Male vs. Female Aggression

tglazie

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So my Lady Gino is now gravid, gaining weight every day, and increasingly restless. It's been a few years since I separated her completely from any unsupervised male contact. It is spring and the weather is fine, so I decided to make some modifications to Little Marge's enclosure. As I couldn't have Little Marge chasing me around as I extended the cinder wall at the south end of her enclosure, I moved her temporarily into Lady Gino's area. The moment I place Little Marge into the enclosure, Lady Gino comes charging up, clearly upset. She resumes to bring herself nose to nose with Little Marge, and I find myself at an impasse. Part of me wants to shield Little Marge from the wrath of Lady Gino, intervene before anything happens. But the part of me that won out wanted to see how far Lady Gino would take this, given that only a few years back, Lady Gino and Little Marge shared an enclosure, and they were never aggressive toward one another (they were, however, housed alongside Big Gino, an incredibly fearsome and highly aggressive male, so I feel that Lady Gino's aggressive tendencies were curtailed when these three lived together).

So, Lady Gino clearly wins the intimidation ritual, and she begins sniffing Little Marge, rubbing her front legs against Marge's shell, sniffing at her legs. Ultimately, she then asserts her dominance by mounting Little Marge, at which point Little Marge began to run as Lady Gino gave chase.

At this point, I removed Little Marge to a bus tub warm water bath and worked as quickly as I could to extend her cinder block fence line. After about thirty minutes, I completed the work and put Little Marge back into her paddock.

By then, I was, of course, curious as to how Lady Gino would react to a different tortoise, so I grabbed Big Gino and put him in the pen. Lady Gino's initial reaction was the same. She charged up, obviously upset, only this time she goes nose to nose with Gino and, after only five seconds of intimidation ritual, she resumes to lock gulars with Big Gino and viciously bite at his front legs. I pull the two of them apart, check each for injuries, and see Gino back to his enclosure. Hilariously enough, he goes right back to grazing on rose mallow as he had been doing before I took him from his enclosure. This time of year, that big boy doesn't miss a beat, I swear.

So I was curious. Has anyone else had experience with differences in gender aggression? Can any general statements concerning aggression be made regarding either sex, or is aggression among all Testudo merely a given, variable only according to the individual? Does separation increase the intensity of aggression?

I've always been a proponent of single tortoise housing. It is one of the reasons that I have over a thousand cinderblocks on my property. I still breed Lady Gino and her counterpart, Little Gino, but whenever I do, I only put them together for hour long intervals during which I watch them from a distance to ensure that the violence doesn't get out of hand. Even so, Little Gino has chipped and removed scales from Lady Gino's front legs. He once bit her on the chin so badly as to draw blood, which I treated following the mating session with antibiotic cream. But this isn't a one way street. She fights back. One time I had to separate them after she tried to bite Little Gino's unsheathed hemipenis. Whenever he moves to bite her face, she usually lunges forward to strike him with her gular. There are times that I'm uncertain who would be the dominant animal, given how nasty she can be in response to his courtly overtures.

I love Mediterranean torts. Their tenacity and pugnacious nature make them all the more interesting, as far as I'm concerned.

T.G.
 

WillTort2

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I'm a little confused, is Big Gino the same tortoise as Little Gino?

If I recall correctly, when placing tortoises together for breeding, I'm thinking that some of the more experienced members have advised a neutral site. This allows each tortoise to be a little more cautious because each thinks they're entering the other one's territory. When one is in their home territory, they will be more likely to aggressively defend from all interlopers.
 

tglazie

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No, Big Gino and Little Gino are two different tortoises. Lady Gino and Little Gino are a matched pair. Big Gino and Little Marge are the other matched pair. I know it's confusing. I'm afraid I'm pretty bad with names, and given that I got these guys when they were unsexable hatchlings, I didn't put any thought into their names. Big Gino, the first of my margies, was just referred to as "The Marginated," which was then shortened to "The Gino." After I acquired Little Gino, there was "The Gino" and "The Little Gino." Of course, after I got Lady Gino and her two brothers, I called them "Gino," "Little Gino," "Gino 3," "Gino 4," and "Gino 5," often shortened to their designated number. After two of the Ginos turned out to be males, I ended up selling them off, but Gino 3 ended up being a lady, hence "Lady Gino." Later on, I acquired Little Marge as a temp sexed female, which ended up being accurate. I started using the adjective Little in front of her name partly out of tradition but also given that she was smaller than Lady Gino. So, to recap, the adults in my collection are Big Gino, Little Gino, Lady Gino, and Little Marge. I have four other juveniles that I got from Chris and Gary last year that I have yet to name, though they were all temp sexed female, so maybe I should just go ahead with the naming. I don't know. Maybe soon.

I just introduced Big Gino into Lady Gino's enclosure to see how she would react. I don't allow them to mate, given that I don't want the blood lines mixed up. There's Big Gino and Little Marge's line, then there's Little Gino and Lady Gino's line. Once Chris and Gary's lot reaches maturity and I find out their gender for certain, I'll develop a pairing plan for them. Generally, I introduce Lady Gino into Little Gino's enclosure. I find this works well enough given my method of introduction and my role as referee. If things get out of hand, I intervene. But generally speaking, the hour they spend together generally doesn't result in too many scrapes, and typically any wound or laceration sustained under my watchful eye is easily treated.

T.G.
 

HermanniChris

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I experience this exact situation at least on a weekly basis. Any one of my big girls will become aggressive toward another female or multiple females and they will also challenge the males as I rotate them into the females' enclosure. Even my smaller (9-9.5") females will not hesitate to go after larger tortoises including our 15+" male "Mr Monz". I find it to be mentally healthy for them and I allow the females and males to battle for a select, supervised amount of time. I also find that a peak in this aggression surfaces when the females are gravid. I have in addition noted that a gravid female will seek out another gravid female and dominate (or attempt to dominate) her over any of the others. It's as if they know they are about to compete for the best nesting area. I have witnessed this with Hermann's and Greek tortoises as well.
 

Tom

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I don't have a lot of marginated experience, but all that you describe sounds totally normal for Testudo in spring or fall.
 

tglazie

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That is absolutely fascinating, Chris. My group is not (yet) large enough for me to observe differential aggression among gravid females and non-gravid ones, but it makes sense that that must be the case. So much concerning tort biology centers around their sense of smell and pheromone cues. I would venture to guess that a gravid female would smell very different from a non-gravid one, and I always figured gravid fits of aggression were more for the females of the species than the males. After all, it ultimately serves the species' best interest to have the hatchlings interspersed over a wider area rather than all the females choosing the same nesting ground.

T.G.
 
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