Did this tortoise single-handedly save his species by having lots of sex?

Diego the tortoise: Doing God's work

Story highlights

  • Diego the Galapagos tortoise had some help from the ladies
  • Genetic testing shows E5 fathered twice as many offspring as Diego

(CNN)You may have heard of Diego the Galapagos tortoise by now -- the legendary Casanova that did God's work and single-handledly saved his species from extinction by fathering more than 800 offspring.

But as with most things on the internet, if it's too good to be true, it probably is.
Turns out Diego isn't the most prolific tortoise, and he most certainty didn't do it alone (amirite, ladies?).
    "Diego is prolific, but not the most prolific," says James Gibbs, a professor of conservation biology at the State University of New York, "Although you can't argue with 800 offspring."
    The guy with the most impressive performance is actually the nameless E5. According to genetic testing, E5 has fathered twice as many offspring as Diego.
    Genetic testing shows E5 has fathered more offspring than E15, also known as Diego. The color shows matches with their female counterparts.
    Diego may be seen doing most of the mating, but it doesn't mean the females are going along with it.
    It's the female tortoises that ultimately decide if she consents by sticking out her tail. "Those 12 females choose who they extend their tails to," Gibbs says.

    The legend of Diego

    New hope for Galapagos Tortoises
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      New hope for Galapagos Tortoises


    New hope for Galapagos Tortoises 02:07
    Around 50 years ago, Diego was one of 15 remaining chelonoidis hoodensis left: three males and 12 females.
    Though native to Espanola, Diego lived at the San Diego Zoo from the 1930s to early 1960s.
    When the National Galapagos Park was established, he was returned to the Galapagos as part of an effort to rebuild populations of species on the verge of extinction.
    Diego's distinctive shell sets him apart from his peers. Well over a hundred years old, it's noticeably broken along the edges. "He has the look of a hardened warrior," Gibbs says. "He's been through a lot."
    "Diego isn't the biggest one, but he's got a spunky personality," Gibbs says, who describes tortoise mating like "bumper cars." Males will knock each other out of the way, the big ones bumping the smaller one out with the winner mounting the female.

    Lonesome George

    100-year-old giant tortoise dies
    100-year-old giant tortoise dies


      100-year-old giant tortoise dies


    100-year-old giant tortoise dies 01:15
    While we're on the topic of extinction, let's talk about Lonesome George.
    Before the world came to know Diego, there was George, a chelonoidis abingdoni tortoise. In 2012, conservationists watched George, the last of the Pinta Island Giant tortoises, die off.
    George, who was known as "warm" with a "reserved personality," lived in captivity after he was discovered in 1970s, he had no interest in any of his hybrid suitors. But by then, conservation efforts were just too late.
    Gibbs calls it a "collective failure" to act on time. By then, whalers and pirates destroyed the tortoise population by removing them and hunting them as food. The introduction of goats and rats preyed on the local population and their eggs.
    Diego on the other hand is a relative success story and, with that charming face, the new poster child for conservation efforts.