Cleveland Zoo’s Aldabra tortoise shows his true colors

By People Staff
Updated December 01, 2009 09:35 PM

Three Aldabra tortoises have lived at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo for the past 50 years. Their names are Tom, Tim and Mary – well, in Mary’s case, was. During a spontaneous physical exam in early November, Mary, whose short tail, domed upper shell and small size had led zoo staff to believe she was a female, showed an internal reproductive organ that “left no question of his manhood,” according to the zoo’s blog. Turned out that Mary the female Aldabra tortoise is a guy.

“Obviously, we were very surprised by this,” Jeff Hall, the zoo’s general curator, tells “But stranger things have happened in the world, so it’s not unbelievable, but it was a surprise.”

Mary’s physical appearance not only appeared to have the sexual characteristics of a female, but Mary also never mounted the other tortoises – or displayed any desire to. Because this tortoise does not usually breed in captivity or in the northern hemisphere, breeding was never a priority for the zoo.

The zoo renamed the tortoise Terry – a better fit with his two male companions’ names (not that tortoises respond to names). Beyond that, little has changed about Mary, er, Terry’s life. He and the other males are still living together, as they have since 1955. Terry has the same diet, same living conditions, “same everything” as when he was Mary. Now that’s gender equality!