Jonathan the turtle just celebrated his 190th birthday


Jonathan the giant tortoise has become the oldest land animal in human history, receiving recognition from Guinness World Records after blowing out 190 candles.


Do you think that this creature was born in 1832 and there are photographic documents that prove it. As reported by the ‘ Guardian ‘ , Jonathan’s birthday was declared with this date December 4, 1832  by the governor of the British overseas territory Nigel Phillips. In addition, a three-day party was organized for this incredible milestone at the governor’s house on the island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean. Jonathan is a Seychelles giant tortoise ( Aldabrachelys gigantea hololissa) and its official record title is the oldest chelonian, an order of shelled reptiles that includes all turtles and tortoises. Due to the lack of official documents to work from, the tortoise’s longevity is based on an old photograph showing when it landed on St. Helena from the Seychelles in 1882.

In the photo, Jonathan appears to be fully mature and therefore probably would have been around 50 years old, given that he was born in 1832.

Jonathan the turtle just celebrated his 190th birthday

The photo from 1886. Credit: Isola di Sant’Elena


Although the turtle was 190 years old and seems to carry them better than any other animal on Earth, unfortunately time is starting to take its toll on Jonathan too, in fact, it is said he is blind and has no sense of smell, but he still has a good appetite and among his favorite dishes are bananas and hearts of lettuce.

Obviously the Jonathan turtle is constantly monitored by a team of veterinarians. He is blind and has lost his sense of smell, but his hearing seems to work just fine.

His hearing is excellent and he loves the company of humans and responds well to the voice of his veterinarian Joe Hollins because he associates it with a festive moment, write the judges of Guinness World Records. Jonathan is currently located at the Plantation House, the official residence of the governor of Saint Helena, and shares his immense spaces with three other turtles: David, Emma and Fred. Obviously it goes without saying that he is the  undisputed star, in fact Jonathan even appears on a 5p coin. But is this longevity a rare or rather frequent gift in these particular and fascinating animals? Let’s go find out.


The longevity of turtles

The turtle is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the longest-lived animals on Planet Earth. Whether it depends on the size of the specimen, on the conditions of the environment in which it is found or on its diet, it must be said that these animals usually manage to live quite a long time, even compared to other species and humans in general .

So both turtles and tortoises have a very high life expectancy, arriving in many cases to become even centenary (it is not uncommon for them to exceed one hundred years). Whether it is domestic or wild, it does not matter in fact usually these animals, whether they are land or water, live on average from thirty to one hundred or one hundred and fifty years:

  • Small land turtles have an average life expectancy of 30/40 years
  • Sea turtles live to be around 80 years old
  • Giant tortoises tend to live over 100 years

Accurately measuring these data, however, is still complicated today, given the impossibility of going back to precise dates of the already very old specimens.


However, the answer to this question, to this ancient animal’s great elixir of youth, is all in its DNA.

But of course living conditions also tend to be very influential. Having large spaces of vegetation available , recreating them where necessary even at home, a constant supply of fresh and clean water, foods suitable for feeding and the slow and peaceful metabolism that characterizes these animals, certainly play their part.

Jonathan the turtle just celebrated his 190th birthday

How to understand the age of a turtle? 
The system for calculating the age of a turtle is very similar to that for calculating the age of a tree: lines known as growth grooves are added each year above each scutum (scientific name for the scales from which their shell is composed). . Some small calculations are required, however. To understand something more and establish an age as precise as possible, it is advisable to follow some indications.

Usually preferred as a pet, land turtles can live for a very long time and, just like water turtles, they need constant attention and care from the owner to be able to keep them company for the rest of their lives. Even if they are reptiles , and apparently “elusive” animals, turtles are now used to human presence and therefore they certainly benefit from it. As for their history, turtles were already present on the planet 250 million years agoand since then they have not undergone major changes: the shell (shield, or carapace) is made of small bone plates, welded to the vertebral column, ribs, shoulder bones and those of the pelvis. In fact, tortoises are the oldest living reptiles, more so than fossil dinosaurs.

They are in fact called “living fossils”.

Although turtles almost all look alike, according to the latest research, more than 250 species have been cataloged , which live in many parts of the world, especially tropical and subtropical. The length varies from a few centimeters to almost three meters; the largest ones weigh even 750 kilos. There are about 40 species of terrestrial tortoises (called tortoises), such as the Testudo Porteri, gigantic tortoise from the Galapagos Islands, the more common T. Graeca or European tortoise and T. Hermanni, also very common in Italy. To conclude the discussion on the longevity of these particular animals, we recall that one of the fundamental points for these animals is represented by their metabolism . The physiologist Max Rubner in 1908 introduced the “rate of  living theory with which he argued that the faster the metabolism of a living being, the shorter its life.

Jonathan the turtle just celebrated his 190th birthday

Recent studies conducted by the Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Oncológicas (CNIO) have shown that it is instead the telomeres that play an important role in aging. Telomeres are the endings of chromosomes and play an important role during DNA replication: they “wear out” a little over time, until they become too short to fulfill their function, i.e. protect cells and ensure their proper functioning .

The cells of some turtles always remain “young” and fully functional (a phenomenon described as “negligible senescence”).

Their internal organs remain perfectly efficient even as the years go by.  The final deduction from these studies is almost obvious: all of this is possible if the living conditions are good, if you take care of them and, for the breeds that provide for it, if hibernation has been done and has been successful. Skipping hibernation, for example, implies a series of problems, such as excess growth from which derive “poor development of the bone structure and very serious problems with internal organs such as the liver and kidneys”, factors that can also have repercussions in adulthood.

Having said that we are grateful to animals like Jonathan who make us discover ever more sensational things about our Planet Earth.

  • Jonathan, the world’s oldest giant tortoise blows out 190 candles (
  • Happy birthday Jonathan: the oldest turtle in the world turned 190 (
  • Jonathan the turtle just celebrated his 190th birthday (
  • How do turtles live so long (
  • Do turtles live 100 years? (



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