|These creatures are quiet, dignified and vulnerable.
Creatures of habit - fascinating to those who admire
their simplicity and longevity. Looking at a large tortoise
or turtle gives one a feeling of timelessness and mystery ; of time
long past human beginnings.
Their calm slow movements bely an amazing sense of preservation. They are acutely aware of their environment and the other creatures within the territories they inhabit. They are sensitive to any sudden change. At the slightest hint of danger they will either keep dead still, retract their head and neck into their shells, or if all else fails, move surprisingly fast to find shelter under bushes as well as digging down with their strong legs and claws deep into soil and under rocks and shrubs for safety. If flooding occurs, they will swim and so manage to survive. Their vulnerability to human encroachment and folly (in the case of fires) and disappearance of natural habitat (for instance highways, networks of country roads) make it a matter of great concern that in fact their numbers are falling far beyond expectations. Taken away from natural parks by well meaning persons, tortoises find themselves in backyards in suburbs where swimming pools, dogs and other hazards also diminish their numbers. And of course, folklore and witchcraft are also a factor which threaten their numbers.
In the wild, ticks ants and other insects are irritating for tortoises.
They manage to eradicate this nuisance by soaking themselves in shallow
warm puddles and in this way the plastron is kept clean, supple and any
insects inside the shell, drown .
Male tortoises have a long tail and females have a short fat tail.
The females live harmoniously with each other and you will notice very
quickly if you have a male among the females. The males are very
territorial and in summer have a strong mating urge. They are very
strong and if another male is encountered during this time they will readily
do battle, the one trying to overturn the other on its back. The mating
habits are strange to say the least. They rely on “chance encounters”
in the wild and the male tortoise will ram the female from behind
or her side with his horn which protrudes from under his neck, bite
her shell and also nip her back legs and in effect “terrorise” her into
submission if necessary When he mounts the female a loud hissing
sound will ensue.
Gestation of eggs in the female takes about 6 to 8 weeks and when she
is ready to lay her eggs she will find a suitable place preferably nice
soil which is not too hard to dig up. A deep funnel shape will be
scraped into the soil, eggs deposited and then softly and gently covered
up with her legs. In about another two months, depending on the temperature
in the soil, the eggs should hatch unless the soil has become so hard that
the hatchlings cannot dig their way out. The temperatures where the
eggs are laid will determine the sex of the hatchlings.
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