Turtles can live for centuries. Researchers lately have been astonished to discover that in contrast to nearly every other animal studied, a turtle’s organs do not gradually break down or become less efficient over time.
With its miserly metabolism and tranquil temperament, its capacity to forgo food and drink for months at a time, its redwood burl of a body shield, so well engineered it can withstand the impact of a stampeding wildebeest, the turtle is one of the longest-lived creatures Earth has known. Individual turtles can survive for centuries, bearing silent witness to epic swaths of human swagger. Last March, a giant tortoise named Adwaita said to be as old as 250 years died in a Calcutta zoo, having been taken to India by British sailors, records suggest, during the reign of King George II. In June, newspapers around the world noted the passing of Harriet, a Galapagos tortoise that died in the Australia Zoo at age 176 — 171 years after Charles Darwin is said, perhaps apocryphally, to have plucked her from her equatorial home.