Turtles are famous for their longevity, many living for more than a hundred years.
One giant tortoise named Adwaita is said to have lived 255 years in the Calcutta Zoo. He finally died of liver failure in 2006.
How do turtles manage to be so long-lived?
This is fascinating: Researchers have recently discovered a turtle’s organs do not gradually break down or become less efficient over time, unlike most other animals. Instead, the liver, lungs, and kidneys of a centenarian (100-year-old) turtle are virtually indistinguishable from those of its younger counterparts.
But the survival skills of turtles may be even more astounding.
A turtle in Brazil managed to survive, after being trapped in a wooden box in a shed for THIRTY years.
Richard Schiffman reports for the National Geographic, Feb. 1, 2013, that in 1982, a red-footed tortoise named Manuela mysteriously “disappeared” from the home of the Almeida family in a suburb of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The family assumed that their pet escaped from the house after construction workers had left the front door ajar.
Flash forward 30 years.
Recently, Leandro Almeida was cleaning out a storage shed and was about to throw away an old wooden box he’d found in the shed: “I put the box on the pavement for the rubbish men to collect, and a neighbor said, ‘You’re not throwing out the turtle as well are you?’ I looked and saw her. At that moment, I turned white, I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”
Inside the box was an old record player and Manuela, their long-lost tortoise, still alive after more than three decades.
Leandro’s sister, Lenita, who was given the tortoise as a childhood pet, said, “We’re all thrilled to have Manuela back. But no one can understand how she managed to survive for 30 years in there—it’s just unbelievable.”
Even the experts are stumped. Jeferson Peres, a Rio-based veterinarian, said that red-footed tortoises have been known to go without eating for two to three years in the wild—but 30 years is off the known charts. He speculated that Manuela had survived by eating termites and other small insects and licking condensation.
Turtles also have reserve fat pads that they can draw on when food is scarce, Anthony Pilny, a veterinary surgeon and specialist in birds and reptiles at the Center for Avian and Exotic Medicine in New York City, said by email.
Like snakes, turtles are able to go for long periods without eating. Wild turtles can also lower their body temperatures and other physiological processes and enter into temporary states of suspended animation from which they’re able to recover. But Pilny does not recommend that pet owners try this with their own turtles.
As for Manuela, Pilny has some advice for the family. “They should go very slowly—start by warming her up and rehydrating Manuela before feeding … Give her warm water soaks and offer a small meal after she seems stable. Then take her to a veterinarian who specializes in reptiles for a checkup and some bloodwork.”