Lonesome George, the World's Rarest Tortoise, Isn't Ready to Be a Dad

By Eliza Strickland | November 13, 2008 11:24 am

Lonesome George Galapagos tortoisePoor Lonesome George: Although he may have found a mate, researchers say he is still being denied the joys of fatherhood. George is thought to be the last representative of a tortoise subspecies from the Galapagos Island of Pinta, and researchers rejoiced this summer when he appeared to father a batch of eggs. But earlier this week a spokesperson for the Galapagos National Park announced that 80 percent of the eggs do not appear to be viable.

The excitement began this summer when two female tortoises exhibited surprising behavior. The females, who have shared George’s enclosure at the Charles Darwin Research Station on the central island of Santa Cruz for almost 20 years, are of a different but closely related species. After decades of reproductive reticence, they stunned scientists during the summer by building nests and filling them with eggs for the first time [Nature News]. Researchers quickly removed the 16 eggs from the nests and installed them in an artificial incubator, although three of those eggs were thought to have already deteriorated.

The remaining 13 eggs were expected to hatch this week, but a recent inspection depressed researchers’ hopes. Most of the eggs were found to have lost a great deal of weight through water loss, which indicates that no embryos have been developing, and several eggs have fungus growing on their shells, which may signal that the material inside is rotting. However, a slim chance of baby tortoises remains. Scientists said 20 percent of the remaining eggs could still produce offspring…. “We will leave the eggs in the incubators and try to find answers,” said Washington Tapia, a park official [Reuters].

Researchers don’t yet know why the eggs failed to develop, and say it’s possible that George is infertile. Reproduction has never been high on George’s list of priorities, and researchers have spent decades trying to coax the reluctant tortoise into dallying with the ladies. After trying almost everything from artificial insemination to having George watch younger males mate, his keepers had nearly lost hope. At 90 years old George is in his sexual prime and his low libido even raised tabloid-like rumors the 198 pounds (90 kilograms) creature preferred other males [Reuters].

Related Content:
Discoblog: World’s Rarest Tortoise Could Finally Be a Father
80beats: Careful Crossbreeding Could Resurrect Extinct Galapagos Tortoise

Image: Wikimedia Commons

  • http://valentinesagefieldvineyard valensage

    Would be absolutely wonderful if old George could perform the ultimate task of his gender, to sire future generations. And, in George’s case, such a lovable species of Earth’s inhabitants.

    To George: Forget the closet. Come out and be a man

  • http://YAHOO! No name lol!

    Now thats just sad… i Feel bad for him!

  • riparian forest

    stupid elder humans, eating whatever moved the slowest

  • Terry

    It’s not the humans that ate them, it’s the goats and rats that were introduced to the Galapagos Islands. The goats are eating the food the tortoises eat (vegetation) and so the tortoises are starving and the rats and other animals are eating the eggs of the tortoises, so even when they lay eggs, barely any survive. That’s why the Darwin Center takes all the eggs and incubates them. Slowly, they are replenishing the tortoise populations on the island. The eradication program to kill the goats and other animals not endemic to the islands is also helping.

  • Greg

    Yes, it would be a shame if George’s subspecies does not survive. It’s also a shame that anyone would think that being homosexual would make a tortoise, or any male species, any less of a man (or male gendered animal).

  • http://www.myspace/NYKretinsKevin Kevin Patrick

    I have saved a tropical tortoise and live in a relationship with him only someone who cares for the needs of a tortoise would understand…when Europeans came into the Amazon in the early part of the 20th century,nearly 450,000,000 Redfoot tortoises were exterminated,however you may wish to re-word it—they are the Equals of man,not man’s dominion…that notion has to be put down,not animals…Not one person EVER should be allowed to live or visit Galapagos,remove all of the humanity and their filth and the paradise Darwin saw would regenerate–no 50 foot piles of garbage bags,Giant tortoises sharing roadways with tourists’ jeeps,eyes wincing in disgust as they silently inhale the exhaust—50 years of NO people,look at what man has done to his own environments—why is this even being discussed?The giants there trusted man’s stupid notions from the start…only the ignorant can look at photos of George and not want to help,somehow…plenty of stupid people,one George.

  • http://www.galapagosonline.com galapagosonline

    The most exciting news regarding George is it looks like he is no longer the last remaining Pinta tortoise. The DNA work the scientists have been doing has tentatively identified another pure blood Pinta Tortoise and they think there may be others. You may want to see our blog on The Evolution Extinction

  • Savannah

    i feel so bad for old George!


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.

See More

Collapse bottom bar