He is cold blooded, moves at a pace of 0.16 miles per hour (0.26 kilometers per hour), and carries his house on his back! His name is Speedy, and he is actually older than the San Diego Zoo itself! Speedy is a male Galápagos tortoise who resides in the new Fetter Family Galápagos Tortoise Exhibit in Discovery Outpost. Although Speedy’s exact age is unknown, he is estimated to be close to 150 years old(!), based on his size, weight, and overall shell condition.
Speedy weighs in at 615 pounds (279 kilograms) and is our largest Galápagos tortoise. He is easy to distinguish from the other 16 tortoises he lives with by his noticeably larger size, as well as the two grape-sized “mental glands” that are present on his chin. He is the only Galápagos tortoise to have these oil-secreting glands at our Zoo and probably in the world. It is unknown to us why Speedy has mental glands, as they are a feature usually only present in tortoises of the genus Gopherus (like our California desert tortoises) and are used by the male desert tortoises when rubbing their chin on rocks to leave behind a scent for communication with other tortoises. Speedy has never used his mental glands—in fact, I don’t even think he knows he has them!
Speedy originated from the island of Southern Isabella in the Galápagos archipelago, about 600 miles (965 kilometers) off the coast of Ecuador. Southern Isabella Island is known to have particularly large tortoises compared to some of the other islands in the Galápagos chain.
One would guess that because of Speedy’s large size and old age, he would be the dominant personality in the herd; but, in fact, Speedy is one of the most submissive and demure tortoises we have. In a tortoises’ world, dominance is not established by body size but rather by height, so the animals that have longer necks and legs tend to be dominant.
Speedy came to live at the San Diego Zoo in 1935. When he arrived, he was already well into adulthood (more than 500 pounds or 227 kilograms) at that time, making him quite old even back then! He spends his days basking in the sun or taking a dip in his soaking pool. Speedy enjoys special treats like hibiscus or prickly pear cactus and is a real sucker for a good neck rub!
The next time you are visiting the Galápagos tortoise exhibit at the San Diego Zoo, take a moment to try and identify Speedy, the Zoo’s oldest gem! (Here is a hint: he has a white #5 painted on his shell!)
Jenna Ramsey is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.