; order Chelonia, suborder Cryptodira)
A family whose members have a high-domed carapace, usually pillar-like legs, and blunt, heavily scaled, clawed feet. They are primarily herbivorous. Malacochersus tornieri (pancake tortoise), an agile climber on high, rocky slopes in E. Africa, differs from other members of the family in having a flexible, flattened shell that allows it to squeeze into rock crevices. Testudo (or Geochelone) elephantropus (Galápagos giant tortoise) has a carapace up to 1.5 m long and weighs up to 270 kg; there were once 14 subspecies, differing in shell shape, but many have become extinct due to human activities. T. (or Geochelone) gigantea (Seychelles giant tortoise) is now common only on Aldabra; it is distinguished by the median cervical plate on the anterior margin of the carapace. T. hermanni (Greek tortoise or Hermann's tortoise) has a horny spur on the end of the tail. T. graeca (spur-thighed tortoise) has a horny tubercle on the rear of each thigh, but no spur on the tail. Gopherus polyphemus (gopher tortoise) of the southern USA excavates long tunnels to avoid extreme heat, emerging at dusk to feed; males have elongated anterior plates on the carapace, used to lever rival males on to their backs when competing for a mate. There are about 50 species in the family, distributed in varied habitats throughout warmer parts of the world except Australia.
Subjects: Zoology and Animal Sciences.