Sunday, May 12, 2013

My Cousin: The Madagascar Spider Tortoise

The Madagascar Spider Tortoise is a small reptile, with an oblong shell that is highly curved and widens towards the rear. The shell is decorated with five to eight yellow lines radiating out from a yellow centre, against a dark brown or black background. The shell on the underside of the tortoise, known as the plastron, is yellow. This species are estimated to live for up to 70 years.

The spider tortoise is endemic  to  the arid regions of the coastal areas of south-western Madagascar. The spider tortoise is most active during the wet season, between November and April, when the vegetation is relatively lush, and the tortoise can feed on grasses, young leaves, the roots of succulents, and insects attracted to the flourishing plants.

Many spider tortoises bury themselves deep into the sand and aestivate for the duration of the colder and drier weather, understood to be an energy and moisture-saving tactic for when vegetation is sparse.

NOTE: 26 April 2010: The Madagascar spider tortoise, one of southern Madagascar’s endemic and iconic species was recently upgraded to ‘Critically Endangered’ status on the IUCN-World Conservation Union’s Red List for Threatened Species. This small and intricately patterned tortoise has faced risks to its long term survival as a result of habitat destruction and poaching for local consumption as food, in addition to being illegally exported to support the exotic pet trade.