Image © Julian Smith
A tortoise the size of a lounge chair is an astonishing sight, but it's no big deal in the Galapagos Islands. The Galapagos giant tortoise, the largest in the world, can grow up for four feet long and weigh over 650 pounds. (We also think they can live for a few centuries, but nobody's kept detailed records that long.)
Scientists recognize eleven different living subspecies living on nine different islands in the archipelago. There originally were as many as 15, but human impact--mostly whaling ships tossing tortoises in the hold for fresh meat on long sea voyages--cut those numbers significantly.
Now there's only one Pinta Island Tortoise (Geochelone nigra abingdoni) left. He's called Lonesome George, and he's been living at the Charles Darwin Research Station on San Cristobal Island since 1971. There was even a reward posted for anyone who could find another pure Pinta tortoise for him to mate with to preserve the subspecies.
Now it looks like George might have solved his own problem: one of the females he's been penned with has dug a nest and laid 9 eggs. Nobody saw them actually copulate (George has been lukewarm in the whole mating department, all mounting and no penetrating), but scientists and conservationists are keeping their fingers crossed.
(Note: that isn't George above, but does it remind you of someone else? Maybe a certain friendly movie alien? Supposedly the face of E.T. was modeled after a Galapagos tortoise.)