The slightly domed carapace (females to 30 cm) is dorsally flattened, scarcely indented in the cervical region, and has the anterior marginals only slightly expanded and the unexpanded posterior marginals not, or only slightly, serrated. A small but broad cervical scute is present; the 1st and 4th vertebrals are longer than broad, and the others are broader than long. A slight medial keel may be present, especially in younger specimens. Vertebrals and pleurals have broad areolae surrounded by raised growth annuli. There are usually 11, but occasionally 10 to 13, marginals on each side, and the supracaudal is undivided. Areolae of the carapacial scutes are reddish brown with yellow, olive, dark-brown, or black borders. A dark bar lies along the anterior seam of each marginal. The yellow plastron usually has some dark pigment toward the center. Its forelobe is anteriorly truncated, the hindlobe notched posteriorly. The plastral formula is: abd > hum > an > fem >< pect >< gul. Each bridge has one or two (sometimes to five) axillary scutes and three or four inguinals, the innermost touching the femoral scute. The head is moderate in size with a nonprojecting snout, and a strongly hooked, tricuspid upper jaw. Usually, no small scales lie above the nostrils, and the large prefrontal scale may be divided or partially (posteriorly) divided longitudinally. The frontal scale may be subdivided. Other dorsal head scales are small. The head varies from yellow to tan or reddish brown, the jaws are tan. The neck varies from yellowish brown to reddish brown, as do also the limbs and tail. Each forelimb is covered anteriorly with large, overlapping scales in three or four longitudinal rows. There are four claws on each forefoot.
Males are smaller than females and have posteriorly concave, usually uniformly colored plastra and longer, thicker tails; females have flat, usually medially dark plastra and short tails. During the breeding season, the prefrontal scales of the males tend to show a orange-red coloration for several weeks (Branch, 1988). To a lesser extent, this coloration sometimes is present in females as well (Barzyk, 1994).
Homopus areolatus occurs in the Northern, Western, and Eastern Cape Provinces of South Africa.
Some variation in color exists between populations, but this has not been adequately studied.
H. areolatus lives in dry scrub areas, where it seeks out the shade of bushes; it rarely enters grassland. It usually occurs from sea level to over 700 m elevation, but rarely is found up to 1300 m (Greig and Burdett, 1976).
Eglis (1962: 6) described courtship in this species as follows:
The tortoises form a more or less right angle with their shells, their heads meeting at the confluence. Always responsible for the tête-à-tête, the male managed to "infiltrate" close to the wary female by using a strange method of locomotion: the hindlegs, stiff and in stiltlike hyperextension under the steeply upraised posterior carapace, pushed what may have appeared to the female to be an uninterested, passive anterior part into view. The forelegs were dragging. At one point, the female appeared to be intrigued enough by the sliding maneuver to sidle toward the male. At other times, especially after an attempt to mount, the male would rush around the female for nose contact, first from one side and then from the other, and the female would agitatedly skitter aside.
A posture on the part of the female that appears to be restricted to courtship and is tied in with the sliding approach is to tilt the head downward and to the side; ordinarily, when induced to look back around the shell, the female would tilt her head upward and to the side.
The dominating feature of the second phase was continual vicious biting by the male, who would often check the extremities of the female, probably to make sure of their being withdrawn.
H. areolatus nests from April to November; possibly two clutches are laid per year (Branch, 1989b). Each clutch has 1-5 elongated (27-33 x 20.5-23 mm), hard-shelled eggs; incubation may take up to 320 days (Baard, 1994). Hatchlings have 30-32 mm carapaces and weigh 4-8 g.
Homopus areolatus eats grasses and other small herbaceous plants.
IUCN Red List Status (1996)