n African Journal of Herpetology - Shell characteristics and sexual dimorphism in the Namaqualand speckled padloper, : original article

Volume 55, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 2156-4574
  • E-ISSN: 2153-3660
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There is little quantitative information regarding the two subspecies of the world's smallest tortoise, <I>Homopus signatus</I>. To help characterise the northern subspecies <I>H. s. signatus&lt;/I&gt; and evaluate the development of shell size and colour patterns, we measured shell characteristics of wild juvenile, male and female <I>H. s. signatus</I>. When scaling shell dimensions on carapace length, male shell size represented an extension of juvenile shell size for shell height, width and volume, but not plastron length. The slope of plastron length scaled on carapace length was smaller for males than for juveniles or females, suggesting differential growth of the plastron. The smaller male plastron translates to large shell openings, perhaps to improve locomotion and to facilitate tail movement during copulation. Conversely, the slope of female shell height, width and volume (scaled) was larger than for juveniles or males, presumably providing more space to accommodate follicles and the large egg. Serration of the marginal scutes and shell colour changed with body size, and shell colour pattern differed between sexes. The carapace was darker at intermediate body sizes (large juveniles and small adults); the increase in dark appearance resulted primarily from widening of the dark pigment band around scute margins as growth laminae were added. Both the lighter shell colour and reduced serration of large adults may be due to shell wear; large adults may produce less dark pigment, and older laminae disappear due to flaking or peeling. Females had a darker overall colour, more rays and fewer speckles than did males. This dimorphism may relate to thermoregulation, gamete protection or intraspecific communication. Both male and female patterns may confer crypsis if the sexes use microhabitats differently.

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