Meet Stella: The spunkiest tortoise you’ll ever know

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By Katelyn Billings

If you have ever wandered around Science and Engineering, chances are you may have caught a glimpse of the Biology Department’s famous tortoise, otherwise known as Stella.

Rescued in 2005, Stella is an African spurred tortoise who has been under the care of lab technicians Peg Angie and Amy Kelley ever since. He currently resides in a small  kiddie pool in their office in Science and Engineering, room 103.

He (yes, he!) weighs around 34 pounds, which, by his species’ standards, is considered relatively small (they can way up to 240 pounds!). His species is recognized as the third largest tortoise species in the world, and the largest species of all mainland turtles.

His shell is about 13 inches long and 18 inches wide, though standard sizes for his species range from 24 to 36 inches wide. Currently at 30 years of age, he may live to be anywhere from 80 to 100 years old. Unfortunately, he was severely malnourished before he was rescued, so his body will most likely never reach full size.

Stella’s species (binomially known as Geochelone sulcata) is predominant in the South Saharan desert, with their diets consisting of dry, nutrient-poor desert grasses.

Here at Union, Stella mostly feasts on hay, but will also be served fresh kale, dandelion greens and even some fruit for a little treat.

Out in the desert, these tortoises engages in aestivation, a process comparable to that of hibernation. During this dormant phase, Stella’s species remains mostly inactive during a hot, dry season and will dig underground burrows and tunnels to live in for a period of time. These underground habitats can reach anywhere from 30 inches to 10 feet beneath the surface

What is the story behind Stella’s confusing name? I met with Professor Barbara Pytel, who gave me a little insight into the mystery of Stella’s name.

“When we first got Stella, we were told she was a girl,” she remarked. “Then, she was walking around and we quickly figured out that she was, in fact, a he! But the name had already stuck and now we have a boy Stella.”

Stella quite enjoys making laps around the laboratory classroom, and when he isn’t wandering around Biology students, he lounges in his heated kiddie pool under a set of lights, in a bed of soft, cozy hay.

Take the chance to stop in sometime and meet this spunky reptile for yourself!

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