Anna Zora, Fregate Island Foundation / Current Biology Journal
Many may believe that tortoises only eat vegetables and fruit…but for the first time in recorded history, a giant tortoise was captured on film hunting down and successfully killing a bird. Then, it ate it.
Nearly 1,000 miles off the western coast of the African continent lies a small island archipelago called Seychelles. Many varieties of unique plants and animals exist on these and neighboring islands like the Galápagos – including the Giant Tortoise.
Researchers on Seychelles’ Fregate Island made a shocking discovery when they observed never-before-recorded behavior from this huge, slow-moving tortoise.
Anna Zora, the island’s deputy manager for conservation and sustainability, both witnessed and filmed the interaction between a female Giant Tortoise and a young Noddy Tern chick.
Zora and her colleague Justin Gerlach published their report in the scientific journal Current Biology.
In their incredible report, they detail how unique this encounter is and what specific factors led up to this rare footage of a predatory tortoise.
Filmed on July 30th, 2020, the scientists were returning from censusing seabirds and saw several large tortoises approaching a local Noddy Tern colony close to 5 pm in the evening.
A female Giant Tortoise was seen approaching a small Noddy Tern chick on a log. It’s very common for the chicks to stay off the forest floor as they cannot fly and are quite vulnerable when out of the nest.
“The tortoise walked directly to the tern at a normal walking pace and reached out with its mouth open when the chick was in reach.”
“The chick retreated along the log and was pursued by the tortoise, which continued to attempt to bite. The chick tried to defend itself by pecking at the tortoise without making contact, and fluttering its wings.”
“At the end of the log the chick stopped retreating, enabling the tortoise to close its jaws directly on the head of the chick.”
Following that, the tortoise swallowed the chick whole.
This is not the first time a Giant Tortoise has been seen eating a bird or other carnivorous behavior. They are known to be omnivores and consume snails regularly along with other insects and small animals.
However, this is the first time a tortoise has been witnessed acting predatory – the act of one hunting down prey and killing it has never before been seen by humans.
Previously, other tortoises on the island and around the world have been observed eating birds and others have been seen hunting, but these were not recorded nor was the consumption of the bird witnessed.
The scientists note: “The direct approach to the chick on the log suggests that the tortoise had experience of being able to capture a chick in such a situation, where it was likely to try to remain on the log, above ground-level (as is typical of tern chicks that have fallen from nests in trees). This indicates that this type of interaction is not infrequent for this individual. The observation of other tortoises hunting and consuming birds suggests that this behaviour has been adopted by several individuals.”
Watch this historic footage below and let us know what you think about aggressive predator tortoises in the comments!