South African Bowsprit Tortoise
|Geographical Range||Coastal regions of southern Africa|
|Habitat||Dry grasslands, brushlands|
|Scientific Name||Chersina angulata|
|Conservation Status||Not listed by IUCN|
What's in a name? In this case, quite a lot. "Bowsprit" is a nautical term, and refers to the pole that projects from the front part of a ship. The bowsprit tortoise is so called because the males have an enlarged gular projection - the front part of the bottom shell that lies next to the throat. This projection comes in handy because males are territorial and have to defend their turf against other males. They use their gular projections to "hook" and overturn their opponents. A single "overthrow" usually ends the dispute, but some particularly hardy individuals may get back on their feet and try again.
The "winner" of the dispute has the privilege of mating with the females that live in his territory. Courtship is straightforward: the male chase after the female, biting at their legs and tail. After mating, it's time for the female to nest (an event that may occur up to six times a year). She digs a shallow pit, lays (usually) a single egg, and then covers the nest with soil. Depending on the season, eggs may hatch sooner or later -- anywhere from 90 to 200 days or even longer.
Bowsprits grow up to about 10 inches in length, with males being somewhat larger than females. They are strict vegetarians, eating a variety of plants that grow in the dry, coastal areas where they live. They do most of their foraging in the early morning, moving to cover during the hottest part of the day.
Did You Know?
Bowsprit tortoises have a unique ways of drinking water from rocky pools: they dip in their face and suck it up through the nose. Cool!