Turtles that eat bone, rocks and soil, and turtles that mine
by Darren Naish
My huge friend and colleague Mathew Wedel owns a Box turtle Terrapene carolina. It’s called Eastie… don’t judge; this is because the animal is an Eastern box turtle (or is she? I wonder if Eastie is a Three-toed box turtle). Anyway, Eastie recently found part of a deceased rat’s head while on a backyard jaunt, and proceeded to deliberately snip away at the broken braincase and eat the bone fragments. This bone-eating carried on for about 20 minutes, and Matt thought it interesting enough to take the photo you see here (TL).
The eating of bones – osteophagy – is well known for turtles, has been recorded in several species, and is observed easily enough in species kept in captivity (like Testudo tortoises). Whenever this subject is mentioned (believe me, it’s always cropping up in conversation), many people recall the photo in David Attenborough’s Life on Earth that shows an Aldabran giant tortoise Aldabrachelys gigantea* scavenging on the carcass of a conspecific (Attenborough 1984) (TR).
As you can see here, it’s not entirely clear what the tortoise is doing, but it looks like it’s gnawing at dried skin and muscle, not bone. Incidentally, the photo was taken by Attenborough himself. I did used to have a very neat photo showing gnaw marks that a pet tortoise (belonging to my late friend and colleague David Cooper) left on a cow bone – to my frustration, I can no longer locate it…
(read more: Tetrapod Zoology - Scientific American)
photos: Mathew Wedel, David Attenborough, and Utahcamera
* Yes, it is actually a 3-toed Box Turtle (T. c. triunguis)
Oxyrhopus melanogenys (Dipsadidae), known as the Tschudi’s False Coral Snake is a nocturnal species which is found in wet and dry tropical forest of South America .
The body color pattern in this species is in triads of black bands (black-whiteblack-white-black, separated by red or orange inter-spaces), and the top of the head and the snout are black .