In the animal kingdom, it is often assumed that some animals are vegetarian and others are carnivores or omnivores.
But as it turns out, things may not always be as they seem.
Recently, a group of scientists began studying one of the longest living animal species on Earth, a type of tortoise, and were shocked at what they found.
This particular tortoise is one of around 3,000 who live on Frégate Island in the Seychelles, and is just one member of a species thought to be a “strict herbivore” according to researchers.
It makes sense considering that they consume up to 11 percent of the vegetation on the Seychelles and Galápagos Island chains, and their plant eating makes them important ecosystem engineers as they spread seeds and keep certain types of unhealthy plant growth in check.
But in this case, the tortoises exhibited behavior that had never been seen in the wild before, which could change everything we know about this iconic species.
“Vegetarian” Tortoise Filmed Attacking and Eating Tern Chick
We must warn you that the video below includes a graphic scene on animal violence and is not suitable for every viewer.
It documents the historic finding and was published along with evidence
in the journal Current Biology on Monday.
“This is completely unexpected behavior and has never been seen before in wild tortoises,” said study leader Dr. Justin Gerlach, director of studies at Peterhouse, Cambridge and affiliated researcher at the University of Cambridge’s Museum of Zoology, in a press release according to EcoWatch.
The video shows the little bird squeaking at the slowly approaching tortoise on the edge of a log, attempting to make it back off to safety.
But the tortoise continues to stalk and pursue the chick, eventually eating it by extending its neck and biting the bird’s head.
“The giant tortoise pursued the tern chick along a log, finally killing the chick and eating it,” Gerlach said. “It was a very slow encounter, with the tortoise moving at its normal, slow walking pace – the whole interaction took seven minutes and was quite horrifying.”
The video was filmed by study co-author Anna Zora.
Tortoises have been known to eat carrion as well as bones and shells for calcium.
The researchers said the animal may have eaten the bird for the same reason tortoises eat carrion: for extra protein.
“When I saw the tortoise moving in a strange way I sat and watched, and when I realized what it was doing I started filming,” Zora said to Cambridge.
“It takes quite a bit of energy to extract the necessary resources from a vegetarian diet, particularly if you’re trying to build egg shells or you’re trying to deposit yolk,” University of Canberra reptile ecologist professor Arthur Georges, who was not part of the study, told Australia’s ABC News.