/tawr"teuhs/, n.1. a turtle, esp. a terrestrial turtle.2. a very slow person or thing.3. testudo (def. 1).[1350-1400; var. of earlier (15th-century) tortuse, tortose, tortuce, ME tortuca < ML tortuca, for LL tartarucha (fem. adj.) of Tartarus ( < Gk tartaroûcha), the tortoise being regarded as an infernal animal; ML form influenced by L tortus crooked, twisted (see TORT)]
* * *Any of some 40 species (family Testudinidae) of slow-moving, terrestrial, herbivorous turtles, found in the Old and New Worlds but chiefly in Africa and Madagascar.Tortoises have a high, domed shell, heavy elephantlike hind legs, and hard-scaled forelegs. The four North American species (genus Gopherus) have a brown shell, about 8–14 in. (20–35 cm) long, and flattened forelimbs adapted for burrowing. The common, or European, tortoise (Testudo graeca) has a shell about 7–10 in. (18–25 cm) long. Most species of giant tortoises on the Galápagos and other islands are now rare or extinct. One captive Galápagos tortoise had a shell 4.25 ft (1.3 m) long and weighed 300 lbs (140 kg).Galápagos tortoise (Geochelone elephantopus).Francisco Erize-Bruce Coleman Ltd.
* * *▪ reptileany member of the turtle family Testudinidae. Formerly, the term tortoise was used to refer to any terrestrial turtle. The testudinids are easily recognized because all share a unique hind-limb anatomy made up of elephantine (or cylindrical) hind limbs and hind feet; each digit in their forefeet and hind feet contains two or fewer phalanges. With the exception of the pancake tortoise (Malacochersus tornieri), the shell is high-domed. Shells of some species are nearly spherical with a flattened base.Tortoises are exclusively terrestrial and occur on all continents except Australia and Antarctica. They also inhabit many islands, although numerous island populations and species are now extinct because of human occupation. There are at least 15 genera of living tortoises; one genus, Geochelone, is distributed from South America to Africa and Asia. There are about 49 species of tortoises, and they range in size from the padlopers (Homopus) of southern Africa, with shell lengths of 10 to 15 cm (4 to 6 inches), to the giant tortoises (Geochelone) of the Aldabra (Aldabra Islands) and Galapagos Islands, with shells over 1 metre (3.3 feet) long. Tortoises live in a variety of habitats, from deserts (desert) to wet tropical forests (tropical rainforest). Most tortoises are vegetarians and eat foliage, flowers, and fruits; some tortoise species from moist forest habitats are more opportunistic and consume animal matter.Copulation (sex) can be a precarious issue for male tortoises, because they must balance themselves on the high-domed shell of females to fertilize them. The majority of tortoise species lay small clutches of eggs (egg), typically fewer than 20, and many small-bodied species lay fewer than 5. Even though tortoises possess columnar hind limbs and stubby hind feet, they dig their nests with alternating scooping movements of their hind limbs, like most other turtles.George R. Zug
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