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Chersina angulata, 030

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Chersina angulata (Schweigger 1812) –
Angulate Tortoise, South African Bowsprit Tortoise

Margaretha D. Hofmeyr1

1Chelonian Biodiversity and Conservation – Southern Africa,
Department of Biodiversity and Conservation Biology, University of the Western Cape,
Private Bag X17, Bellville 7535, South Africa [[email protected]]


Summary. – The angulate or bowsprit tortoise, Chersina angulata (Family Testudinidae), is endemic to southern Africa and is the type species of the monotypic genus. No subspecies are distinguished, but mtDNA markers indicate the presence of two distinct evolutionary lineages associated with the southern and western regions of South Africa, respectively. The species is medium-sized (carapace length to ca. 350 mm), sexually dimorphic with males larger than females, characterized by a large, protruding, undivided gular scute, and displays substantial color and size variation. The species is active throughout the year but temperature and rainfall modify its activity patterns. Males appear to establish dominance hierarchies in spring when they use their large gular scute to overturn rival conspecific males. Females produce single-egg clutches from late summer to late spring and can lay up to six clutches annually. Egg retention time varies substantially and correlates with temperature and rainfall. The diet includes a wide range of angiosperms as well as mosses, mushrooms, insects, snails, and animal feces. They are selective feeders and their diet changes with season and site. Chersina angulata is not threatened and is adequately protected.

Distribution. – Namibia, South Africa. The range extends along the southern and western regions of South Africa into southwestern Namibia.

Synonymy. – Testudo angulata Schweigger 1812, Testudo (Chersina) angulata, Chersina angulata, Goniochersus angulata, Neotestudo angulata, Chersine angulata, Testudo bellii Gray 1828, Chersina angulata pallida Gray 1831

Subspecies. – No subspecies currently recognized.

Status. – IUCN 2008 Red List: Not Listed (= Least Concern, LR/lc) (assessed 1996, needs updating); CITES: Appendix II (as Testudinidae spp.); South African Red Data Book: Not Listed.


Hofmeyr, M.D. 2009. Chersina angulata (Schweigger 1812) – angulate tortoise, South African bowsprit tortoise. 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 No. 5, pp. 030.1-030.6, doi:10.3854/crm.5.030.angulata.v1.2009, //iucn-tftsg.org/cbftt/.

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Subadult female Chersina angulata from the West Coast National Park, South Africa.
Photo by M.D. Hofmeyr.



Distribution of Chersina angulata in southern Africa (Namibia and South Africa). Red points = museum and literature occurrence records based on Iverson (1992) plus more recent and author’s data; green shading =  projected distribution based on GIS-defined hydrologic unit compartments (HUCs) constructed around verified localities and then adding HUCs that connect known point localities in the same watershed or physiographic region, and similar habitats and elevations as verified HUCs (Buhlmann et al., in press), and adjusted based on author’s data.