between them. Their location and characteristics are how species can be told apart.

Here are the species of known Galapagos tortoises. 

  • Abingdon Island Tortoise (Chelonoidis abingdonii) Extinct
  • Volcan Wolf Tortoise (Chelonoidis becki) 
  • Chatham Island Tortoise (Chelonoidis chathamensis) 
  • Santiago Island Giant Tortoise (Chelonoidis darwini)
  • Eastern Santa Cruz Island Tortoise (Chelonoidis donfaustoi)
  • Duncan Island Tortoise (Chelonoidis duncanensis)
  • Sierra Negra Giant Tortoise (Chelonoidis guentheri)  
  • Hood Island Tortoise (Chelonoidis hoodensis)
  • Volcan Darwin Tortoise (Chelonoidis microphyes)
  • Floreana Island Giant Tortoise (Chelonoidis niger) Extinct 
  • Fernandina Island Tortoise (Chelonoidis phantasticus) 
  • Western Santa Cruz Island Tortoise (Chelonoidis porteri)
  • Santa Fe Island Tortoise (Chelonoidis Unnamed) Extinct
  • Volcan Alcedo Tortoise (Chelonoidis vandenburghi)
  • Iguana Cove Tortoise (Chelonoidis vicina)

Largest species of tortoise

Aldabra giant tortoise, Turtle in Seychelles on the beach near to Praslin
Aldabra tortoises are nearly the same size as Galapagos tortoises.

©Jan Bures/

The largest tortoise in the world is the Galapagos tortoise, and the second-largest tortoise is the Aldabra tortoise. The Aldabra tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea) can compete with the Galapagos in size and is only slightly smaller. The maximum weight for this species is 600lbs (272 kg). Males grow larger and on average, are around 300 lbs (136kg), and females average 200 lbs( 90kg). The two tortoises are highly similar and can easily be confused for each other. The ways to distinguish it are by its location in the wild or by a nuchal scute around the neck of the Aldabra, which the Galapagos lack. 

Turtles can also grow large but prefer a more aquatic habitat. The largest turtle in the world is the leatherback sea turtle and can grow much larger compared to the Galapagos tortoise. The leatherback turtle is the heaviest reptile that is not a crocodilian. Adults weigh from 550 to 1500 lbs (249 to 680kg), and some have been measured to be 6 ft (2 meters) long. The largest sea turtle on record weighed 2,019 pounds.

How Many Galapagos Tortoises are Left

Galapagos tortoises once had a large population of around 250,000 but today only around 15,000 exist. Humans have been the main reasons for this species decline due to poaching, habitat destruction, and introducing invasive species to their environment. Global warming and rising sea levels also impact this species native habitat and give it fewer resources to survive. 

Efforts are being made to try and save these species. Studying their habitat, breeding habitats, and lifestyle have all been helpful to try and keep their population from declining. With the right efforts and support, the Galapagos tortoise can make a rebound from its current status.

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Galapagos tortoise at the tortoise reserve on Floreana Island
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About the Author

Spiders, snakes, and lizards are my favorite types of animals, and I enjoy keeping some species as pets. I love learning about the various wonders nature has to offer and have been a writer for 5 years. In my spare time, you can find me getting out into nature.

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