Vegetarian turtle eats small birds for the first time in the wild

Researchers captured the moment a former vegetarian breached the meat-eating hierarchy – and what made it even more “awful” was the fact that he was a turtle.

Scientists captured the moment on video when a giant Seychelles turtle – believed to be a plant species – attacked and ate a baby, in what they say is the first documented premeditated hunting of any species of land turtle.

“This is completely unexpected behavior and has not been seen before in wild turtles,” Justin Gerlach, director of studies at Peterhouse, Cambridge, and associate researcher at the University of Cambridge’s Zoological Museum, said in a statement on Monday.

Gerlach, who led the study, which was published Monday in the journal revista current biology.

“It was a very slow encounter, with the tortoise moving at a normal slow walking pace – the entire interaction lasted seven minutes and was pretty awful.”

Anna Zora, Frigate Island Conservation Director and co-author of the study, captured the moment in July 2020.

“When I saw the tortoise moving strangely, I sat and watched, and when I realized what it was doing, I started filming,” Zora said in the statement.

Gerlach says CNN That the way the tortoise moved toward hatching indicates that it was “experienced”.

“He’s moving on purpose—he’s not just walking around, he’s looking at this tern and walking straight toward it, obviously intending to do something. It suggests to me that you’re doing it with intent. He knows what he’s doing, he’s done it before.”

Although turtles are considered vegetarians, they have been seen eating carrion “just in time” as well as snail bones and shells to obtain calcium.

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“It is very common for herbivores to eat some of the dead animals as a source of free protein, basically. But this is the first video evidence of them being deliberately killing to eat.”

However, the team cannot confirm for sure how common this behavior is among turtles and plans to study it further.

Giant tortoises are the largest herbivores in the Galapagos and Seychelles, eating up to 11% of the vegetation, researchers said. Gerlach added that it was unlikely the turtle’s behavior would significantly affect tern numbers.

Experts said the new hunting behavior was caused by an “unusual” combination of a tern colony with tree nests and a group of giant tortoises on Fregate Island in the Seychelles, which is home to about 3,000 tortoises.

This isn’t the first time unusual deadly attacks have been seen among animal species in the wild – chimpanzees were first seen killing gorillas in the wild in 2019.

“It is perhaps not uncommon for animals to surprise our expectations by eating unexpected things, which can be unique,” Gerlach explained.

We should try to avoid making too many assumptions about what the animals will or will do. This really shows the value of the note. Just by watching and recording what the animals do, you can find things that are completely unexpected, things that we wouldn’t find out otherwise — it must have been by chance,” he said.

(Translated text. Read the original text In English.)

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