Justin Gerlach thought there should be some form of misunderstanding.
Tortoises don’t hunt. These mild, lumbering herbivores spend their days leisurely munching on greenery, not stalking prey. His colleague’s report should be mistaken.
However the video was indeniable. On a summer time night in 2020, a feminine Seychelles large tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea) spent a number of minutes stalking a younger noddy tern (Anous tenuirostris) that had fallen from its nest on Frégate Island within the Seychelles, an archipelago off of East Africa. With plodding dedication, the tortoise pressured the chick’s retreat down a log, like a pirate strolling the plank, till the chicken had nowhere to go.
A number of sluggish, deliberate lunges later, the tortoise’s yawning maw caught the chicken, crushing its head. Finally, she swallowed her prize entire. It’s the primary documented occasion of a tortoise searching, researchers report August 23 in Present Biology.
On Frégate Island within the Seychelles, an archipelago off the coast of East Africa, researchers captured the primary documented occasion of a tortoise — normally a strict herbivore — searching, killing and consuming prey. The large tortoise stalked a younger noddy tern, which fell from its nest, for a number of minutes earlier than biting and killing the chicken.
“This was completely sudden,” says Gerlach, a biologist on the College of Cambridge. Watching the video was “wonderful and barely horrifying.” The footage was captured by coauthor Anna Zora, the conservation and sustainability supervisor of Frégate Island Sanctuary, the island’s nature reserve.
Many herbivores will opportunistically scarf down carrion for protein, Gerlach says. And anecdotes of tortoises consuming small birds that the reptiles have crushed sometimes floor, “but it surely’s unclear whether or not these are deliberate [actions], or they only stepped on one thing,” he says. Most prey can outrun tortoises, rendering searching futile. However this grounded noddy tern chick proved simple pickings.
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Whereas too younger to fly, Gerlach says, the chicken may have simply escaped on foot. “However as a result of it’s a tree-nesting chicken, floor is a harmful place.” As soon as on the log, the chick in all probability clung to what it knew, he says.
Gerlach suspects that this tortoise has hunted earlier than, as its deliberate actions betray prior expertise. He plans to research whether or not such searching conduct happens with any regularity, however even simply this one video has modified his view of those reptiles.
“[People] don’t consider tortoises as having very attention-grabbing behaviors,” he says. “This exhibits there’s an terrible lot extra to them.”