Tortoises Dance Their Mating Dance (Slowly)

By Vladimir Brezina

Tortoises are not the most agile or graceful of creatures.  Their movements have a certain grim ponderousness about them–but they get the job done, otherwise tortoises would not be here.

Recently, at Amelia Island, Florida, I saw in the sand dunes a pair of tortoises–gopher tortoises, I presume–dancing their slow mating dance.

The photos in this slideshow were taken at irregular intervals over a period of perhaps 15 minutes.  The slideshow then loops back to the beginning, which is appropriate since the tortoises went through the entire ritual a couple of times at least (I lost interest first).

The ritualized movements of the darker male coaxing the female out of her burrow (under the bank of vegetation at the bottom of the frame) through head bobbing and weaving, followed by his withdrawal and then pursuit and mounting, are clear in the photos (though better appreciated in a video). The strange esthetics of the dance might perhaps best be described as a hybrid between this and this. It’s not entirely clear to me, however, whether this particular performance of the dance attained its object…

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All of this is subject to correction, of course, by a genuine tortoise zoologist.

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