Why Do Turtles Live So Long?

Can you believe that some turtles can live up to two centuries? What’s their secret? Is it the shell? Or their fast metabolism? Let’s find out!

May 14, 2024By Monika Dimitrovska
why do turtles live so long

Why do turtles live so long?

After hours of researching this topic, I finally got my answer. Well, I actually found out a few potential reasons for their long lifespan, including their strong shell, fast metabolism, and rapid recovery of cell damage, among others.

Small species can live up to a few decades if cared for properly, while larger ones have a lifespan of about eight decades. But here’s the kicker. The giant tortoise typically lives about a century or two, which sounds insane, so let’s learn more!

How Long Can a Turtle Live?

turtle pink background
Image credit: ivabalk from Pixabay

Turtles, including Jonathan, the giant tortoise, can live remarkably long lives, with some reaching ages of over a century. Jonathan, for example, turned 191 in 2024.

He was born in 1832 during the reign of Queen Victoria, so he was already 80 years old when the Titanic hit that iceberg and sank deep into the North Atlantic.

Sea turtles typically live between 50 to 100 years, while box turtles can exceed a century in age. Therefore, both turtles and tortoises have a long lifespan.

Still, the precise upper limit of a turtle’s lifespan remains unknown, as humans simply don’t live long enough to observe it. However, experts suggest that the reasons for their longevity lie in both evolutionary and biological factors.

Fun fact: Tortoises can swim, but they’re not as good at it as sea turtles.

How Old is the Oldest Turtle?

saint helena plantation house turtle jonathan
Image credit: Wikipedia

The oldest living tortoise we know of is Jonathan, a Seychelles giant tortoise who recently turned 191 years old. Jonathan lives on the British territory of St. Helena. He surpassed the previous record held by Tu’i Malila, a Madagascar tortoise who lived to be 188 years old.

Fun fact: Tortoises can bite, but they usually do it by mistake or out of fear. They might also bite each other for various reasons, including boredom or dominance.

Why Do Turtles Live So Long?

turtle exploring nature
Image credit: Marcus Dietachmair from Unsplash

Turtles live exceptionally long lives thanks to their evolutionary strategies and biological mechanisms. Female turtles lay many eggs at natal beaches to increase their chance of survival and avoid predators, and their high reproductive rate ensures the passing on of their genes.

Biologically, turtles have unique traits that contribute to their longevity. Their telomeres, protective structures at the ends of chromosomes, degrade slower than in shorter-lived animals, reducing DNA damage over time. In other words, turtles barely age compared to humans and other animals.

Additionally, turtles have efficient mechanisms to remove damaged cells, preventing issues like cancer. Recent studies suggest turtles, including giants like Jonathan, swiftly eliminate damaged cells when in a state of stress.

They also display resilience to disruptions in DNA replication processes, potentially explaining their long lifespan.

Why Do Turtles Live Longer Than Humans?

person holding baby turtle
Image credit: MatrixDiver from Pixabay

Turtles live longer than humans for a few possible reasons, including slow metabolism, hibernation, and sturdy shells. Let’s discuss in detail why turtles live so long.

Slow metabolism

One idea is that turtles have a slow metabolism because they’re cold-blooded. This means they don’t need as much food or energy to survive, and they don’t use up energy quickly. This slow energy use might help them avoid the tissue and cell damage that comes with aging.

Turtles also don’t have teeth, which is one of the fun facts about turtles.

Hibernation

Another reason is that turtles hibernate, which means they go into a kind of deep sleep for a while. During hibernation, they use even less energy, which could help them live longer.

Hard shells

Turtles and tortoises aren’t the same, but both have sturdy shells that make it hard for other animals to eat them. This means they have more time to live and have babies, passing on their strong shell genes.

Can Turtles Live Up To 500 Years?

multiple turtles nature water
Image credit: dae jeung kim from Pixabay

Turtles can live very long lives, with some even reaching over 100 years old. However, there’s no proof (so far) that they can live up to 500 years.

Now, different types of turtles have different lifespans. Most water turtles live to their 40s, while smaller ones live about 25 years. Box turtles on land, including the smallest tortoise species, can live to 40 or 50, but some may reach 100 years.

Pet turtles also have different lifespans:

  • Red-eared slider: 25-35 years
  • Map turtle: 15-25 years
  • Wood turtle: 40-55 years
  • Eastern box turtle: 50 years and beyond
  • Painted turtle: 25 to 30 years
  • Russian tortoise: 40 years or more
  • Greek tortoise: 100 years or above
  • Leopard tortoise: 100 years or more

Conclusion

turtle eating
Image credit: oblako3011 from Pixabay

There is no exact answer for why turtles and tortoises live so long.

However, experts have a few theories explaining their longevity, including the slow rate of their metabolisms, hard shells, high reproductive rates, and the swift elimination of damaged cells. But there’s still a lot to learn about aging and how different animals live.

Of course, the longevity of a turtle’s life also depends on surviving predators, pollution, and other environmental risks. New hatchlings face particular vulnerability to predators until their shells toughen up.

As for pet turtles, whether they live for many years depends mostly on how well they’re cared for. If you’re considering buying a turtle, we suggest exploring the pros and cons of having a pet turtle before getting one.

Monika Dimitrovska
By Monika Dimitrovska

Monika is a pet enthusiast and seasoned copywriter with a tech degree. She loves writing, but her heart belongs to her two mixed dogs, Buba and Bono, a mother-son duo. Bono’s siblings found loving homes, sparking Monika’s advocacy for neutering and deepening her curiosity about animal care.

But Monika’s pet family doesn’t end there. She also has two cockatiels and two rescue cats, proving her home is a haven for creatures big and small.