Until recently the Mascarenes were home to an endemic radiation of giant tortoises, the Cylindraspis species. These were entirely separate from the better known, more ‘typical’ Mascarene giant tortoises grouped together in Dipsochelys or Aldabrachelys (Austin & Arnold 2001). Easily the most remarkable Cylindraspis tortoise was C. vosmaeri from Rodrigues, sometimes called the Rodrigues saddle-backed tortoise…
As you can see from these life-sized models, C. vosmaeri was a veritable giraffe (or sauropod) among tortoises: we have a good idea of its appearance in life thanks to a (very badly) stuffed specimen kept at the MNHN in Paris (shown below). I’d elaborate at length, but (a) I don’t have time, and (b) I’ve cleverly misplaced all my literature on these animals. C. vosmaeri raises loads of questions: about blood pressure and all that, about head and neck posture in terrestrial reptiles, about the evolution of long necks, about niche partitioning, about evolution on islands, and so on.
And, no, I still haven’t seen Anthony Cheke and Julian Hume’s Lost Land of the Dodo (despite requests for a review copy) to see what they say about these animals. The models shown here were created by Nick Bibby of Rungwe Kingdon and Claude Koenig’s sculpture foundry Pangolin Editions. Pangolin have been working in conjunction with Carl Jones, Nick Arnold, Errol Fuller and Julian Hume to create life-sized sculptures of extinct Mascarene animals.
For previous Tet Zoo articles on tortoises and other chelonians see…
- Giant African softshells – wow!
- Gilbert White’s pet tortoise, and what is ‘grey literature’ anyway?
- The goat-eating hot water bottle turtles
- Hard-shelled sea turtles and a diet of glass
- Terrifying sex organs of male turtles
And if you’re interested in long necks and their evolution you must see…
- Inside Nature’s Giants part IV: the incredible anatomy of the giraffe
- Sauropod dinosaurs held their necks in high, raised postures
- Dammit, and I sooo loved the ‘necks for sex’ hypothesis
Ref – –
Austin, J. J. & Arnold, E. N. 2001. Ancient mitochondrial DNA and morphology elucidate an extinct island radiation of Indian Ocean giant tortoises (Cylindraspis). Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 268, 2515-2523.