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Biggest Tortoises in the World

The biggest tortoises in the world include the Galápagos tortoise, the Aldabra tortoises, and the sulcata. There are other large tortoises as well.

In this article, we look at the largest and biggest tortoises in the world. We also look at the biggest tortoise on each continent including North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia.

Oceania (or Australia) however doesn’t have a tortoise endemic to the continent. Some big tortoises can be kept as pets.

These include the sulcata, leopard tortoise, Burmese mountain tortoise, and the marginated tortoise. Although these tortoises are huge, they are all relatively easy to care for as long as you have a large backyard to house them in and the right temperatures within your locale.

Table of Contents

  1. Biggest Tortoises
  2. FAQ
  3. Conclusion

Biggest Tortoises in the World

1. Galápagos Tortoise

Galapagos Giant Tortoise (Chelonoidis niger) walking into some mossy water in Galapagos, Ecuador
A Galapagos Giant Tortoise (Chelonoidis niger) walking into some mossy water in Galapagos, Ecuador. – Source
  • Scientific Name: Chelonoidis niger / Chelonoidis 
  • Average Adult Length: 31 to 53 inches (80 to 135 cm)
  • Average Adult Mass: 408 to 919 lb (185 to 417 kg)
  • Lifespan: 100 to 177 years
  • IUCN Red List Status: Endangered

The Galápagos Tortoise is made up of several subspecies. These subspecies are also considered to be separate species.

When considered to be separate species, this list could be filled with just Galápagos tortoises since all species of Galápagos tortoise are massive. 

The Galápagos Tortoise can be found on the Galápagos Islands which are composed of about 21 islands located in the Pacific Ocean. These islands are considered to be part of Ecuador.

Some of the islands which have the presence of the chelonian include Darwin (Culpepper) Island, Española (Hood) Island, Isabela Island, Santa Cruz Island, Pinzón Island, and several others. 

These tortoises are huge and the number of species/subspecies of the Galápagos Tortoise is considered to be 15. The number of species/subspecies still extant is either 12 or 11.

The exact number differs from one source to another as most of these species are critically endangered and on the verge of extinction. One or two species/subspecies are considered extinct by most sources. 

Species/subspecies of Galápagos Tortoise include:

  • Cerro Azul Giant Tortoise (Chelonoidis vicina)
  • Eastern Santa Cruz Giant Tortoise (C. donfaustoi)
  • Española Giant Tortoise (C. hoodensis)
  • Fernandina Giant Tortoise (C. phantasticus)
  • Pinzón Giant Tortoise (C. duncanensis)
  • San Cristóbal Giant Tortoise (C. chathamensis)
  • Santiago Giant Tortoise (C. darwini)
  • Sierra Negra Giant Tortoise (C. guntheri)
  • Volcán Alcedo Giant Tortoise (C. vandenburghi)
  • Volcán Darwin Giant Tortoise (C. microphyes)
  • Western Santa Cruz Giant Tortoise (C. porteri)
  • Volcán Wolf Giant Tortoise (C. becki)

2. Aldabra Giant Tortoise

Aldabra Giant Tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea) walking on grass in Seychelles, Africa
An Aldabra Giant Tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea) walking on grass in Seychelles, Africa. – Source
  • Scientific Name: Aldabrachelys gigantea / Geochelone gigantea / Dipsochelys dussumieri
  • Average Adult Length: 31 to 53 inches (80 to 135 cm)
  • Average Adult Mass: 352.5 lb (160 kg)
  • Lifespan: 176 years 
  • IUCN Red List Status: Endangered

A. gigantea is a tortoise species endemic to Aldabra Atoll in Seychelles.

The chelonian gets its name from its geographic range. A. gigantea used to be endemic to other islands within the western Indian Ocean and Madagascar. 

A. gigantea is a giant reptile with size on par with those of the Galápagos tortoises which are considered to be the largest member of the order Testudinidae.

A. gigantea is known to reach an estimated mean carapace length of 48 inches and an average mass/weight of about 350 pounds. Adult males tend to be larger than adult females. In captivity, A. gigantea is usually between 150 to 290 lb in size. 

The carapace of this turtle is tan to brown, the carapace is high domed. Interestingly, this turtle has a long neck. This long neck allows the reptile to reach foliage that is up to 3.3 feet. A. gigantea has stocky scaled limbs.

There are about 100,000 individuals in Aldabra Atoll. This represented the main population of the chelonian. Smaller populations can be found on Moyenne Island within the Sainte Anne Marine National Park as well as on La Digue. 

This turtle can be found in a wide range of habitats including coastal dunes, mangrove swamps, low shrubland, and grasslands. 

There are four subspecies with one (A. g. daudinii – Daudin’s giant tortoise) considered to be extinct since 1850. The three extant subspecies include A. g. gigantea (Aldabra giant tortoise) found on Aldabra Atoll; A. g. arnoldi (Arnold’s giant tortoise) found on Mahé Island; and A. g. hololissa (Seychelles giant tortoise) found on the islands of Silhouette, Round, Praslin, Mahé, Frégate, Cousine, and Cerf. 

3. African Spurred Tortoise

African Spurred Tortoise (Centrochelys sulcata) walking through dirt in Burkina Faso
An African Spurred Tortoise (Centrochelys sulcata) walking through dirt in Burkina Faso. – Source

Centrochelys sulcata is considered the third-largest tortoise after the Aldabra giant tortoise (which is the second-largest) and the Galápagos tortoise (which is the largest). The largest sulcata tortoise has been recorded to have reached a mass of about 220 lb (100 kg).

The African spurred tortoise is commonly referred to as the sulcata tortoise. The species is endemic to the Sahel region of Africa, which is the transitional zone between the Sahara desert and the Sudanian savanna.

As such, it can be found in Sudan, Senegal, Nigeria, Niger, Mauritania, Mali, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Chad, the Central African Republic, and Burkina Faso. The species may also be endemic to Cameroon and Benin.

C. sulcata inhabits dry and hot environments. These habitats are on desert fringes and dry savannahs. Water is uncommon within this habitat. 

C. sulcata is the largest tortoise on the mainland. It is also the largest tortoise on the African mainland. On average, adults of the species can reach a mass of about 80 to 110 lb.

The carapace of C. sulcata is relatively flattened. This carapace is brown in coloration. Although the top of the shell is relatively flat, the sides descend abruptly.

 The chelonian has a lifespan of 54 years. 

Although the species is endangered, they are quite common in the pet market. The species have been successfully bred and can be acquired for anywhere between $200 to over $1000. 

4. Leopard Tortoise 

Leopard Tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis) sitting in green and grass in Emining, Kenya
A Leopard Tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis) sitting in green and grass in Emining, Kenya. – Source

While Stigmochelys pardalis may not be anywhere as large as the three tortoises mentioned prior, it is still quite large.

This chelonian can reach a mass of 119 lb and a carapace length of 28 inches. S. pardalis is known as the leopard tortoise because of the patterns and coloration on the carapace, which resembles a leopard’s fur. 

The species is generally considered to be the fourth largest tortoise species in the world. The average carapace length of the species is about 18 inches.

The distinct shell coloration and patterns set S. pardalis apart from other tortoises. This chelonian has a yellowish or tan carapace with black blotches. The feet and head of the species are brownish to tan. 

The species can be found in arid plains to grasslands. The species have been found in the mesic thickets, karroid fynbos, thorn forests, and mesic and arid savannas. 

S. pardalis is predominantly herbivorous feeding on forbs, berries, fruits, succulents, and grasses. They have been observed feeding on bone, ash, carcass, and feces. 

S. pardalis is important for seed dispersion within their habitats. These seeds come from the fruits and berries that the species consume. 

5. Burmese Mountain Tortoise

Burmese Mountain Tortoise (Manouria emys) in green leaves in Sumatera Barat, Indonesia
A Burmese Mountain Tortoise (Manouria emys) in green leaves in Sumatera Barat, Indonesia. – Source

Manouria emys is also known as the Asian Giant Tortoise for a reason. This is because it is a large tortoise and one of the largest on the planet.

It is also the largest tortoise endemic to Asia. The species is also known as the brown tortoise, the Asian brown tortoise, and the Asian forest tortoise. The species can reach a length of 24 inches and a mass of 82 lb.

 The species can be found in Indonesia, Malaysia, southern and western Thailand, Myanmar, and Bangladesh. M. emys may also be endemic to Brunei although this has not been confirmed.

The species have also been recorded in China, Vietnam, and Lao PDR although these records are of traded M. emys or even Manouria impressa (Manouria impressa).

M. emys is brown to black in coloration. The coloration is dependent on the subspecies. There are two subspecies, these are Manouria emys emys (known as Asian brown tortoise) and M. e. phayrei (known as Burmese brown tortoise). The Burmese mountain tortoise is the larger and darker of the two. 

The species are mostly herbivorous and feed on fruits, leaves, vegetables, and grasses. They have also been known to eat small animals such as terrestrial worms and amphibians. 

This species isn’t commonly kept as a pet.

6. Ploughshare Tortoise 

Ploughshare Tortoise (Astrochelys yniphora) sitting on straw in Mauritius, Africa
A Ploughshare Tortoise (Astrochelys yniphora) sitting on straw in Mauritius, Africa. – Source
  • Scientific Name: Astrochelys yniphora
  • Average Adult Length: 17.5 inches (44.6 cm)
  • Average Adult Mass: 19 to 23 lb (9 to 10 kg)
  • IUCN Red List Status: Critically Endangered

This is a critically endangered tortoise that is considered to be one of the least common tortoises in the world.

There are believed to be about just 600 individuals remaining in the world. This number may have further fallen or increased. 

This tortoise is also referred to as Madagascar angulated tortoise, Madagascar tortoise, angonoka, or ploughshare tortoise.

The geographic range of the species is very limited. They can be found in Beheta and Sada east of the Andranomavo River; and in Andrafiafaly, Betainalika, and Ambatomainty west of the Andranomavo River. They are found within the Baly Bay region. 

Astrochelys yniphora are endemic to xeric scrub forest, shrub thickets, and bamboo scrub savannahs with palms. These turtles forage in open grassy areas and hide in dense thickets when not foraging. 

The species normally reach a mass of 12 to 42 lb and a length of 12 to 19 inches. Males are considerably larger than females.

The carapace of the A. yniphora is yellowish-brown. The margins of the scutes are dark. The scutes feature prominent growth rings. 

A. yniphora are primarily herbivorous, feeding mostly on leaves and fruits. They consume the leaves of shrubs but avoid bamboo leaves. The shrub they feed on the most is Bauhinia pervillei.

This tortoise isn’t kept as a pet. 

7. Radiated Tortoise 

Radiated Tortoise (Astrochelys radiata) walking on sand in Madagascar
A Radiated Tortoise (Astrochelys radiata) walking on sand in Madagascar. – Source
  • Scientific Name: Astrochelys radiata
  • Average Adult Length: 17.5 inches (44.6 cm)
  • Average Adult Mass: 19 to 23 lb (9 to 10 kg)
  • Lifespan: 188 years
  • IUCN Red List Status: Critically Endangered

The radiated tortoise is very similar to the angonoka. In fact, both species belong to the same genus. Astrochelys radiata is not only quite large it is also long-lived with a lifespan of up to 188 years. 

Astrochelys radiata isn’t as large as the biggest tortoises but can reach a length of up to 17 inches and a mass of 35 lb. Most specimens reach a mass of 23 lb. 

This turtle has yellow lines that radiate from the center of each scute on the carapace. These radiating lines give the species their common name.

The star patterns on the carapace are more intricate and detailed than that of other tortoises with similar patterns such as the Geochelone elegans (Indian star tortoise). The background of the carapace is black. The feet, neck, and head are yellowish in coloration.

The species can be found in south and southwestern Madagascar. Particularly within the dry spiny forests.

The species is largely herbivorous and its diet is composed of succulents, fruits, and grasses. They are known to eat a lot of Opuntia cactus in the wild. 

8. Bolson Tortoise 

Bolson Tortoise (Gopherus flavomarginatus) on dry land in Chihuahua, Mexico
A Bolson Tortoise (Gopherus flavomarginatus) on dry land in Chihuahua, Mexico. – Source
  • Scientific Name: Gopherus flavomarginatus
  • Average Adult Length: 16 inches (40 cm)
  • Average Adult Mass: 77 to 220 lb (35 to 100 kg)
  • Lifespan: 20 to 70 years
  • IUCN Red List Status: Critically Endangered

Gopherus flavomarginatus is referred to as the Mexican giant tortoise for a reason. This is the largest tortoise in North America.

This giant is actually moderately sized when compared to other chelonians on this list. G. flavomarginatus is capable of reaching carapace lengths of 18 inches or 46 cm. 

G. flavomarginatus can be found in the Chihuahuan Desert, specifically in the Bolsón de Mapimí. The chelonian gets its name from its geographic location. 

G. flavomarginatus is capable of reaching a mass or weight of 220 lb, although the average mass of the species is 187 lb. The color of the carapace is brown and the color of the plastron is yellowish. The limbs, neck, and face are yellowish and dirty cream. 

The species is known to have a lifespan of 20 to 70 years in the wild. 

9. Marginated Tortoise 

Marginated Tortoise (Testudo marginata) in grass somewhere in Attica, Greece
A Marginated Tortoise (Testudo marginata) in grass somewhere in Attica, Greece. – Source

The biggest tortoise in Europe is the marginated tortoise. This is a Mediterranean species and can be found in the Mediterranean region, specifically within the Balkan peninsula. 

This species can reach a carapace length of 15 inches and a mass of 11 pounds while this doesn’t seem large, it is for a European tortoise. The carapace is black with yellow patterns while the carapace is lightly colored with triangular patterns that point towards the rear. 

The species can be quite aggressive. 

There are two subspecies and these are T. m. marginata also known as the Greek marginated tortoise which is endemic to the entire geographic range and T. m. sarda also known as the Sardinian marginated tortoise which is endemic to Sardinia. 

10. Gopher Tortoise 

Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) in grass and dirt somewhere in Florida, USA
A Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) in grass and dirt somewhere in Florida, USA. – Source
  • Scientific Name: Gopherus polyphemus
  • Average Adult Length: 9 to 15 inches (23 to 39 cm)
  • Average Adult Mass: 194 oz (5.5 kg)
  • Lifespan:  86 years
  • IUCN Red List Status: Vulnerable

The gopher tortoise is one of the smaller tortoises on this list. However, this is still fairly large compared to other turtles.

Gopherus polyphemus is considered a keystone species since the burrows it digs are used by hundreds of other species. This chelonian is also the state tortoise of Florida and the state reptile of Georgia. 

The species is endemic to the southeastern United States. 

Gopherus polyphemus is quite large reaching a carapace length of 16 inches although most individuals will have a carapace length less than that. The species is dark brown to black in coloration and their plastron is yellowish.

The trade of the gopher tortoise is illegal so these tortoises aren’t kept as pets. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the biggest tortoise in North America?

The biggest tortoise in North America is the Bolson tortoise (Gopherus flavomarginatus). This chelonian reaches carapace lengths of 18 inches and a mass of 220 lbs. This is a truly large tortoise. 

G. flavomarginatus is also commonly known as the yellow-margined tortoise and the Mexican giant tortoise. G. flavomarginatus is endemic to the Bolsón de Mapimí region of the Chihuahuan Desert.

What is the biggest tortoise in Asia?

The biggest tortoise in Asia is Manouria emys phayrei commonly known as the Burmese Mountain tortoise.

This tortoise is a subspecies of Manouria emys whose nominotypical subspecies are known as the Asian brown tortoise. M. e. phayrei is however the larger of the two subspecies. 

M. e. phayrei can reach a mass of 82 lb (37 kg) and a carapace length of 24 inches or 60 cm. The species is also known as the Asian Giant Tortoise.

What is the biggest tortoise in South America?

The biggest tortoise in South America is the Galápagos tortoise. These tortoises can be found on the Galápagos Islands of South America. 

The Galápagos tortoise is also the largest tortoise in the world. This giant is capable of reaching an adult mass of 919 lb or 417 kg.

The binomial name of the Galápagos tortoise is Chelonoidis niger. There are 12 extant subspecies in all. 

Interestingly, the subspecies are also sometimes considered separate species. All the species are massive and can reach similar weights and carapace lengths.

Chelonoidis microphyes can reach a carapace length of 53 inches.

What is the biggest tortoise in Africa?

The biggest tortoise in Africa is the Aldabra giant tortoise.

This tortoise is endemic to the Aldabra Atoll which is part of Seychelles. These tortoises grow to an average adult mass of 353 lb or 160 kg and can reach a carapace length of 53 inches. 

The third-largest tortoise in the world can also be found in Africa, and that is the sulcata also known as the African spurred tortoise (Centrochelys sulcata). This is a giant tortoise as well. This species can reach a mass of 110 lb or 50 kg.

Centrochelys sulcata also reach a carapace length of 33 inches or 83 cm. 

What is the biggest tortoise in Australia and Oceania?

There are no tortoises in Australia and Oceania. With this being said, there are two semi-aquatic turtles endemic to Australia, these two are sometimes referred to as tortoises but they are not as they do not belong to the order Testudinidae.

Conclusion

There are many large tortoises. Some such as the Galápagos tortoises are the biggest tortoise. This tortoise is endemic to the Galápagos Islands located in South America. 

The largest tortoise in North America is the Bolson tortoise which is endemic to Mexico. In Asia, the largest tortoise is the Burmese mountain tortoise also known as the Asian giant tortoise.

The largest tortoise in Africa is the sulcata also known as the African spurred tortoise. The largest tortoise in Europe is the marginated tortoise. 

Many of these large reptiles can be kept as pets. These include the marginated tortoise, the sulcata tortoise, and the Burmese mountain tortoise.

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