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Why don't turtles get old? ZooMontana helps find out

ZooMontana contributes to national research
Posted at 5:27 PM, Jul 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-20 10:57:57-04

BILLINGS — A new study published in the journal Science found that turtles and tortoises may age differently than what was previously thought, and ZooMontana contributed data to that national study.

The data collected at ZooMontana, along with many other zoos and aquariums across the world, was used by researchers from Species360 Conservation Science Alliance and the University of Southern Denmark to study 52 species of turtles and tortoises. ZooMontana is constantly adding their research and data to Species360 Zoological Information Management System, or ZIMS. ZIMS data was then used to conduct this study.

“Turtles and the order of turtles have the ability to essentially slow down their aging,” said ZooMontana Executive Director Jeff Ewelt on Tuesday.

The study, published last month, found that testudines - the order to which tortoises and turtles belong - may defy common evolutionary theories of aging.

“It’s been known that turtles and tortoises live a long time, but what hasn’t been known is why is that? What in them allows them to live longer? And now with this data, we know they’ve got the ability to slow down that aging, which is incredible,” Ewelt said.

How can they slow down their aging? The researchers found that it's the turtles' and tortoises' environments. When living in a zoo setting, the reptiles don't have the daily stress of escaping predators or searching for prey.

“In a situation like at a zoo, when they don’t have to worry about all those external stresses, that essentially is going to be that, quote unquote, perfect environment where these guys can essentially sit back, they can focus on making sure they slow down that aging. And they can be around for a long, long time,” Ewelt said.

Of the turtles and tortoises studied, 80% showed slower aging than modern humans. Some were even found to stop aging. Although they are not immortal and will eventually pass.

“To be just a tiny fraction a part of this, that’s what we’re all about,” said Ewelt.