Ask Your Weird Animal Questions: Can a Tortoise Live to 300?

Why do my kittens keep gathering around the litter box when I’m cleaning it out? Kim

Cleaning the litter box is the stinkiest job in the house: Why would anyone want to watch? Is this just classic cat curiosity?

Photo of a kitten and its mother.
Domestic cats in Pradesh State, India, in 2011. Photograph by Sylvain Cordier, Hemis/Corbis

Barbara Sherman, a veterinary behaviorist at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, said that may be part of it, but it’s more likely that the cats are excited about the prospect of a tidy box.

“Many cats really like to dig around in a very clean box. It’s very common that when you clean the box and walk away that a cat will jump in and dig around, do their business, and have a good time doing it in the process,” she said. (See “What Do Cats Think About Us? You May Be Surprised.”)

“You never see cats looking rumpled or covered with debris,” Sherman noted, so it’s not that surprising that these fastidious animals prefer a clean restroom. Who doesn’t?

Is it true that lovebugs taste so bad that even spiders won’t eat them?

I took the author’s prerogative to ask Thomas Fasulo, a retired entomologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville, about this strange insect, a species of fly called Plecia nearctica that, well, apparently loves to mate—for up to 12.5 hours. (See pictures of mating insects.)

When I was a kid in Florida, lovebugs seem to hover everywhere and cover everything during their May and September mating seasons. When I noticed them appearing again recently, I was reminded of a tidbit I once read: that they taste so foul even spiders won’t bother with them.

Turns out that’s true: Lovebugs, which are plentiful throughout the U.S. Gulf Coast during the summer, have few predators, Fasulo said.

“Only a few birds, centipedes, and millipedes prey on lovebugs,” Fasulo said. That’s because they have an acidic taste that predators likely find unpleasant.

Have you checked out the tortoise in Ogbomoso, Oyo State, Nigeria? —Michael, Ibadan, Nigeria

Alagba, a name that means “the Elder,” is a tortoise-turned-tourist attraction that lives in a royal palace in Ogbomoso, Nigeria. According to the newspaper the Osun Defender, the African spurred tortoise, or sulcatta, has lived at the palace for more than 300 years.

Tortoises are famous for their longevity, and several old-timers were mentioned in the story “Six of the World’s Longest-Lived Animals.” But could there be one that’s a tricentenarian?

A baby African spurred tortoise rests on its mother’s head in Nyiregyhaza Animal Park in Hungary in 2011. Photograph by Attila Balazs, EPA/Corbis

I asked Jeffrey Lovich, a reptile expert at the U.S. Geological Survey, whether a tortoise could make it to 300.

Probably not, he said. He thinks the turtle is likely not more than a hundred years old, but “it’s impossible to say with any precision.” (Also see “How Did a Tortoise Survive 30 Years in a Box?”)

“You can count growth rings on the shell of many [turtle and tortoise] species in temperate regions up to about 12-20 years, but after that they become indistinct. Also, sometimes turtles produce more than one ring per year,” Lovich said via email.

Even so, “it makes a great urban legend,” he added.

Got a question about the weird and wild animal world? Tweet me or leave me a note or photo in the comments below. You can also follow me on Facebook.


Meet the Author
Liz Langley is the award-winning author of Crazy Little Thing: Why Love and Sex Drive Us Mad and has written for many publications including Salon, Details and the Huffington Post. Follow her on Twitter @LizLangley and at