Tortoise Lifespan: How Long Does a Tortoise Live?

The average tortoise lifespan is between 50 and 150 years old, depending on the species, and some can live for more than 200 years.

Jan 2, 2024By Tanya Taylor
tortoise lifespan how long does a tortoise live

Tortoises have a reputation for having a long life span. When I first considered getting them as pets, one of my first questions was, how long exactly do these little guys live? We all know that getting a pet is a lifelong commitment, but with tortoises, you must take that phrase literally. There’s a strong chance that a pet tortoise will outlive you.

Why do Tortoises Live So Long?

garden tortoise
Image Credit: Yegor Denisov on Unsplash

Tortoises and turtles are part of the reptile family called chelonians, and both are known for their longevity, but tortoises generally live longer than turtles. Chelonians roamed with the dinosaurs and are incredibly hardy, and one reason for their long lifespan could be their hard, protective shell. Scientists found that cold-blooded animals with protection such as a shell or poison generally live longer because they don't fall prey to bigger animals.

Another key to the longevity of tortoises could be their metabolism. Cold-blooded creatures have a slower metabolism than us hot-blooded beings. They use less energy to keep warm, digest food slower and can even go into a kind of suspended animation during hibernation.

Their slow metabolism also means that they develop slower. You can't tell the sex of a tortoise until they’re 4 - 10 years old, and some don't reach sexual maturity until they’re 20. Compare this to some mammals that can breed at six months but usually die young. Animals with a fast metabolism use their energy to stay alive, while cold-blooded, with a slow metabolism, tend to live longer.

How Old is the World's Oldest Tortoise?

old tortoise face
Image Credit: Public Domain

The world's oldest tortoise is Jonathan, a 190-year-old Seychelles Giant tortoise. Not only is he the oldest chelonian, but he’s also the oldest land animal, according to the Guinness World Book of Records.

Jonathan lives in St Helena and arrived there from the Seychelles in 1882. An old photograph shows that he was fully mature when he arrived, meaning he may be older than 190. He’s still going strong, and even though he’s completely blind, he still gets frisky with his mate and loves being with humans.

Astonishingly, Jonathan isn't the oldest tortoise that ever lived. Although his age is unconfirmed, Addwaita, another Seychelles Giant, was thought to be over 250 years old when he died in Calcutta Zoo in 2006.

Do Tortoises Live Longer in the Wild?

wild tortoise
Image Credit: Wolfgang Hasselmann on Unsplash

I searched many resources to find the answer to this question, and there’s not really a clear answer. It seems to me that domestic tortoises live longer than wild ones so long as they have the correct care. If a pet tortoise lives in the perfect environment, safe from predators, with access to veterinary care, generally, it will live longer than its wild counterpart. That said, like most reptiles, a tortoise has very specific care needs and can easily die in captivity if their diet or environment is incorrect.

Wild tortoises generally don't live as long because they face many challenges, such as finding food and water and not getting eaten by predators. Take Jonathan, the world's oldest tortoise, for example, he’s blind and only eats because his carers feed him. He probably wouldn't have reached the ripe age of 190 in the wild. Overall, a well-kept pet tortoise has a better chance of survival and a long life than a wild one. But with a bit of luck and good living conditions, wild tortoises may outlive domestic ones.

Do Some Tortoise Species Live Longer than Others?

indian star tortoise
Image Credit: Melissa Keizer on Unsplash

All tortoises have the potential to live a long and happy life, but some species have a longer life expectancy than others. Larger species generally live longer than smaller ones, and not all reach their maximum age, while some will live longer. A tortoise's life span depends on many things, such as genetics, their environment and just plain luck, not just the species.

That said, you should always consider a tortoise's lifespan when you choose one. To find out more, take a look at this list I put together of common tortoise species and their average lifespan in years.

  • Egyptian - 70 to100
  • Elongated - 30 to 40
  • Giant - Over 100
  • Gopher - 40 to 60
  • Greek - Over 100
  • Hermanns - 40 to 60
  • Horsefields (Russian) - 50 to 80
  • Indian Star - 30 to 50
  • Leopard - 80 to 100
  • Marginated - 80 to 90
  • Mediterranean - 60 to 100
  • Radiated - 40 to 80
  • Red-footed - 30 to 60
  • Sulcata - 50 to 80
  • Texas - 30 to 40

How do you Help a Tortoise Live Longer?

small tortoise
Image Credit: Marcus Dietachmair on Unsplash

Owning a tortoise comes with many benefits. The key to helping it live a long and healthy life is to provide it with its ideal diet and environmental conditions. To give your shelled friend the best chance, you must get their environment just right. Each species comes from a different environment and has different care needs.

Some come from dry desert areas, while others live in tropical, humid habitats and they also have different diet needs depending on their genetics. When pet tortoises get ill, it’s usually because of a problem related to their care. If something isn't correct in their environment, they will be prone to infections, respiratory illnesses, parasites, vitamin A and calcium deficiency.

So to help you provide the best care for your tortoise, I’ve listed the crucial care needs you must consider:

  1. Diet - Some tortoises are herbivores, some are omnivores, and some are fruit. Each species has individual food needs.
  2. Enrichment - They need a stimulating environment with places to hide and bask.
  3. UV lights - Indoor tortoises need artificial UV and UVB lights.
  4. Temperature - They need minimum and maximum day and nighttime temperatures and a basking spot.
  5. Humidity - Tortoises need humidity, and each species has individual requirements.
  6. Housing - Make sure tortoises have enough space and that their home protects them from predators, accidents and injuries.
  7. Supplements - Tortoises need a calcium supplement.
  8. Hygiene - Keep their living area clean to reduce the chances of diseases and illnesses.
Tanya Taylor
By Tanya Taylor

Tanya is a trusted animal care professional and has devoted her life to animals. In her 25-year career, she’s worked with all kinds of creatures in many environments, including three years caring for small animals as a veterinary nursing assistant and five years birthing down racehorses.

She is an expert farm and dog sitter - and has spent many hours volunteering at her local pony sanctuary. Tanya is originally from Liverpool in the UK, but now she lives in Ibiza, Spain, with her cheeky red terrier Leo and three Leopard tortoise hatchlings, Ninja, Tiny, and Orwell.