Sunday, March 1, 2009

He's older than me! - Gopherus polyphemus

I've been at Archbold Biological Station for just over a month now, and I've already accumulated a nice collection of Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) sightings. I've never been particularly excited by tortoises (Testudinidae) - I thought they were ugly and boring. Since seeing my first wild tortoise (there is one Venezuelan exception I'll write about soon), I've come to appreciate them more. Maybe soon I'll even admit to liking them.

Gopherus might be considered a keystone species here in the central Florida scrub. They dig large burrows into the sand that dot the landscape here and end up providing homes for a variety of other interesting creatures, including my highly-desired target species, the Indigo Snake (Drymarchon). Here is a collection of my interesting tortoise observations so far. I'll proceed ontogenetically.

Can you spot the youngling?

This little tortoise is the youngest I've yet found. After shutting himself up for my camera, he went running for his little burrow.

Next up are a series of adults. This first one I found basking in his burrow entrance. In response to my prodding, instead of backing down his burrow, he actually moved forward and rotated, completely blocking the burrow with his shell. I've never heard of this behavior before.

Other adults:

The coolest behavior I have observed so far was a failed mating attempt by two young adult tortoises. I came upon them in the middle of the road, and was able to get within 10 feet to film them. Check out this absolutely hilarious video!

Can you just see the pain of rejection on his face?

He watches as she recedes into the distance:

Evidently the attempt had been going on a while before I got there, there were tracks all over the road:

My final observation of Gopherus is a real winner. It turns out herpetologists at Archbold had been marking tortoises in long-term studies for many years (although it has been discontinued for an unknown number of years). Well, I happened to find one of those marked tortoises, and boy is he a geezer.

It turns out this old man was first marked as an adult in 1972. We have no way of knowing how old he was then, so all we can say about him no is he is old. How cool is that?

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