Behavior

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Communication and perception within leopard tortoises is primarily visual, however, there is little evidence to suggest that tortoises are able to distinguish between different colors. A recent study proposed juvenile leopard tortoises most often approach colors such as red and different shades of green. In general, tortoises are particularly sensitive to sounds under 1,000 Hz.

Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Baker, H. and J. Grubb 2011. "Psammobates pardalis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Psammobates_pardalis.html
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Conservation Status

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Although many species of tortoise are becoming increasingly threatened, leopard tortoises have not been evaluated by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). They are endemic to Africa and are currently listed under CITES' Appendix II. Although Tanzania has the largest recorded leopard tortoise population, with an estimated 5,990 individuals, it also has the highest mortality rate of any country containing leopard tortoises. Ethiopia is second, with only 500 individuals. Leopard tortoises are regarded as agricultural pests throughout their geographic range, and as a result, retaliatory killings are not uncommon.

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: appendix ii

State of Michigan List: no special status

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Baker, H. and J. Grubb 2011. "Psammobates pardalis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Psammobates_pardalis.html
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Life Cycle

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Leopard tortoises are oviparous, and their eggs are initially leather-like but dry to become hard and brittle. The egg contains a large, nutrient-rich yolk, which the embryo feeds on during development. Sex determination is temperature dependent; females develop under average temperatures of 30 C or more and males develop under average temperatures of less than 30 C. Temperature-dependent sex determination suggests that the mother has some control over the sex ratio of her offspring. If she lays her eggs in a warm environment the sex ratio favors females, whereas a cool environment favors males. Eggs are roughly spherical and about 57.5 mm in diameter. Clutch size ranges from 7 to 20 eggs, and most eggs hatch within 47 to 180 days. After hatching, young tortoises grow very rapidly during the first few months of life. In general, hatchlings in this genus weigh around 100 grams and grow between 300 and 400 grams during their first year of life.

Development - Life Cycle: temperature sex determination

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Baker, H. and J. Grubb 2011. "Psammobates pardalis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Psammobates_pardalis.html
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Benefits

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Psammobates pardalis is regarded as an agricultural pest (pumpkins, beans, and cowpeas) throughout its geographic range.

Negative Impacts: crop pest

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Baker, H. and J. Grubb 2011. "Psammobates pardalis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Psammobates_pardalis.html
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Benefits

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Leopard tortoises are sometimes hunted for their meat and for the pet trade and are used to create traditional medicine. As an indigenous food source, they are cooked in their shells, however, this does not occur frequently and does not seem to significantly affect population abundance. According to Schedule 2 of the Western Cape Nature Conservation Laws Amendment Act of 2000, leopard tortoises are classified as "protected wildlife", which restricts trade of whole animals, dead or alive, and by-products of this species.

Positive Impacts: pet trade ; food ; source of medicine or drug

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Baker, H. and J. Grubb 2011. "Psammobates pardalis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Psammobates_pardalis.html
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Associations

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Leopard tortoises are important seed predators and disperse seeds throughout their environment. They commonly forage on plants that are close to the ground and ingest a large number of seeds, which are redistributed throughout their geographic range via defecation. They also consume the seeds of berries and other fruits, which are redistributed after consumption as well. Leopard tortoises are vulnerable to tortoise ticks. There is no other information available regarding parasites of this species.

Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds

Commensal/Parasitic Species:

  • tortoise ticks (Amblyomma sparsum)
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Baker, H. and J. Grubb 2011. "Psammobates pardalis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Psammobates_pardalis.html
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Trophic Strategy

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Leopard tortoises are primarily herbivorous, with plant material making up approximately 98% of their diet. They consume berries and other fruits when available. Bone fragments and ash may be consumed during times of decreased resource abundance. Although most tortoises consume mostly grasses, leopard tortoises primarily consume forbs. They feed primarily from the ground, particularly from areas within their habitat that produce low-lying forbs.

Plant Foods: leaves; seeds, grains, and nuts; flowers

Primary Diet: herbivore (Folivore )

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Baker, H. and J. Grubb 2011. "Psammobates pardalis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Psammobates_pardalis.html
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Hillary H. Baker, Radford University
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Distribution

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Leopard tortoises (Psammobates pardalis) are endemic to Africa, and their geographic range extends from Sudan to Ethiopia and from Natal in eastern Africa to southern Angola and South Africa. They are also diffusely distributed throughout portion of southwestern Africa.

Biogeographic Regions: ethiopian (Native )

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Baker, H. and J. Grubb 2011. "Psammobates pardalis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Psammobates_pardalis.html
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Hillary H. Baker, Radford University
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Habitat

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Leopard tortoises occupy a variety of xeric and mesic habitats throughout their geographic range, ranging from dry arid plains to temperate grassland ecosystems. They are intolerant of damp or cold habitats. They have also been reported in mountainous terrain. These tortoises spend most of their time in shrub habitat with low lying vegetation, which serves as their primary food source. In the summer, they seek shelter under various low lying plants.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: desert or dune ; savanna or grassland ; forest ; mountains

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Baker, H. and J. Grubb 2011. "Psammobates pardalis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Psammobates_pardalis.html
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Hillary H. Baker, Radford University
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Life Expectancy

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In the wild, adult leopard tortoises may live for up to 100 years. No records are available regarding captive individuals. However, typical lifespan for other species of Geochelone tortoises in captivity is approximately 50 years. Factors that may limit the lifespan of leopard tortoises include human impacts through the pet trade and male aggression during courtship and mating.

Range lifespan
Status: wild:
100 (high) years.

Average lifespan
Status: captivity:
50 hours.

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Baker, H. and J. Grubb 2011. "Psammobates pardalis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Psammobates_pardalis.html
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Hillary H. Baker, Radford University
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Morphology

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Leopard tortoises are the fourth largest tortoise species in the world. They exhibit indeterminate growth and adults range in mass from 15 to 54 kg, with an average of 18 kg. Carapace length ranges from 30 to 70 cm, with an average carapace length of 45 cm. Females are often larger than males. It also is common for leopard tortoises to have moderate carapacial pyramiding, a shell deformity in which scutes exhibit pyramidal growth. Leopard tortoises differ from other members of the genus Geochelone due to their distinct shell markings. Base color of the carapace may be tan, yellow, or sometimes shades of dusty brown. The intensity of shell patterning varies. Blotches on the shell are most often black and are typically only present on juveniles. The head, feet, and tail vary in color but are usually tan to brown. Despite differences in appearance, the diet and habitat of tortoises in the genus Geochelone are usually similar.

Range mass: 15 to 54 kg.

Average mass: 18 kg.

Range length: 30 to 70 cm.

Average length: 45 cm.

Other Physical Features: ectothermic ; heterothermic ; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: female larger

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Baker, H. and J. Grubb 2011. "Psammobates pardalis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Psammobates_pardalis.html
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Hillary H. Baker, Radford University
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Associations

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Leopard tortoises are well camouflaged and are difficult to capture given their thick, heavy shells. Tortoises suffer the highest predation rates prior to hatching due to predation on eggs. Nearly 80% of hatchlings may eaten by predators such as foxes, coyotes, and mongooses. Adult tortoises are preyed upon by humans and are usedful in creating medicine, tools, and are often used as a source of food.

Known Predators:

  • humans (Homo sapiens)
  • foxes (Vulpes vulpes)
  • coyotes (Canis latrans)
  • mongooses (Herpestidae)
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Baker, H. and J. Grubb 2011. "Psammobates pardalis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Psammobates_pardalis.html
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Hillary H. Baker, Radford University
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Reproduction

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Leopard tortoises are monogamous, and both males and females become increasingly aggressive when searching for a mate. They fight for mates by butting and ramming rivals. During courtship, males follow their potential mate and repeatedly run into them until the females become immobilized. Males sometimes lift their mate off the ground by ramming them. Females become defensive and in some cases try to escape. During copulation, males mount the female and extend their necks and grunt during mating.

Mating System: monogamous

Leopard tortoises breed from May to October. Males become reproductively mature by five years of age, and although the specific age of maturation is unknown, females are thought to become reproductively mature later than males. After mating, females dig a hole in the ground, ranging from 100 to 300 mm deep, in which to lay her eggs. The frail eggs are white and spherical. Gestation ranges from 9 to 12 months and varies according to location, temperature, and precipitation. Females lay 5 to 7 clutches during a single breeding season, with each clutch separated from the previous by about 3 to 4 weeks. Clutches range from 5 to 30 eggs, with larger female having larger clutches.

Breeding interval: Leopard tortoises breed once yearly.

Breeding season: Leopard tortoises breed from May to October.

Range number of offspring: 5 to 30.

Range gestation period: 9 to 14 months.

Average gestation period: 12 months.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 5 to 6 years.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 5 years.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization ; oviparous

Paternal care in leopard tortoises is non-existent, as males leave directly after copulation. Females dig a hole in which to lay their eggs, which ranges in depth from 100 to 300 mm. After the eggs are laid, she covers them and leaves. Hatchlings are immediately independent upon emerging.

Parental Investment: no parental involvement

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Baker, H. and J. Grubb 2011. "Psammobates pardalis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Psammobates_pardalis.html
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Distribution

provided by ReptileDB
Continent: Africa
Distribution: S Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Zaire, Angola, (Namibia, Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Botswana ?), Swaziland, Zambia babcocki: Namibia, Uganda, Somalia;
Type locality: Mount Debasien, Karamoja, Uganda
Type locality: "Promont. Bonae Spei" (= Cape of Good Hope), Cape Province, Republic of South Africa.
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Leopard tortoise

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The leopard tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis) is a large and attractively marked tortoise found in the savannas of eastern and southern Africa, from Sudan to the southern Cape. It is the only member of the genus Stigmochelys, although in the past, it was commonly placed in Geochelone.[2] This tortoise is a grazing species that favors semiarid, thorny to grassland habitats. In both very hot and very cold weather, it may dwell in abandoned fox, jackal, or aardvark holes. The leopard tortoise does not dig other than to make nests in which to lay eggs. Given its propensity for grassland habitats, it grazes extensively upon mixed grasses. It also favors succulents and thistles.

Taxonomy and etymology

The phylogenic placement of the leopard tortoise has been subject to several revisions. Different authors have placed it in Geochelone (1957), Stigmochelys (2001), Centrochelys (2002), and Psammobates (2006). More recently, consensus appears to have settled on Stigmochelys, a monotypic genus.[2][3][1] Considerable debate has occurred about the existence of two subspecies, S. p. pardalis and S. p. babcocki, but recent work does not support this distinction.[1]

Stigmochelys is a combination of Greek words: stigma meaning "mark" or "point" and chelone meaning "tortoise". The specific name pardalis is from the Latin word pardus meaning "leopard" and refers to the leopard-like spots on the tortoise's shell.

Description

 src=
Shell patterns fade in mature specimens.

The leopard tortoise is the fourth-largest species of tortoise in the world, with typical adults reaching 40 cm (16 in) and weighing 13 kg (29 lb). Adults tend to be larger in the northern and southern ends of their range, where typical specimens weigh up to 20 kg (44 lb), and an exceptionally large tortoise may reach 70 cm (28 in) and weigh 40 kg (88 lb).[5]

The carapace is high and domed with steep, almost vertical sides. Juveniles and young adults are attractively marked with black blotches, spots, or even dashes and stripes on a yellow background. In mature adults, the markings tend to fade to a nondescript brown or grey. The head and limbs are uniformly colored yellow, tan, or brown.[5]

Distribution and habitat

They are widely distributed across the arid and savanna regions of eastern and southern Africa, extending from South Sudan and Somalia, across East Africa, to South Africa and Namibia. The species is generally absent from the humid forest regions of Central Africa. Over this range, the leopard tortoise occupies the most varied habitats of any African tortoise, including grasslands, thorn-scrub, mesic brushland, and savannas. They can be found at altitudes ranging from sea level to 2,900 m (9,500 ft).[2][1]

Ecology and behavior

 src=
Leopard tortoise eating plant material
Leopard tortoise eating

Leopard tortoises are herbivorous; their diet consists of a wide variety of plants including forbs, thistles, grasses, and succulents. They sometimes gnaw on bones or even hyena feces to obtain calcium, necessary for bone development and their eggshells. Seeds can pass undigested through the gut, so the leopard tortoise plays a significant role in seed dispersal. Normally active during the day, they are less active during hot weather or during the dry season.[1][5]

The leopard tortoise reaches sexual maturity between 12 and 15 years old,[1] and may live as long as 80 to 100 years.[6] During the mating season, males fight over females, ramming and butting their competitors. They trail after females for quite some distance, often ramming them into submission. When mating, the male makes grunting vocalizations. Nesting occurs between May and October when the female digs a hole and lays a clutch of five to 30 eggs. As many as five to seven clutches may be laid in a single season. Incubation takes 8–15 months depending on temperature.[7] The numerous predators of the eggs and hatchlings include monitor lizards, snakes, jackals, and crows. Adults have few natural predators, but lions and hyenas have occasionally been reported preying on them.[1]

Conservation

The leopard tortoise is a widespread species and remains common throughout most of its range. Human activities, including agricultural burning, consumption, and especially commercial exploitation in the pet trade, are potential threats, but have not yet caused significant population declines. They are increasingly being bred in captivity for the pet trade. For example, most tortoises exported from Kenya and Tanzania originate in captive-breeding programs, alleviating collection from the wild.[1]

The leopard tortoise has been listed in Appendix II of CITES since 1975, and in 2000, the United States banned their import because of the risk posed by heartwater, an infectious disease carried by tortoise ticks that could seriously impact the US livestock industry.

Gallery

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Baker PJ, Kabigumila J, Leuteritz T, Hofmyer M, Ngwava JM (2015). "Stigmochelys pardalis". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2015.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)old-form url
  2. ^ a b c d Turtle Taxonomy Working Group (2014). "Turtles of the world, 7th edition: annotated checklist of taxonomy, synonymy, distribution with maps, and conservation status" (PDF). IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  3. ^ a b Fritz, U.; Bininda-Emonds, O. R. P. (2007-07-03). "When genes meet nomenclature: Tortoise phylogeny and the shifting generic concepts of Testudo and Geochelone". Zoology. Elsevier. 110 (4): 298–307. doi:10.1016/j.zool.2007.02.003. PMID 17611092.
  4. ^ Fritz, Uwe; Havaš, Peter (2007). "Checklist of Chelonians of the World" (PDF). Vertebrate Zoology. 57 (2): 294–295. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-01-16. Retrieved 2017-03-16.
  5. ^ a b c Branch, Bill (2008). Tortoises, Terrapins & Turtles of Africa. South Africa: Struik Publishers. p. 128. ISBN 978-1-77007-463-7.
  6. ^ "Leopard Tortoise". Maryland Zoo. Retrieved 2021-01-30.
  7. ^ Ernst, Carl H.; Barbour, Roger W. (1989). Turtles of the World. Smithsonian Institution Press. pp. 248–249.
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Leopard tortoise: Brief Summary

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The leopard tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis) is a large and attractively marked tortoise found in the savannas of eastern and southern Africa, from Sudan to the southern Cape. It is the only member of the genus Stigmochelys, although in the past, it was commonly placed in Geochelone. This tortoise is a grazing species that favors semiarid, thorny to grassland habitats. In both very hot and very cold weather, it may dwell in abandoned fox, jackal, or aardvark holes. The leopard tortoise does not dig other than to make nests in which to lay eggs. Given its propensity for grassland habitats, it grazes extensively upon mixed grasses. It also favors succulents and thistles.

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