How Old Is the World’s Oldest Turtle? 5 Turtles that Survived for Centuries

Oldest Turtle

Written by Heather Hall

Updated: October 2, 2023

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The average human lifespan is just under 80 years, but some animals live much longer. Greenland sharks, bowhead whales, koi, and red sea urchins, may all live hundreds of years. A type of clam called the ocean quahog has been known to live for more than 500 years!

The turtle’s lifespan can be especially long. How long do turtles live? Maybe you can remember Crush the sea turtle‘s answer in Disney’s Finding Nemo: “Hundred and fifty, dude, and still young. Rock on!”

Crush was right – many turtles and tortoises can live to be well over 150 years old. How old is the oldest turtle in the world? Let’s explore some of the world’s longest-lived turtle species and record-breaking individuals.

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How Long Do Turtles Live?

According to the Turtle Conservation Society, most turtle species live from 10 to 80 years. But sea turtles and large land tortoises can live to be much older. Their lifespan can be 150 years or more.

As with whales, sharks, and other species, it is often difficult to determine a turtle’s exact age. After all, researchers are not usually present when the animals are born. Some have estimated, however, that large turtles may be able to live 400 to 500 years!

Where Do Turtles Live?

Turtles are found all over the world and live in a variety of different habitats. They can be found in freshwater, saltwater, and terrestrial environments.

Freshwater turtles live in ponds, lakes, rivers, and swamps. They are often found in slow-moving or still waters and are well-adapted to living in these environments. Some examples of freshwater turtles include the red-eared slider, painted turtle, and map turtle.

Saltwater turtles, also known as marine turtles, live in the ocean. They are found in all the world’s oceans, from warm tropical waters to colder temperatures in the poles. Some examples of saltwater turtles include the loggerhead turtle, green turtle, and hawksbill turtle.

Terrestrial turtles, also known as land turtles, live on land and in deserts. They are adapted to living in dry, hot environments and are able to survive without access to water for long periods of time. Some examples of terrestrial turtles include the box turtle, tortoise, and gopher turtle.

In general, Turtles are well adapted to the environments they live in and are found in almost every corner of the world.

Meet the World’s Oldest Turtles

Jonathan the Seychelles giant tortoise is currently the oldest known land animal in the world. Meet Jonathan and some of his predecessors as you consider the following list of some of the longest-lived land turtles that have existed in recent decades. Notice, too, that all ages are estimated or even contested. The estimates are made based on scientific studies and historical records.

#5. Harriet the Giant Galapagos Land Tortoise

Animal, Animal Wildlife, Animals In The Wild, Awe, Beauty In Nature
Harriet (c. 1830 – June 23, 2006) was a Galápagos tortoise (Geochelone elephantopus porteri) who had an estimated age of 175 years at the time of her death in Australia. 

© Seeto

Age: 175 (estimated)
Sex: Female
Size: 150 kg
Species: Giant Galapagos land tortoise, Chelonoidis niger
Birth: Galapagos Islands, circa 1830
Where it lived: Australia

Harriet captivated animal lovers for more than a century in Australia, and for two decades as a resident of Australia Zoo in Queensland, Australia. She was often seen on The Crocodile Hunter television series. Prior to her death in 2006, Harriet was the oldest known animal in the world (invertebrates and vertebrates with surmised but unconfirmed ages were not counted). She had been named the “oldest living chelonian” by the Guinness Book of World Records.

Where did Harriet come from? Naturalist Charles Darwin collected the turtle during an expedition to the Galapagos Islands in 1835 – specifically, the island of Santa Cruz. At the time, she was about the size of a dinner plate, and it was estimated that she must have hatched around 1830.

She was taken first to England, then arrived in Australia in 1842. She lived at the Brisbane Botanical Gardens for more than 100 years before being transferred to Fleay’s Fauna Sanctuary and then to Australia Zoo. According to the Australia Zoo, “DNA testing definitively proved that Harriet was at least one generation older than any existing tortoise in Australia.”

#4. Tu’i Malila the Radiated Tortoise

Age: 189
Sex: Female
Size: 16.25 inches long, 13 inches wide, 9.5 inches tall
Species: Radiated tortoise, Astrochelys radiata
Birth: Madagascar, circa 1777
Where it lived: Tonga

Tu’i Malila was said to have been collected from Madagascar, a large island off the coast of Africa, by the British explorer James Cook in 1777. She was later given to the royal family of the island of Tonga in the Pacific.

Tu’i Malila was the “all-time verified record holder for the world’s oldest tortoise,” according to Guinness World Records, but this record has been surpassed by Jonathan. Tu’i Malila died in 1966, but you can still view her preserved body in the Royal Palace of Tonga today.

#3. Jonathan the Seychelles Giant Tortoise

Oldest Turtle Jonathan
Jonathan, a Seychelles giant tortoise, and possibly the oldest animal alive, on the grounds of Plantation House on St Helena.

©Snapper Nick/

Age: 189 (estimated)
Sex: Male
Size: 48 inches long
Species: Seychelles giant tortoise, Aldabrachelys gigantea hololissa
Birth: Seychelles, circa 1832
Where it lives: Saint Helena

Jonathan the Seychelles giant tortoise, a subspecies of the Aldabra giant tortoise, was born an estimated two years after Harriet. Following her death, he became the oldest known living land animal. The Guinness Book of World Records now shows Jonathan as officially being the world’s oldest turtle at the age of 190 years old!

Jonathan was collected from Seychelles, a group of islands in the Indian Ocean and off the coast of Africa, in 1882. He was brought to Saint Helena, an island in the Pacific Ocean, where he has resided ever since.

Jonathan was described as “fully mature” in 1882. Since these tortoises reach maturity at 50 years of age, it is estimated that Jonathan hatched no later than 1832. He could, however, be some years older.

As of October 2022, Jonathan was reported as being alive and well.

#2. Adwaita the Aldabra Giant Tortoise

Age: 255 (unverified)
Sex: Male
Size: 551 lbs
Species: Aldabra giant tortoise, Aldabrachelys gigantea
Birth: Aldabra Atoll, Seychelles, circa 1750
Where it lived: Kolkata, India

It is said that Adwaita arrived in India in 1757, living at a colonial estate until being transferred to the Alipore Zoo in 1875. Adwaita lived at the Alipore Zoological Gardens in Kolkata, India, until his death in 2006.

You’ll notice that Adwaita died in the same year as Harriet, but his birth was estimated to have been 82 years earlier. Why was Harriet, and not Adwaita, considered the oldest living land animal at that time? The stories of Adwaita’s origins are considered anecdotal and have not been confirmed, whereas Harriet’s collection and travels were well documented. Some investigators rank Adwaita at the ripe old age of 150 at the time of his death.

#1. Alagba the African spur-thighed tortoise

Oldest turtle Alagba
The tortoise, named Alagba, meaning elderly one, lived in the palace of Ogbomoso in Oyo state in Nigeria until the reported age of 344.

©Rilwanola1 / CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons – Original / License

Age: 344 (contested)
Sex: Female
Size: 20 inches, 90 lbs (average)
Species: African spur-thighed tortoise, Geochelone sulcata
Birth: Africa, date unconfirmed
Where it lived: Nigeria

How old is the oldest turtle in the world? In 2019, a Nigerian royal palace “announced that its resident tortoise… died following a short illness, saying it was a remarkable 344 years old,” according to the BBC.

The tortoise, thought by some to possess healing powers, was said to have been brought to the palace by Isan Okumoyede, whose rule lasted from 1770 to 1797. This would mean that Alagba would have been over 100 years old when brought to the palace.

Many experts consider this age unlikely, as this tortoise species typically have a lifespan of 80 to 100 years. It has been suggested that the name Alagba has been given to more than one tortoise over the years, replacing the former at its death.

Here is a Summary of the Worlds Oldest Turtles

Here is a brief recap of the famous Turtles that broke the record for longest turtle lifespan:

#1Alagba the African Spur-Thighed Tortoise344 years
#2Adwaita the Aldabra Giant Tortoise255 years
#3Jonathan the Seychelles Giant Tortoise190 years
#4Tu’i Malila the Radiated Tortoise189 years
#5Harriet the Giant Galapagos Land Tortoise175 years

Why Do Tortoises Live So Long?

DNA analysis from giant tortoises in the Galapagos Islands shows that they possess several gene variants linked to DNA repair, immune response, and cancer suppression. These are highly desirable traits for longevity and will be studied to see if such variations are possible in other vertebrates like humans.

In addition, one widely accepted theory is that the slow metabolism of tortoises contributes to their long lives. If the chemical and physical processes that go on inside a living being go slowly, then it stands to reason that they will not wear out as quickly. This is the case for all cold-blooded animals who soak up heat from their environment (basking in the sunlight, for example), rather than like warm-blooded animals that use a higher metabolism to generate heat. The slower the metabolism, the slower you age.

One more reason might be the shell. Studies have shown that cold-blooded animals with shells or other physical protection, aged five times slower than species without such protection.

Other Animals With A Long Lifespan

Tortoises aren’t the only animals on the planet who live an exceptionally long time. There are many to be explored. Here are just a few:

  • Greenland Shark (200 years) — Biologists believe that this large, slow fish can live to be half a millennia old. Its longevity probably has something to do with the fact that it does everything slowly. It even isn’t ready to breed until it’s about 150 years old.
  • Orange Roughy (150 years) — This is a deep-sea fish that matures extremely slowly, which makes them highly susceptible to overfishing. When active or feeding, they tend to appear orangish-red, but they slowly lose their pigmentation when resting. The oldest ever caught had an estimated age of 250 years old.
  • Tuatara (100 years) — Not quite a lizard and not quite a dinosaur, New Zealand’s tuatara is one of the few truly unique animals left in the world. They have survived since the Triassic period, which was about 240 million years ago. They are only found on a few of New Zealand’s islands. In captivity, they can live to be 100.
  • Red Sea Urchin (100 years) — These small, spiny, and round creatures live on ocean floors from zero depth to the deepest trenches. On average they live to age 100, but some can live up to 200 years!

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About the Author

Heather Hall is a writer at A-Z Animals, where her primary focus is on plants and animals. Heather has been writing and editing since 2012 and holds a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture. As a resident of the Pacific Northwest, Heather enjoys hiking, gardening, and trail running through the mountains with her dogs.

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