Tortoises have a reputation for being a little slow, but these armored reptiles can actually be pretty speedy when they want to (mess with the turt and you get hurt). Videos of dancing tortoises have become something of an Internet sensation, often seen shaking their booties under streams of water. The welcome content is mostly seen in one species: the radiated tortoise whose rain dance is something to behold.
While the behavior has been spotted in a few tortoise species, radiated tortoises are the most famous booty shakers. They are quite big as tortoises go, weighing around 16 kilograms (36 pounds) with legs long enough to lift their body completely off the ground. Their brown shells are quite bulbous and rise up like a dome on their back with yellow stripes that look like the Sun’s rays, inspiring their common name
Unfortunately, this charismatic species is critically endangered in the wild, but they have seen success in breeding programs that are able to maintain genetic diversity among captive animals. One such zoo tortoise is Turnip, a 12-year-old female Madagascar radiated tortoise from the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, USA. Turnip recently became a social media star for showing off the species' most famous trait: the radiated tortoise rain dance.
The exact motivation behind the rain dance hasn't yet been pinned down by scientists, but it's thought to be a positive response owing to the fact that, in captivity, these animals appear to seek out sensations that bring on the insatiable urge to shake it.
"No real purpose for the behavior is known as far as I know,” Tennessee Aquarium said in an email to IFLScience. “They do have feeling in their shells and will often seek out sensations, like raindrops or low hanging branches. Here at the aquarium we sometimes give them scrub brushes to rub against and they do this behavior, but not quite as enthusiastically as they do with the showers. This is what makes us believe that they do really enjoy it, because they actively seek it out.”
"A lot of people are surprised to find they can feel through their shells," Tennessee Aquarium Animal Care Specialist Maggie Sipe said. "We try to equate it to what you feel through your fingernail if something touches it."
Madagascar, where Turnip’s kind hail from, has a tropical climate. The wet season is in the summer and stretches from November to March, whereas April to October conditions are mostly dry and mild. It could be, then, that the arrival is a welcome change in the weather for these animals, or that the wiggle is a way of shaking heavy monsoon rain from its back. While a confirmed explanation for this behavior remains to be seen, one thing that’s for certain is that Turnip’s got moves.
“All of our radiated tortoises do this to some degree, but Turnip really “turns it up,”” Sipe, who filmed the now-famous video, said. “Our older female doesn’t dance so much as she just raises up on to her tiptoes and stretches out. The two boys in the habitat with her chase me around when I have the hose out because I think they’ve learned what it means, so it’s hard to get videos of them doing the dance because they come right up to me for showers.”
In the immortal words of Taylor Swift, heartbreakers gonna’ break. Fakers gonna’ fake. Baby, Turnip’s just gonna’ shake.