Short characteristic of the genus Homopus (Padlopers)
The genus Homopus consists of five small, relatively flattened tortoise species (maximum shell length 10-17 cm), including the world's smallest tortoise. Males are smaller than females and have concave plastrons in some species. Homopus derives its name from the fact that the front and hind limbs both have four claws in two of the species. The three other taxa have five claws on the front limbs. The genus is endemic to southern Africa, with four species occurring in South Africa and one in Namibia. They are poorly studied species, and all live secretive lives in the wild. All species are uncommon in captivity.
After several taxonomic changes until early in the twentieth century, the taxonomy of the four South African species has no longer been subject to any significant discussion: Homopus areolatus (Common Padloper), H. femoralis (Greater Padloper), H. boulengeri (Karoo Padloper), and H. signatus (Speckled Padloper). The two subspecies of Homopus signatus, H. s. signatus (Namaqualand Speckled Padloper) and H. s. cafer (Southern Speckled Padloper), were synonimised by Daniels et al. in 2010. Homopus s. cafer was refered to as H. s. peersi until 1988, when Bour demonstrated that Daudin's (1801-1803) description of Testudo cafra was the same taxon.
The Namibian Homopus species was originally described as Homopus bergeri (Nama Padloper) by Lindholm in 1906, but the validity of the taxon was repeatedly doubted throughout the twentieth century. Later inspection of the holotype demonstrated that it was of another (already described) species, Psammobates tentorius verroxii, rendering the name Homopus bergeri invalid for the new (now considered valid) Namibian padloper species. The new name for the tortoise introduced in 2007 is H. solus. One extinct fossil Homopus is known, H. fenestratus.
Conservation and threats
Two of the five Padloper species, H. signatus and H. solus, are listed by the IUCN (Lower Risk and Vulnerable, respectively). The first is also listed in the South African Red Data Book (Vulnerable). Because distribution, population density and population dynamics have not been investigated in great detail for any of the five species, many questions about their conservation status remain.
Threats to Homopus include road casualties, climate change, overgrazing, mining, and poaching for the pet trade. The Homopus Research Foundation is actively involved in raising awareness on threats to Padlopers, among locals, policy makers and law enforcers.
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