Monday, May 25, 2009

A Tortoise Story

South Africans distinguish between a) tortoises, which live on land; b) terrapins, which live in fresh water; & c) turtles - in the sea.

By way of an introduction: I'm 1 of 12 southern African tortoise species - an Angulate tortoise. All tortoises have a "travelling home", which humans call the 'shell'. Our upper bodies are protected by a horny shield known as a 'carapace', whilst our underbellies are protected by a second, less curved shield called the 'plastron'. You can distinguish an Angulate tortoise by its single, spade-like throat-shield (on the 'inside' pink to orange in colour), which projects or "flares" at the front of the plastron, & which is used like a battering ram in male-on-male contests. The (lower) circumference of the carapace also has dark-brown triangles.

Angulate tortoises "hate" humidity (it's our "worst enemy") & we are therefore 'confined' to the coastal areas of the Cape & south Namibia, because we prefer sandy coastal regions with bushveld & fynbos. All tortoises are predominantly herbivores but we derive nutritional supplements by nibbling on bones, snails, insects & animal faeces.

The Leopard tortoise is more widely distributed throughout the savannas of Africa. It has a tent-like hump (= the carapace is domed) & it's the largest tortoise species in southern Africa.

The neck skin of the Leopard tortoise is speckled, hence (the origin) of its common name (= like the skin of a leopard) OR, some say, the name is derived because because of its black & yellow 'spotted' shell (= can't change its spots = leopard!?). This tortoise is also known as the Mountain tortoise.

There are 5 species of Padloper (Afrikaans pad = path; = "road-walker") in South Africa - they have the habit of 'taking to the road'. These are tiny tortoises BUT fast-moving & agile (in tortoise terms!!).

Tortoises are known as primitive animals, because our body shape hasn't changed much over the past 200 million years - yes, we are around since dinosaur-like reptiles roamed the earth!

Tortoises are able to drink by sucking water through their nostrils. Also check out the snout - we have no teeth + instead tear & chew our food with hard, sharp-edged horny beaks. But we do have something in common with humans: our shells are 'made' from (protein) keratin = the same material as a human nail. This means we can feel touch!!

What do we have here? An exotic tortoise!

It's a Radiated tortoise from Madagascar & an endangered species mainly due to the destruction of its natural habitat (by humans!).

When you see this, especially in the middle of a river or dam, you know you're looking at a terrapin. There are 5 species of terrapins in South Africa.

A terrapin close-up: in comparison to a tortoise, a terrapin's carapace is much flatter & relatively smooth, which offers less resistance to movement in water. In contrast to tortoises, terrapins are omnivorous feeders, & they use their sharp claws (= 5 on front, webbed feet& 4 on the rear feet) to 'dismember' larger prey.

Now to a tortoise "love story" - or should I say, "knock, knock" comes to mind? Judge for yourself when 'checking out' the following 3 photos of 2 Angulate tortoises.

Knock, knock - is someone home?

Playing hard-ball?

At last....... hallo!

Did you know that South Africa has an exceptionally rich reptile fauna = more than 360 species in 22 families?

Also SEE: An Elephant Story, posted on this blog 25 February 2009
A Rhino Story, on 26 Feb 2009
A Hippo Story, on 7 March
A Dassie Story, on14 "
& An Ostrich Story, on 20 March 2009

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