Tortoises are those turtles that aren’t equipped for survival in water – and hence, they live entirely on land. They have a longer lifespan than humans, with most species living for 80 to 150 years. A few species, including the Galápagos tortoises and the Aldabra giant tortoises, are known to live for over 150 years. So, there’s barely any doubt that these primarily-herbivorous, notoriously-lethargic reptiles are the longest-living land animals in the world.
Tortoises can manage to survive for so long despite the fact their highest speed is merely 0.63 miles per hour. With no sharp teeth or claws, they also aren’t avid fighters. But what actually comes in real handy in protecting themselves from predators is their shells. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t get eaten by other animals. A few animals can prey on them even when they have reached adulthood and their shells have hardened. Here’s a list of six notable predators of tortoises.
Predators of Tortoises
Coyotes are a species of canines that are endemic to North America. They are comparable to the golden jackals found in Europe and Asia, though larger in size and more predatory in behavior. When it comes to the choice of food, they are highly versatile. From animals as big as bison to the small ones like rodents and lizards, none are safe from coyotes. The long list of their preys also includes tortoises – and not just the juvenile ones, but also the ones that have reached adulthood.
Coyotes are capable of eating a tortoise without breaking its shell open. This predator of tortoises won’t just hunt one that they catch sight of, they might even go as far to dig it out of its burrow to eat. Some other canines like kit foxes and feral dogs too feed on tortoises in a similar fashion. It must be noted that these animals only make the arduous effort of hunting a tortoise when there is a scarcity of other, easily-attainable preys in their natural habitat.
2. Golden Eagles
Next tortoises predators are golden eagles, which are some of the world’s deadliest birds of prey. They are also the most widely distributed species of eagle, roaming around the skies of North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. They hunt and consume a wide variety of animals, from small mammals and medium-sized rodents like rabbits and squirrels to other birds of prey like owls and falcons. Interestingly, they also have an appetite for tortoises, both young and adult.
A golden eagle has a beak that surgically cuts through flesh and effortlessly rips skin from bone and talons that can pierce and crush most preys. But these tools aren’t strong enough to break into a tortoise’s shell. Hence, to overcome such disadvantage, the avian predator uses a few additional tools: its brain, its eyesight, and its wings. At first, it picks up a tortoise with its talons and flies high into the sky. Once it is over a rocky outcrop, it simply drops its prey, which causes the shell to break open.
Some of the greatest predators in Africa, including the mighty lion, have been seen making failed attempts to prey on tortoises. But one animal in the continent that manages to do it quite easily is none other than our close relative, the chimpanzee. In the recent past, this predator of tortoises have been found feeding on tortoises on multiple occasions. This was an odd discovery as they have never been documented eating another kind of reptile.
The way in which chimpanzees deal with the obstacle that comes in the form of shell is also unique. They slam the tortoises against tree branches and trunks for as long as their shells don’t crack open. It’s practically the same method they use to eat hard-shelled fruits like walnuts. Luckily for tortoises, chimpanzees don’t seem to think of them as meals unless it is the dry season. Although the reason behind this seasonal appetite for tortoises is unclear, primatologists believe it has nothing to do with the availability of other animals to eat.
It is open to debate whether ravens are natural predators of tortoises, or human-subsidized predators. However, there’s no denying the fact that these larger-bodied members of the genus Corvus do think of tortoises as their meals. In fact, common ravens are considered the biggest threat for the survival of desert tortoises in the Mojave Desert of American Southwest.
In the past, ravens were thought to be capable of preying on only newly-hatched and juvenile tortoises with soft shells. More recently, however, it was discovered that they can hunt and eat adult tortoises as well. They have somehow learned that they can get to the soft body of a tortoise by pecking in between its shell and the gular horn that projects under its neck.
5. Bearded vulture
Bearded vultures are a species of vultures that can be found in several mountainous regions of Europe, Africa, and Asia. They are the only known vertebrates with a diet consisting almost entirely of bones. Although they are primarily scavengers like any other vultures, they often attack live preys. And tortoises seem to be one of their favorites.
Bearded vultures kill tortoises in the exact same way as golden eagles do – fly with them to a certain height before dropping them on a rocky surface to crack open the shell. This tortoises predator can carry preys almost as heavy as themselves. The average weight of a bearded vulture is nearly 14 pounds – so, tortoises with a lesser weight are usually susceptible to their attacks.
We end our list of tortoises predators with raccoons, which are some of the most intelligent animals native to North America. They are omnivores with a diet typically consisting of 40 percent invertebrates, 33 percent plants, and 27 percent vertebrates. Among the vertebrates they eat, tortoise is a notable prey. In facts, many scientists rank them among the top predators of tortoises and turtles in North America.
Once a raccoon spots a tortoise, it attempts to deliver an immobilizing bite right away to the head of the unsuspecting tortoise. But if the tortoise has managed to retract its head, neck and limbs into its shell, the predator will simply carry its prey to its den to deal with it later. Like canines, raccoons too have learned to dig tortoises out of their burrows.
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