Galapagos Giant Tortoise Shell

Galapagos Giant Tortoise Shell Detail

I took this photograph to illustrate the structure of the tortoise shell.

The shell is composed of two segments. The top piece is called the carapace and can be seen in this close-up. The carapace is covered by an outer layer of individual pieces called scoots. The keratin that makes the scoots is the same material in our hair and nails.

The shell is a living bone, and as the tortoise grows, so do the individual segments of the carapace. The lines on the shell segments are similar to the growth rings of trees. I am unaware of how each line relates to time; I only know that as the shell grows, new lines develop.

The Galapagos Giant Tortoises can go months without eating or drinking water if the conditions demand. During very dry periods, they live off the water produced by the fat stored in the shell.

Damage to the shell can lead to harmful or even deadly infections in the tortoise.

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