Leopard tortoise characteristics
Leopard tortoise’s scientific name Stigmochelys pardalis also means “leopard-marked tortoise”. In Greek, “stigma” means “mark” and “chelone” means “tortoise”. And in Latin, “Pardus” refers to “leopard“. So, the appearance of their carapaces is the most important characteristic of leopard tortoises.
Adult leopard tortoises reach up to 40 cm in length and weigh close to 13 kg. The northern and southern African species of leopard tortoise is comparably larger. Those species weigh up to 20 kg.
The carapace of the leopard tortoise is doom-like and high. The young ones are marked with black blotches, spots, dashes, or stripes on a yellow background just like leopards. Whereas the mature leopard tortoises don’t have such attractive carapaces. In their case, the carapaces have faded markings of brown or grey.
The leopard tortoise has a yellow, tan, or brown colored head and limb.
Range & habitat
Leopard tortoises are mostly found in the east and south African savannas. Their range of habitat includes places from Sudan to the southern Cape. They live in semi-arid, thorny, or grassland, mesic brushland, and savannas. Leopard tortoises live in abandoned fox, jackal, or aardvark holes.
You can find the leopard tortoise in the following countries.
However, they don’t inhabit the humid areas of Central Africa. But, in the regions mentioned above, they occupy the most varied habitats of any African tortoise. They are even found in the regions that are 2,900 meters above sea level.
The leopard tortoises are herbivores. It mainly eats mixed grasses and also likes succulents, thistles, and forbs. They are mainly found grazing in their habitats.
Sometimes, leopard tortoises gnaw on bones or even hyena feces for getting calcium. It is necessary for their bone development and also for their eggshells. But, this feature doesn’t make them typical carnivores.
Behavior & lifestyle
Leopard tortoises show some interesting behaviors. Likewise, they don’t make nests. They live in the abandoned holes of other mammals. They only dig holes for laying eggs. Apart from that, leopard tortoises remain active throughout the day. During hot or dry seasons they become less active in the daytime.
Leopard tortoise is a long-lived animal. It reaches sexual maturity between 12-15 years. Like other animals, males also fight with each other during the mating season. They ram and butt their competitors for getting the right to mating with a particular female. Male leopard tortoises trail after females for quite some distance and then ram them for mating. Males generally make grunting sounds while mating.
Females lay eggs between May and October. It digs a hole and laws a total of 5-30 eggs. The incubation of the eggs lasts for 8-10 months and depends on the temperature
Several predators feed on their eggs and hatchlings. The animals like monitor lizards, snakes, jackals, and crows eat the juveniles. However, the adult leopard tortoises also have some natural predators but lions and hyenas occasionally prey on these tortoises.
Fun leopard tortoise facts
Here is a list of “Top 5 Fun Leopard Tortoise Facts“. You can read the list below.
- Leopard tortoise belongs to a monotypic genus. It means they are the only living species in this category. However, there is a debate about the existence of two subspecies. But, it’s not accepted widely yet.
- Some leopard tortoises reach up to 70 cm and weigh around 40 kg!
- In recent times, leopard tortoises are bred in captivity for the pet trade. Several captive breeding programs can be found in Kenya and Tanzania.
- The leopard tortoise can live for more than 50 years.
- Leopard tortoises store water in their large anal sacs. These take up most of the space in their abdominal cavities.
- Leopard tortoise cousins the giant tortoise are amongst the animals that live the longest in the world.
Meet the leopard tortoise
You can read about Turtle vs Tortoise: How To Tell The Difference here.
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- Species Stigmochelys pardalis at The Reptile Database (http://www.reptile-database.org/)
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- Bell T (1828). “Descriptions of three new Species of Land Tortoises”. Zoological Journal 3: 419–421. (Testudo pardalis, new species, pp. 420–421). (in English and Latin).
- Loveridge A (1935). “Scientific Results of an Expedition to Rain Forest Regions in Eastern Africa. I. New Reptiles and Amphibians from East Africa”. Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoölogy at Harvard College 79: 1–19. (Testudo pardalis babcocki, new subspecies, pp. 4–5).
- Branch, Bill (2004). Field Guide to Snakes and other Reptiles of Southern Africa. Third Revised Edition, Second impression. Sanibel Island, Florida: Ralph Curtis Books. 399 pp. ISBN 0-88359-042-5. (Geochelone pardalis, pp. 29–30 + Plate 4).