Tortoises are land turtles from the Testudinidae family. There are roughly 40 different species inhabiting the temperate and tropical regions of every continent except Oceania. Like other turtles, the tortoise has a carapace, which is a shell made of flat bones covered in plates. Tortoises vary in size depending on their species. The Hermann turtle, [Testudo hermanni] one of the most common European varieties, spans roughly 20 cm. The Aldabra Giant Tortoise, [Geochelone gigantea] which can be found in the Indian Ocean, is more than 120 cm long and weighs more than 250 kg. The giant Galapagos turtles [Geochelone elephantopus] are also tortoises. They have extraordinarily long lifespans. Naturalist Charles Darwin brought one to England in 1835 that lived until 2006, dying at age 176.
When tortoises feel threatened, they pull their heads and limbs inside their shells. But the weight of their protective armor prevents them from swimming or moving rapidly over land. Tortoises are mostly herbivores, but also feed on worms and insect larvae that they capture with their beaks. To survive the hottest periods of the year, the species that live in arid regions resort to estivation, hiding in underground nests and entering a sort of hibernation. Tortoises mate in the late spring. Females generally lay between one and 12 eggs at a time in holes they dig in the ground. After three to 12 months, the young tortoises cut through their shells with a special horn-like tooth that they later shed. The tortoise symbolizes strength and solidity. In Hinduism, it is one of the personifications of the god Vishnu. Vishnu takes on the animal’s appearance in order to support the sacred mountain of Mandara.
The ancient Romans took inspiration from the animal’s carapace to invent a “tortoise” of their own, in other words a battle formation that became the hallmark of the Roman infantry.