The fascinating sex life of Jonathan, the 185-year-old giant tortoise

Straight? Gay? Bisexual? He may be about 185 years old, but the years have clearly done little to quell the sexual appetite of Jonathan, the famous giant tortoise who resides on the remote South Atlantic island of St. Helena.

Jonathan, the world’s oldest living land animal, has been in the spotlight recently after the Times reported that Frederica, the tortoise he has been “wooing” for the last 26 years, may actually be a ‘Frederic’.

The animals reportedly became smitten in 1991 when then 8 week-old Frederica was presented to the then governor of the British Overseas Territory. There is now, however, a question mark over Frederica’s gender.

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“It’s unsure,” Catherine Man, the island’s vet, told Fox News. “She could be male, she could be female.”

SAINT-HELENE ISLAND, UNITED KINGDOM - OCTOBER 10 :Bicentennial of the exile of Napoleon in Saint Helene,on october 10, 2015, in the capital Jamestown, Plantation House the governor's home;   the turtle Jonathan 185 years one of the oldest animal on earth; (Photo by Alfred de Montesquiou/Paris Match via Getty Images)

File photo - Jonathan the giant tortoise in the grounds of Plantation House on St. Helena (Photo by Alfred de Montesquiou/Paris Match via Getty Images) (Alfred DE MONTESQUIOU/PARISMATCH/SCOOP)  (Alfred DE MONTESQUIOU/PARISMATCH/SCOOP)

Man explained that male tortoises typically have a concave indent called a “plastron” on the lower portion of their shells that allows them to mount females for mating. Frederica, though, has a slight shell deformity, which makes it hard to tell whether she has a plastron or not, according to Man.

Jonathan and Frederica, now the ripe old age of 26, reside in the lush grounds of Plantation House, the official residence of St. Helena’s governor. “Jonathan lives in the paddock at the bottom of my garden with three other tortoises,” the island’s Governor, Lisa Phillips, told Fox News via email.

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The governor, who took up her post in April 2016, says that she has not seen Jonathan attempting to mate with Frederica, but notes that they are “often together”. She has, however, seen Jonathan getting amorous with 49-year-old Emily, another of the tortoises that lives in the grounds of Plantation House. Given his advanced years, she adds “this is pretty remarkable.”

Man, who arrived on the island last October, also said that she has not seen any attempted mating activity between Jonathan and Frederica.

Jonathan, a Seychelles giant tortoise, arrived in St. Helena in 1882, when he was around 50 years old.

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The tortoise had been suffering declining health, The Express reported last year, losing his eyesight and sense of smell. However, a high-calorie, healthy diet consisting of carrots, cucumber and bananas, among other items, has given Jonathan, who has a strong sense of taste and excellent hearing, a new lease on life.

Jonathan's exact age also remains something of a mystery, given the uncertainty about his age when he arrived on St. Helena. Joe Hollins, St. Helena's former vet, who is now based on the island of Tristan da Cunha, has calculated that he is 185 years old.  

"Jonathan’s official age is 185," added Phillips, in an email to Fox News. "I put a year on every 1 Jan as we don’t know when his birthday is."

Hollins is pleased to see the giant tortoise enjoying his advanced years. "So blind and with no sense of smell, I’m not sure he would really know whether he was satisfying his libidinous desires on top of a male tortoise or a female tortoise," he told Fox News, via email. "He like most animals has his erogenous zones and hopefully it gives the old fellow great pleasure either way. And at 185 years of age, I applaud him. It is an enviable feat."

Frederica and Emily, who is also known as Emma, are Aldabra giant tortoises, a different genus to Jonathan, according to news reports.

This is not the first time that an aging tortoise has hit the headlines. Famed Galapagos tortoise Lonesome George, whose failed efforts to produce offspring made him a symbol of disappearing species, died in 2012.

In 2015, a new species of tortoise was found on Galapagos.

This story has been updated with additional information on Jonathan's age.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers