Although most of the reptiles or amphibians that I have blogged about are either funny looking or downright ugly, I think today’s is actually kind of cute. It’s a little tortoise, about 25 centimetres long, with a large striped shell that has cones sticking out all over it. Here’s a picture to show you:

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This unique shell has earned the little fellow the name star tortoise. The stripes on the shell form star patterns, which helps break the tortoise’s outline, camouflaging it from predators. As for the actual shape of the shell, it seems to help the tortoises in a rather odd way. If you’ve ever seen one of those balls that are weighted at the bottom so they always return upright, then you have an idea of how the star tortoise’s shell works. In a test where thirty star tortoises were flipped upside down (which sounds cruel, I know), and most of them naturally flipped back over.

Interestingly, competition for females by males usually involves the males trying to flip each other over, so I guess it’s a pretty useful shell to have. Once they’ve mated, the female lays her eggs in the ground, often peeing on the soil to soften it up. Which is kind of gross, but I guess makes sense. After the eggs are laid, neither parents provide any care for their children, showing themselves to be the model parents in the animal world.

The eggs hatch after 90 to 170 days, and the sex of the hatchlings is determined by the incubation temperature of the eggs, when temperates are between 28 and 30 degrees Celsius, mostly males are born. If the temperature is 31 or 32 degrees, most of the hatchlings will be female. I can’t think of the evolutionary reason for this, but there probably is one.

Though the star tortoise is currently classified as least concern by IUCN, hunting them for food and the pet trade is threatening the species. Hopefully government controls of illegal poaching can save this unique and beautiful animal before it gets critically endangered.

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