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Postcard from Florida: When Tortoises Joust

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.