19 C
Mossel Bay
8th Feb 2023
Nature & Nurture

Jousting tortoises

We are all familiar with the Angulate tortoise (Chersina angulata) and they’re especially evident at this time of year as they set about finding mates. They are the most common tortoise in South Africa, Namibia, other islands including Dassen Island, in coastal scrub and other dry areas but are special in that they are endemic to these countries and are the only species in their family. Their Afrikaans name is ‘rooipens skilpad’ because the underside, or plastron, has red markings. The intensity of the colour can vary significantly though.

But did you know that the males are very aggressive towards each other and will fight to the death?!They fight with each other by pushing each other with the gular projection on the head end of the plastron which can be seen in the photo of the empty shell. They will fight until one tortoise gives up and turns tail or the victor manages to flip his opponent onto his back. Once on its back the tortoise will eventually die as it’s unable to right itself.

Females do not have a pronounced gular projection and have a flat plastron, while males have a concave plastron to allow for mating. We are fortunate in our area to still see a number of these tortoises because we have enough open gardens and land for them to move about in. Unfortunately their habitat is threatened by paved properties and fences…my old nemesis!

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