Turbo-charged tortoises overtaken by man
Wednesday 09 September 1998
Scientists are now piecing together the truth about the giant racing tortoises of the Mascarene Islands in the Indian Ocean, which became extinct 200 years after the arrival in the 16th century of the deadliest predator of all: humans. Early accounts by explorers describe the animals, each about 2.5ft long, as being so plentiful that you "could walk for 300 yards on their backs without once touching the ground".
The arrival of the explorers spelt the end for a group of animals that were, by tortoise standards, turbo-charged. They had had millions of untroubled years in which they evolved paper-thin shells that left them up to 30kg (66lb) lighter, and much quicker, than their more conventional cousins.
They were not quick enough, however, to escape people, and the last racing tortoise was hunted and cooked in the early 1800s, ending perhaps 8 million years of an accidental experiment in evolution.
Because the islands - Mauritius, Reunion and Rodriguez - lie between 500 and 1,000 miles east of Madagascar, potential predators were never able to make the sea crossing.
In fact, said Dr Jeremy Austin of the Natural History Museum, DNA taken from bones suggests that all three islands were seeded by a single pregnant female ancestor, probably swept off an African beach by a big wave. "Tortoises can float rather like a coconut, and survive up to four months without eating or drinking anything," he told the British Association's Festival of Science in Cardiff yesterday.
"The first tortoise must have been wandering on a beach, suddenly found it couldn't touch anything with its feet, and then just bobbed along, and along, until it washed up on another beach."
- 1 Home Office says Nigerian asylum-seeker can’t be a lesbian as she’s got children
- 2 What happens to your body when you give up sugar?
- 3 Drugs Live cannabis trial: Hash is less harmful than any other drug, expert claims
- 4 Turkish Airlines flight TK 726 crash-lands on Nepal runway amid dense fog
- 5 Apple and Google users being spied on for a decade because of 'Freak' security flaw
The City of the Monkey God: Archaeologists claim to have found city lost for 1,000 years in remote Honduran jungle
Turkish Airlines flight TK 726 crash-lands on Nepal runway amid dense fog
Japanese island overrun with cats after population explodes
London property boom built on dirty money
Becky Watts: Stepbrother and his girlfriend named locally as two arrested on suspicion of murder
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Ukraine crisis: Top Chinese diplomat backs Putin and says West should 'abandon zero-sum mentality'
£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...
£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and reputable Not for Profit o...
£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Ledger & Credit Control...
£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Administrator is requ...