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Postcard from Florida: When Tortoises Joust

Paul Nelson
Photo credit: Paul Nelson.

Here is a gopher tortoise close-up. Gopher tortoises are Gopherus polyphemus — I love that binomial; Polyphemus was the one-eyed giant in Homer’s Odyssey, who lived in a cave, and these guys are prolific tunnel-makers. This fellow was peacefully grazing by himself, unlike his pugilistic cousins nearby, who were engaged in the behavior called “jousting,” which is the way the tortoises work out their issues.

I can’t believe Suzanne and I were fortunate enough to witness this at a nature preserve in Naples, Florida. A Florida naturalist who studies gopher tortoises told me he has seen jousting only once in the field. I swear they were trying to flip each other over.

Paul Nelson

Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Paul A. Nelson is currently a Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute and Adjunct Professor in the Master of Arts Program in Science & Religion at Biola University. He is a philosopher of biology who has been involved in the intelligent design debate internationally for three decades. His grandfather, Byron C. Nelson (1893-1972), a theologian and author, was an influential mid-20th century dissenter from Darwinian evolution. After Paul received his B.A. in philosophy with a minor in evolutionary biology from the University of Pittsburgh, he entered the University of Chicago, where he received his Ph.D. (1998) in the philosophy of biology and evolutionary theory.



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