tortoise


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tortoise

(tôr`təs), common name for a terrestrial turtleturtle,
a reptile of the order Chelonia, with strong, beaked, toothless jaws and, usually, an armorlike shell. The shell normally consists of bony plates overlaid with horny shields.
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, especially one of the family Testudinidae. Tortoises inhabit warm regions of all continents except Australia. They have club-shaped feet with reduced toes adapted for walking on land, and nearly all have high-domed shells. The limbs are covered with hard scales and when the limbs and head are withdrawn into the shell, the animal is completely closed off.

The most famous tortoises are the giant tortoises of islands in the Indian Ocean (Aldabrachelys gigantea) and of the Galápagos Islands (classified as either Chelonoidis nigra subspecies or Chelonoidis species). Galapagos tortoises may reach a length of over 4 ft (120 cm) and weigh over 500 lb (225 kg). There are about a dozen races of the Galapagos tortoise, most of them isolated on separate islands. These tortoises were a major source of meat for sailors in the 17th and 18th cent. and were often slaughtered wantonly. Once so abundant that the islands were named for them (galápago is Spanish for tortoise), they became extinct on some islands and were endangered on most of the others. The tortoises are now protected by law, and scientists from the Charles Darwin Research Station have bred some 2,000 and set free the different subspecies on the islands from which they came.

North American tortoises, genus Gopherus, are burrowing forms with flattened feet and heavy nails. Three of the four species are very similar. The desert tortoise, Gopherus agassizii, inhabits deserts from S Nevada to NW Mexico; the Texas tortoise, G. berlandieri, lives in arid brush country and open woods from S Texas to NE Mexico; the gopher tortoise, G. polyphemus, is found in high, sandy areas of Florida and the U.S. Gulf and Atlantic coasts. The desert and gopher tortoises reach a length of 13 in. (33 cm), while the Texas tortoise is about 8 1-2 in. (21.6 cm) long. The Bolson, or Mexican giant, tortoise, G. flavomarginatus, is a large species of NW Mexico. It has been much used for food, and the survival of the species is threatened.

Tortoises are extremely long-lived; there are authenticated cases of individuals living over 150 years. They are classified in the phylum ChordataChordata
, phylum of animals having a notochord, or dorsal stiffening rod, as the chief internal skeletal support at some stage of their development. Most chordates are vertebrates (animals with backbones), but the phylum also includes some small marine invertebrate animals.
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, subphylum Vertebrata, class Reptilia, order Chelonia, family Testudinidae.

tortoise

[′tȯrd·əs]
(vertebrate zoology)
Any of various large terrestrial reptiles in the order Chelonia, especially the family Testudinidae.

tortoise

symbol of sexual purity. [Animal Symbolism: Mercatante, 21]

tortoise

slow and steady, it wins the race against the hare. [Animal Symbolism: Mercatante, 22; Gk. Lit.: Aesop, “The Tortoise and the Hare”]

tortoise

perseverance helps him succeed where those inclined to dawdle fail. [Folklore: Jobes, 1590]

tortoise

1. any herbivorous terrestrial chelonian reptile of the family Testudinidae, of most warm regions, having a heavy dome-shaped shell and clawed limbs
2. water tortoise another name for terrapin
References in classic literature ?
The tortoise is very fond of water, drinking large quantities, and wallowing in the mud.
I believe it is well ascertained, that the bladder of the frog acts as a reservoir for the moisture necessary to its existence: such seems to be the case with the tortoise.
One large tortoise, which I watched, walked at the rate of sixty yards in ten minutes, that is 360 yards in the hour, or four miles a day, -- allowing a little time for it to eat on the road.
When a tortoise is caught, the man makes a slit in the skin near its tail, so as to see inside its body, whether the fat under the dorsal plate is thick.
There can be little doubt that this tortoise is an aboriginal inhabitant of the Galapagos; for it is found on all, or nearly all, the islands, even on some of the smaller ones where there is no water; had it been an imported species, this would hardly have been the case in a group which has been so little frequented.
The whole Group Volcanic -- Numbers of Craters -- Leafless Bushes Colony at Charles Island -- James Island -- Salt-lake in Crater -- Natural History of the Group -- Ornithology, curious Finches -- Reptiles -- Great Tortoises, habits of -- Marine Lizard, feeds on Sea-weed -- Terrestrial Lizard, burrowing habits, herbivorous -- Importance of Reptiles in the Archipelago -- Fish, Shells, Insects -- Botany -- American Type of Organization -- Differences in the Species or Races on different Islands -- Tameness of the Birds -- Fear of Man, an acquired Instinct.
The few dull- coloured birds cared no more for me than they did for the great tortoises.
It is said that formerly single vessels have taken away as many as seven hundred, and that the ship's company of a frigate some years since brought down in one day two hundred tortoises to the beach.
with the flesh on it, is very good; and the young tortoises make excellent soup; but otherwise the meat to my taste is indifferent.
You're as slow as a tortoise, and more thick-headed than a rhinoceros,' returned his obliging client with an impatient gesture.
But this hard body might be a bony covering, like that of the antediluvian animals; and I should be free to class this monster among amphibious reptiles, such as tortoises or alligators.
There were huge tortoises too, paddling about among these other reptiles, which Perry said were Plesiosaurs of the Lias.