Tortoises are great. That’s just a fact. Don’t believe us? Look at these tortoises eating fruit and tiny pancakes

Still not sold? Here is a tortoise presenting its neck for chin scratches

All right. Now that you’re on board, let’s talk about spider tortoises (Pyxis arachnoides). All three subspecies of spider tortoise live in a small stretch of sandy coastal land in southwestern Madagascar. There’s really nothing spidery about them—these tortoises get their name from the pretty, web-like patterns on their shells. They’re teeny for tortoises, too. The largest will only grow to about eight inches long.

Like the rest of their hard-shelled relatives, spider tortoises are survivors. In the dry season, when there’s nothing to eat and not much to do, they simply bury themselves in the sand and wait for the rains to come. But being tough is not going to be enough to get them out of their current predicament. Spider tortoises have been classified as Critically Endangered since 2008, and scientists estimate that without intervention, they’ll be extinct in 60 to 80 years. 

There’s no single threat responsible for the spider tortoise’s decline. Like many endangered species, these reptiles are getting it from all sides. They’re smuggled as part of the exotic pet trade, they’re hunted for their meat (meager though it may be), and their habitat is being destroyed. 

But it’s not all bad news for these leathery little cuties. Organizations like the Turtle Survival Alliance are working to protect the tortoises’ habitat and even start a breeding colony. So take heart, tortoise lovers. There's still something you can do.

Header image from YouTube // Great Big Story