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Title: Gopherus Agassizii (Desert Tortoise). Predation/Mountain Lions (Pre-Print)

Abstract

During a long-term study on tortoise growth within 3 fenced 9-ha enclosures in Rock Valley, Nevada Test Site (NTS), Nye County, Nevada, USA, tortoises have been captured annually since 1964 (Medica et al. 1975. Copeia 1975:630-643; Turner et al. 1987. Copeia 1987:974-979). Between early August and mid October 2003 we observed a significant mortality event. The Rock Valley enclosures were constructed of 6 x 6 mm mesh 1.2 m wide hardware cloth, buried 0.3 m in the soil with deflective flashing on both sides on the top to restrict the movement of small mammals and lizards from entering or leaving the enclosures (Rundel and Gibson 1996, Ecological communities and process in a Mojave Desert ecosystem: Rock Valley, Nevada, Cambridge University Press, Great Britain. 369 pp.). On August 6, 2003, the carcass of an adult female Desert Tortoise No.1411 (carapace length 234 mm when alive) was collected while adult male tortoise No.4414 (carapace length 269 mm) was observed alive and in good health on the same day. Subsequently the carcass of No.4414 was found on October 16, 2003. Between October 16-17, 2003, the remains of 6 (5 adult and 1 juvenile) Desert Tortoises were found, some within each of the 3more » enclosures in Rock Valley. A seventh adult tortoise was found on September 26, 2006, its death also attributed to the 2003 mortality event based upon the forensic evidence. Each of the 7 adult Desert Tortoises had the central portion of their carapace broken open approximately to the dorsal portion of the marginal scutes while the plastron was still intact (Figure 1A). Adjacent to 7 of the 8 remains we located numerous bone fragments including parts of the carapace and limbs as well as dried intestines in a nearby Range Rhatany (Krameria parvifolia) shrub. The significance of the frequent use of this shrub is puzzling. Three of the Desert Tortoise shell remains possessed distinctive intercanine punctures measuring 55-60 mm center to center indicating that this was an adult sized Mountain Lion. By comparison, a 2 year old male Mountain Lion salvaged on NTS had an upper intercanine bite width of 45 mm, and a 6 month old kitten measured 35mm respectively. The Mountain Lion (Puma concolor) is the only predator that exists in southern Nevada that could possibly have a bite with a gap between its upper canine teeth that large (Murmann et al. 2006. J. Forensic Sci. 51:846-860). The appearance of the shell remains in Figure 1A is similar to that depicting Jaguar (Panthera onca) predation, on the Amazonian Tortoise (Geochelone denticulata) as illustrated by Emmons (1989. J. Herpetol. 23:311-314) with the majority of the carapace broken open and the plastron still intact. Predation of Desert Tortoises by Mountain Lions was also documented in 1993 in southern Arizona (Little Shipp Wash Plot), where 7 of 8 carcasses found were attributed to Mountain Lion predation (Averill-Murray et al. 2002. In. T.R.Van Devender [ed.], The Sonoran Desert Tortoise: Natural History, Biology, and Conservation, pp.109-134. University of Arizona Press and Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson, Arizona). Similarly, predation by a Mountain Lion has been reported on the Argentine Tortoise (Chelonoidis chilensis) in Argentina (Acosta et al. 2004. Herpetol. Review 35:53-54), and a Mountain Lion kitten was observed to kill and consume a portion of the carapace of a Texas Tortoise (Gopherus berlandieri) in west Texas (Adams et al. 2006. Southwestern Nat. 51:581-581). Over the past 45 years this Desert Tortoise population has been monitored yearly, with no prior evidence of predation to tortoises within the fenced enclosures. On several occasions other predators such as Bobcats (Lynx rufus) have been observed within the study enclosures for as long as a week. Evidence of Kit Fox (Vulpes macrotus) sign has been observed on numerous occasions, and a Spotted Skunk (Spilogale putorius) and Longtail Weasels (Mustela frenata) have been captured and released (B.G. Maza, pers. comm.; Medica 1990. Great Basin Nat. 50:83-84), while Coyotes (Canis latrans) were never observed within the fenced enclosures. Prior to this predation event in Rock Valley, 17 Desert Tortoises were alive between 2000 and 2002, only 7 were known to be alive in 2004, while 2 tortoises have not been seen since 2002. Predation studies of Mountain Lions indicate that these events may be an example of a learned behavior of individual animals developing a preference for a prey (Logan and Sweanor 2001, Desert Puma: Evolutionary ecology and conservation of an enduring carnivore. Hornocker Wildlife Institute, Island Press, Washington. 463 pp.; Creeden and Graham 1997, Desert Bighorn Council Transactions. p. 37-43), or the plight of a large predator locating an available source of food while passing through low elevation Mojave Desert habitat in late summer or early fall.« less

Authors:
Publication Date:
Research Org.:
National Security Technologies, LLC (United States)
Sponsoring Org.:
USDOE National Nuclear Security Administration (NA)
OSTI Identifier:
961548
Report Number(s):
DOE/NV/25946-494
TRN: US200917%%284
DOE Contract Number:  
DE-AC52-06NA25946
Resource Type:
Journal Article
Journal Name:
Herpetological Review
Additional Journal Information:
Journal Volume: 40; Journal Issue: 1
Publisher:
Herpetological Review
Country of Publication:
United States
Language:
English
Subject:
54 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES; ADULTS; BIOLOGY; COYOTES; DOGS; ECOLOGY; ECOSYSTEMS; FEMALES; FOOD; FOXES; HABITAT; INTESTINES; LIZARDS; MALES; MAMMALS; MORTALITY; NEVADA TEST SITE; SHRUBS; SOILS; TEETH; desert tortoise, mountain lion, predation

Citation Formats

Paul D. Greger and Philip A. Medica. Gopherus Agassizii (Desert Tortoise). Predation/Mountain Lions (Pre-Print). United States: N. p., 2009. Web.
Paul D. Greger and Philip A. Medica. Gopherus Agassizii (Desert Tortoise). Predation/Mountain Lions (Pre-Print). United States.
Paul D. Greger and Philip A. Medica. Thu . "Gopherus Agassizii (Desert Tortoise). Predation/Mountain Lions (Pre-Print)". United States. https://www.osti.gov/servlets/purl/961548.
@article{osti_961548,
title = {Gopherus Agassizii (Desert Tortoise). Predation/Mountain Lions (Pre-Print)},
author = {Paul D. Greger and Philip A. Medica},
abstractNote = {During a long-term study on tortoise growth within 3 fenced 9-ha enclosures in Rock Valley, Nevada Test Site (NTS), Nye County, Nevada, USA, tortoises have been captured annually since 1964 (Medica et al. 1975. Copeia 1975:630-643; Turner et al. 1987. Copeia 1987:974-979). Between early August and mid October 2003 we observed a significant mortality event. The Rock Valley enclosures were constructed of 6 x 6 mm mesh 1.2 m wide hardware cloth, buried 0.3 m in the soil with deflective flashing on both sides on the top to restrict the movement of small mammals and lizards from entering or leaving the enclosures (Rundel and Gibson 1996, Ecological communities and process in a Mojave Desert ecosystem: Rock Valley, Nevada, Cambridge University Press, Great Britain. 369 pp.). On August 6, 2003, the carcass of an adult female Desert Tortoise No.1411 (carapace length 234 mm when alive) was collected while adult male tortoise No.4414 (carapace length 269 mm) was observed alive and in good health on the same day. Subsequently the carcass of No.4414 was found on October 16, 2003. Between October 16-17, 2003, the remains of 6 (5 adult and 1 juvenile) Desert Tortoises were found, some within each of the 3 enclosures in Rock Valley. A seventh adult tortoise was found on September 26, 2006, its death also attributed to the 2003 mortality event based upon the forensic evidence. Each of the 7 adult Desert Tortoises had the central portion of their carapace broken open approximately to the dorsal portion of the marginal scutes while the plastron was still intact (Figure 1A). Adjacent to 7 of the 8 remains we located numerous bone fragments including parts of the carapace and limbs as well as dried intestines in a nearby Range Rhatany (Krameria parvifolia) shrub. The significance of the frequent use of this shrub is puzzling. Three of the Desert Tortoise shell remains possessed distinctive intercanine punctures measuring 55-60 mm center to center indicating that this was an adult sized Mountain Lion. By comparison, a 2 year old male Mountain Lion salvaged on NTS had an upper intercanine bite width of 45 mm, and a 6 month old kitten measured 35mm respectively. The Mountain Lion (Puma concolor) is the only predator that exists in southern Nevada that could possibly have a bite with a gap between its upper canine teeth that large (Murmann et al. 2006. J. Forensic Sci. 51:846-860). The appearance of the shell remains in Figure 1A is similar to that depicting Jaguar (Panthera onca) predation, on the Amazonian Tortoise (Geochelone denticulata) as illustrated by Emmons (1989. J. Herpetol. 23:311-314) with the majority of the carapace broken open and the plastron still intact. Predation of Desert Tortoises by Mountain Lions was also documented in 1993 in southern Arizona (Little Shipp Wash Plot), where 7 of 8 carcasses found were attributed to Mountain Lion predation (Averill-Murray et al. 2002. In. T.R.Van Devender [ed.], The Sonoran Desert Tortoise: Natural History, Biology, and Conservation, pp.109-134. University of Arizona Press and Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson, Arizona). Similarly, predation by a Mountain Lion has been reported on the Argentine Tortoise (Chelonoidis chilensis) in Argentina (Acosta et al. 2004. Herpetol. Review 35:53-54), and a Mountain Lion kitten was observed to kill and consume a portion of the carapace of a Texas Tortoise (Gopherus berlandieri) in west Texas (Adams et al. 2006. Southwestern Nat. 51:581-581). Over the past 45 years this Desert Tortoise population has been monitored yearly, with no prior evidence of predation to tortoises within the fenced enclosures. On several occasions other predators such as Bobcats (Lynx rufus) have been observed within the study enclosures for as long as a week. Evidence of Kit Fox (Vulpes macrotus) sign has been observed on numerous occasions, and a Spotted Skunk (Spilogale putorius) and Longtail Weasels (Mustela frenata) have been captured and released (B.G. Maza, pers. comm.; Medica 1990. Great Basin Nat. 50:83-84), while Coyotes (Canis latrans) were never observed within the fenced enclosures. Prior to this predation event in Rock Valley, 17 Desert Tortoises were alive between 2000 and 2002, only 7 were known to be alive in 2004, while 2 tortoises have not been seen since 2002. Predation studies of Mountain Lions indicate that these events may be an example of a learned behavior of individual animals developing a preference for a prey (Logan and Sweanor 2001, Desert Puma: Evolutionary ecology and conservation of an enduring carnivore. Hornocker Wildlife Institute, Island Press, Washington. 463 pp.; Creeden and Graham 1997, Desert Bighorn Council Transactions. p. 37-43), or the plight of a large predator locating an available source of food while passing through low elevation Mojave Desert habitat in late summer or early fall.},
doi = {},
journal = {Herpetological Review},
number = 1,
volume = 40,
place = {United States},
year = {2009},
month = {1}
}