Homopus signatus

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Homopus signatus
Speckled Padloper - Homopus Signatus 1.jpg
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Sauropsida
Order: Testudines
Suborder: Cryptodira
Superfamily: Testudinoidea
Family: Testudinidae
Genus: Homopus
Species: H. signatus
Binomial name
Homopus signatus
(Gmelin, 1789)[2]
  • Testudo signata Walbaum 1782:120[3] (nomen illegitimum)
  • Testudo signata Gmelin 1789:1043[2]
  • Testudo cafra Daudin 1801:291[4]
  • Testudo juvencella Daudin 1802:380[5]
  • Pseudomopus signatus peersi Hewitt 1935:345[6]

The speckled tortoise[1][8] (Homopus signatus), known locally as the speckled padloper,[9] and also known internationally as the speckled cape tortoise,[1] is the world's smallest tortoise. A member of the genus Homopus, it is endemic to South Africa[9] and Southern Namibia.[10]

Distribution and subspecies[edit]

Homopus signatus is naturally restricted to a small area in Little Namaqualand, an arid region in the west of South Africa. Here it normally lives on rocky outcrops, where it forages among the rocks for the tiny succulent plants it eats.

In the past two subspecies were recognized, the Namaqualand speckled padloper (Homopus signatus signatus) and the southern speckled padloper (Homopus signatus cafer), however genetic studies have determined this was not supported and they are now considered a single species.[11][7]


Mating speckled padlopers, in captivity in the Prague Zoo.

The males measure 6–8 centimetres (2.4–3.1 in), while the larger females measure up to almost 10 centimetres (3.9 in);[12] they weigh about 95–165 grams (3.4–5.8 oz). This species has a flattened shell with slightly serrated edges. The orange-brown shell is covered in hundreds of black spots. The males have a noticeably concave belly.

This tiny tortoise can be distinguished from the other Homopus species by its speckles, and by five toes on its forefeet (unlike many of its relatives, which have four toes, on all four feet).[13]

Life cycle and behaviour[edit]

These tiny tortoises are most active in the early morning (especially in autumn and spring when they breed). Living among the rocky outcrops, they feed on small succulents which grow between the rocks, and which they are small enough to reach. Their courtship involves the male and female nodding their heads at each other. After mating, the female makes a nest of several eggs in damp soil between the rocks. The hatchlings are under 7 grams and 30mm long, and emerge after between 100 and 120 days.[14]

Threats and conservation[edit]

The species is threatened by traffic on roads, habitat destruction and poaching for the pet trade. As the trade in collected Homopus species is strictly illegal and any captive specimens are systematically registered in non-commercial studbooks in South Africa and Namibia, any commercial sale of Homopus tortoises is almost without exception strictly illegal. Another threat comes from introduced species, such as domestic dogs and pigs.[15][16][17][18]

Many are taken from their natural habitat each year, and nearly all subsequently die as a result, as they do not readily adapt to typical captive diets and climatic change. Unlike most other Homopus species however, their diet (while very varied) is not highly specialized. Therefore the species can adapt well to captivity, provided that proper attention is paid to temperature, dryness and a sufficiently varied diet. They can in fact be very hardy in captivity, and most problems with captive care are caused by faulty nutrition, high humidity, dampness or bad husbandry.[19][20][21]


  1. ^ a b c Branch, W.R. 1996. Homopus signatus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.2. IUCN Redlist. Downloaded on 24 July 2014.
  2. ^ a b Gmelin, Johann Frederic. 1789. Caroli a Linné, Systema Naturae per regna tria naturae secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis. Ed. 13. Tom. I. Pars III. Leipzig: G.E. Beer, Ed. 13, 1(3):1033–1516.
  3. ^ Walbau m, Johann Julius . 1782. Chelonographia oder Beschreibung einiger Schildkröten. Lubeck: J.F. Gleditsch, 132 pp.
  4. ^ Daudin, François Marie. 1801. Histoire Naturelle, Générale et Particulière des Reptiles. Tome Second. Paris: Imprimerie F. Dufart, 432 pp.
  5. ^ Daudin, François Marie. 1802. Histoire Naturelle, Générale et Particulière des Reptiles. Tome Quatrième. Paris: Imprimerie F. Dufart, 397 pp.
  6. ^ Hewitt, John. 1935. Some new forms of batrachians and reptiles from South Africa. Records of the Albany Museum 4:283–357.
  7. ^ a b Turtle Taxonomy Working Group [van Dijk, P.P., Iverson, J.B., Rhodin, A.G.J., Shaffer, H.B., and Bour, R.]. 2014. Turtles of the world, 7th edition: annotated checklist of taxonomy, synonymy, distribution with maps, and conservation status. In: Rhodin, A.G.J., Pritchard, P.C.H., van Dijk, P.P., Saumure, R.A., Buhlmann, K.A., Iverson, J.B., and Mittermeier, R.A. (Eds.). Conservation Biology of Freshwater Turtles and Tortoises: A Compilation Project of the IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group. Chelonian Research Monographs 5(7):000.329–479, doi:10.3854/ crm.5.000.checklist.v7.2014.
  8. ^ Obst, J., K. Richter, and U. Jacob (1988). The Completely Illustrated Atlas of Reptiles and Amphibians for the Terrarium, T.F.H. press.
  9. ^ a b Homopus Research Foundation web site (accessed August 24, 2013).
  10. ^ Fritz, U. and Havaš, P. 2007. Checklist of chelonians of the world. Vertebrate Zoology 57(2):149–368.
  11. ^ Daniels SR, Hofmeyr MD, Henen BT & Baard EHW (2010) Systematics and phylogeography of a threatened tortoise, the speckled padloper. Animal Conservation 13(3): 237-246.
  12. ^ Branch, B. (1998). Field Guide to Snakes and other Reptiles of Southern Africa. 3d edition. Struik Publishers. ISBN 1-86872-040-3
  13. ^ Baard, E.H.W. (1994). Cape Tortoises: Their identification and care. Cape Nature Conservation.
  14. ^ S. Ranger, C. du Plessis: Bergrivier Municipality Biodiversity Report 2010. LAB, IUCN. South Africa. p.32.
  15. ^ http://www.tortoisetrust.org/articles/homopus.htm
  16. ^ http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/10241/0
  17. ^ http://rooicederberg.co.za/research-portals/herpetology/herpetofauna-of-the-rooi-cederberg-karoo-park
  18. ^ http://www.saflii.org/za/legis/consol_act/nemba2004476/
  19. ^ Corton, M., Homopus (Padloper Tortoise) Care, World Chelonian Trust (retrieved August 20, 2013).
  20. ^ Loehr, V., "Namaqualand Speckled Padloper (Homopus s. signatus)", World Chelonian Trust (retrieved August 20, 2013).
  21. ^ Palmer, M., "The Speckled Tortoise, Homopus signatus, in Captivity", Tortuga Gazette 30(6): 1–5, June 1994.