National Geographic : 1952 May
Like Oaks from Acorns, Galapagos Giants from Little Tortoises Grow The year-old tortoise, weighing 334 ounces, may in time rival his mount's 350 pounds. On the arid Galapagos Islands these turtles store scant rainfall in neck sacs. Tapping the four-legged canteens and then eating their flesh has saved shipwrecked or marooned mariners from death. ing anything that swims, they have been known to bite off part of a fish struggling on a fisherman's hook. In captivity, even young snappers strike savagely at proffered food, and woe to the person who fails to withdraw his fingers quickly! Young snappers cannot be kept in the same quarters with young turtles of other species, for they will attack and kill even those larger than themselves. For the same reason, they should be kept out of ponds containing goldfish and other aquatic pets. The common snapper often grows to a length of 13 inches measured along the upper shell, with a weight of 16 to 30 pounds. A large captive specimen being fattened for the soup pot reached a weight of 86 pounds. A Walking Meat Cleaver Except for purely marine species which sometimes visit our coasts, the alligator snap per is the largest turtle found in the United States. It occurs in the Gulf States and along the Mississippi watershed and, in spite of its large size, is quite secretive in its habits. An average alligator snapper has a shell measuring 24 inches long and weighs about 100 pounds, but weights up to 219 pounds have been reported. Its skull measures more than nine inches in length. One look at the meat-cleaver jaws will con vince even the most fearless person that this is a creature best left alone. Though larger, the sea turtles are much less ferocious than the alligator snapper. The leathery turtle, or leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), attains the largest size of any turtle now living, with a shell length of eight feet and a weight of nearly 1,500 pounds (page 679). Sea turtles live and breed in tropical waters, although occasionally one will stray far to the north until numbed by the colder tem peratures. Since the hazards of existence are much greater for sea babies than for land babies, the female sea turtle lays 90 to 150 eggs in a clutch, as often as four times a year, instead of the half dozen to a score or so, once a year, of the land and fresh-water mothers. Because turtle eggs contain a high-grade oil, used in watches and other precision instru ments, and also are relished as food, natives living near tropical shores hunt sea-turtle eggs by probing in the sand with a sharpened stick. 683 Herbert Photos, Inc.