World Turtle News, 12/01/2017
Shell shape helps tortoises right themselves
It’s tough being an adult giant tortoise in the Galapagos Islands—they’re always one step away from flipping upside down. Whether it’s from a fight for male dominance or treading over a jagged field of lava rocks, being unable to get back up is among the most common ways these giant tortoises can die.
Ylenia Chiari, an evolutionary biologist at the University of South Alabama, led a group of scientists that tested several tortoise shell varieties to note the differences in how these creatures right themselves. This is the first study of its kind to show two different shell types differing in the energy required for the tortoises to self-right.
Chiari and her colleagues used 3D shell reconstructions of 89 adult tortoises–three species of domed tortoises and two species of saddleback tortoises–to compare the self-righting potential of the two shell types and see which would require less energy to overturn.
They realized that ones with the same shell shape used similar strategies to get back up. The domed tortoises, with more rounded shell shapes, wave their legs around. Saddlebacks, with flatter shells, also wave their legs, but are thought to use their neck to push against the ground to give them momentum to turn over.
Click the link to read more, watch the video and read the paper…
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Photo from Y. Chiari.