Question Sheet: Lessons from a Lonely Tortoise


Before reading:

  1. Why is it important to protect Galápagos tortoises? 
  2. Where are the Galápagos Islands?

During reading:

  1. Who was Charles Darwin? What work made him famous? 
  2. What is a carapace? What is a saddleback shell? 
  3. Why have scientists set up tortoise-breeding facilities in the Galápagos


  4. Why do scientists paint numbers on the backs of baby tortoises at breeding

    facilities in the Galápagos Islands? 

  5. What type of environments do baby tortoises live in at the breeding

    facilities? When do researchers release the young tortoises into the wild? 

  6. Describe a “semiprotected” environment.

After reading:

  1. Predators often eat baby tortoises in the wild. Why do scientists want to

    prevent this? 

  2. What is a conservationist? How do conservationists differ from other types

    of scientists? (For help, see 

  3. Why might it be difficult to determine exactly how long a tortoise can live

    in the wild? 

  4. Darwin observed that each island in the Galápagos is home to a unique set of

    animals. The same is true on other islands around the world. What might explain

    this phenomenon? (Learn more about “island biogeography” at 

  5. How do adult tortoises protect themselves from predators? 
  6. What are the advantages and disadvantages of raising a wild animal in

    captivity rather than letting it grow up in the wild?


Besides tortoises, what other rare animals live in the Galápagos Islands? What makes this region so rich with life? (For lots of information and extra lesson plans, see


  1. After researching the Galápagos Islands, write a short story from the

    perspective of a 200-year-old Galápagos tortoise. Remember that a tortoise that

    old could have met both Charles Darwin in 1835 and a kid like you today! What

    kinds of changes in the environment might the tortoise have witnessed during its

    lifetime? What types of visitors might the animal have encountered over the


  2. Charles Darwin was both a scientist and a writer. Why is it important that

    scientists be good writers? Do you know any scientists today who write books?

    Who are they?


A giant tortoise can weigh up to 500 pounds. How much do you weigh in comparison, in terms of fractions and percentages? (For example, if you weighed 250 pounds, you would weigh 1/2 or 50 percent as much as a 500-pound tortoise). If you have a pet, how much does it weigh in comparison to a giant tortoise?