Altruistic Tortoises?

This video has been winding its way through the interwebs. It's pretty neat, but is it truly a case of tortoise altruism? Who knows. We don't know anything about those specific turtles or that specific situation. We don't know if they're kin, we don't know if they're trained, if they're pets or wild, we don't know what happened before the camera was turned on, or after it was turned off.

Even still, it's pretty cool.

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A territorial battle? Maybe that's how it got flipped over in the first place. It looks more like an instinctive "rival tortoise -- must shove" reaction than altruism.

As much as we'd like to believe that this is a positive interaction, my experience tells me that the first leopard was knocked upside down(probably both males) and the second leopard tortoise is planning on finishing the job :) American Tortoise Rescue

Y'know, I could readily imagine that a species with limited ability to right itself when flipped might evolve a "right your neighbor" instinct. Looking at the seemingly complex behaviors that really boil down to simple operations in other animals (cats burying feces not by reason or learning, just pure instinct), I think it would be very easy for this behavior to develop. All the tortoise has to have neurologically is the ability to recognize an upside down turtle shape and have that activate its pushing instinct.

But it sounds like 1 and 3 have more tortoise experience, so it looks like I am talking out of my ass, as usual.

By CS Shelton (not verified) on 19 Jun 2010 #permalink

The overturned tortoise is a female. The 'helper' is a male obviously looking for love. maybe they discovered the hazards of the 'missionary position'.....

Two adult leopard tortoises, Geochelone ("Stigmochelys") pardalis are shown, the overturned one probably a female. The extent of plastron concavity, which would help confirm gender, is not so clear. We are to assume that the smaller tortoise had overturned her off camera. Such behavior during tortoise courtship is not uncommon, but we don't know if it is always intentional. And tortoises of the same gender will ram, mount, or overturn one another--most such observations have been among captives. The final frames show a horizon without a barrier, suggesting this sequence was filmed in nature, but the evidence is equivocal. There is a published reference to sparring male North American desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii), in which an overturned male is subsequently righted by the overturner, usually a rival for a nearby female, but I cannot place my finger on the reference.

By Jim Buskirk (not verified) on 19 Jun 2010 #permalink

Either speculation is likely. I tend to go with the reproductive hypothesis (as it is more fun, and probably undocumented.) If there is intentionality, "he" is trying to get "her" in the right position. Check the way he is following her after righting her. He might have turned her over initially (rough foreplay?. "Oops! Sorry Dear."

By Steven C. Anderson (not verified) on 21 Jun 2010 #permalink