Petej's picture

Amorous Spur-thighed Tortoise

Observed: 24th April 2011 By: PetejPetej’s reputation in Amphibians and ReptilesPetej’s reputation in Amphibians and ReptilesPetej’s reputation in Amphibians and Reptiles
Spur-thighed Tortoise 1
Spur-thighed Tortoise 2
Description:

Several single Tortoises were found along a track between Olive Groves plus the amorous couple in photo 1. The track was close to Lake Koygiez in Turkey.

Identifications
Species interactions

No interactions present.

Comments

TheTlady's picture

Tortoise taxomomy

The nomenclature and taxonomy of tortoises is a vexed business, no doubt as with other fields of taxonomy :-)
We try not to use just 'Testudo graeca' (although CIRES do), but rather 'Testudo (graeca) graeca', 'Testudo (graeca) ibera' etc.

The differences between a Mediterranean Spur-thighed tortoise and a North African spur-thighed tortoise, such as Testudo whitei for example, are so obvious and clear as to secure full species status if we were talking birds!

It's very frustrating. The problem really is the original term 'spur-thighed tortoise'. So many chelonean spp have spurs on their thighs that it's almost equivalent to referring to 'the beaked bird'!

Masked Marvel's picture

Tortoise taxonomy

Hello Tlady - as you say a 'vexed business'!

The latest genetic research has shown that all Testudo graeca are the same species with very little nuclear DNA difference. They show a high degree of morphological plasticity (i.e. the same species can look very different).

A lot of the species/subspecies which were previously defined by morphology don't reflect evolutionary lineages and therefore wouldn't be considered valid in strict biological terms.

TheTlady's picture

Tortoise taxonomy

And yet, even the daily behavioural characteristics of the so called subspecies of spur-thighed tortoise are quite clearly different. Their mating behaviour and food plant preferences are different and specific to the species. Even the ailments they suffer appear to be specific. When you have these animals in front of you it is indisputable that they are as different as horses from zebras! At least two of the North African species, including the little Tunisian Furchulachelys nabuelensis, the research of which of which I was field assistant, have a divided carapace shield (not the keratin layer but the bone) which led to their being named Furchulachelys instead of Testudo. Can you please point me to the genetic research you refer to? Thanks :-)

Masked Marvel's picture

Genetic evidence

The paper is: Phenotypic plasticity leads to incongruence between morphology-based taxonomy and genetic differentiation in western Palaearctic tortoises (Testudo graeca complex; Testudines, Testudinidae), (2007) by Fritz et al. and published in Amphibia-Reptilia.

It does mainly concentrate on the eastern area of the range but does touch on Africa. If the species radiated out from the Caucasus and shows such low genetic diversity in this region it would seem unlikely that African tortoises would be more diverse.

Another paper: Mitochondrial haplotype diversity in the tortoise species Testudo graeca from North Africa and the Middle East (2005) by van der Kuyl et al. published in BMC Evolutionary Biology says that the genetic evidence for most of the subspecies of Testudo graeca is weak.

Masked Marvel's picture

Genetic evidence 2

This paper: Mitochondrial phylogeography of Testudo graeca in the Western Mediterranean: Old complex divergence in North Africa and recent arrival in Europe (2009) by Fritz et al. published in Amphibia-Reptilia, covers Africa more.

this paper goes as far as saying that the taxon Whitei should be abandoned at subspecies level, being a synonym of T. graeca graeca.

Masked Marvel's picture

Genetic evidence 3

This paper: Phylogenetic relationships among the species of the genus Testudo (Testudines: Testudinidae) inferred from
mitochondrial 12S rRNA gene sequences, by Van der Kuyl et al. (2002) in Molecular phylogenetics and Evolution disputes the validity of Furculachelys as a genus.

TheTlady's picture

And yet the tortoises I know

And yet the tortoises I know as T. whitei/F, whitei and T. graeca graeca could hardly be more different in terms of body shape, markings and behaviour!

Masked Marvel's picture

Please don't think of my

Please don't think of my above posts as a personal attack (I've seen a lot of such discussions go very rapidly downhill on the internet). I come from a genetics background so find all this very interesting and have read some interesting papers as a result. I have PDF copies of all of these papers and can supply them if you want to have a look.

TheTlady's picture

PDFs

I definitely don't see your posts as attacks! Having been on tortoise forums for many years, I too have witnessed the wars that can erupt! I would love to receive those PDF's please, how should I get my email address to you?

Masked Marvel's picture

Contact

email me at * deleted *

If you can do this as soon as you can I'll delete my email address so I hopefully won't get spam!

TheTlady's picture

Done :-)

Done :-)

Masked Marvel's picture

Sent

Papers sent - let me know if you den't get them as the email was quite large (3MB)