- A-Z Animals
Hermann’s tortoise is a species of small to medium-sized tortoises that belong to the genus Testudo and are native to southern Europe. These tortoises are characterized by a large nail or horny scale on their tail end and a divided supracaudal scute (a scale-like plate) found at the rear end of their shell. Currently, there are two recognized sub-species, including the eastern Hermann’s tortoise and the western Hermann’s tortoise. Although the Hermann’s tortoise may appear similar to the Greek tortoise, it lacks the spur or large wart on the thigh of its back legs found in the latter species.
Size: The eastern Hermann’s tortoise is larger than the western subspecies, growing up to 11 in (28 cm) long. The western Hermann’s tortoise rarely reaches to a length of more than 7 in (18 cm). Some adult individuals are so small that they only measure 2.8 in (7 cm).
Weight: Their average weight ranges from 7-9 lb (3-4 kg)
Color: The western Hermann’s tortoise has an intensive coloration characterized by a strong contrast between yellow and dark patches, with two black bands running along the center on its underside. Its head can be yellowish or dark green, with individual dark patches. Eastern Hermann’s tortoise, on the other hand, has a yellowish or greenish brown coloration with isolated black spots. Its underside has a solid horn color with spate black patches on the two sides of its central seam. Its head can be black or brown, and has fine scales.
Body: Western Hermann’s tortoises have highly arched shells and the males have larger tails than females, possessing a spike. Their forelegs do not have any black pigmentation on the underside and their shell that protects the tail is generally divided. The eastern subspecies usually have arched, somewhat round carapaces. Their forelegs possess fine scales while their hind legs are visibly thicker than the forelegs. Their sturdy tails end in a spike, which grow larger in older male individuals.
Teeth: They have somewhat hooked upper jaws with strong, horny beaks, but do not possess any teeth.
Sexual Dimorphism: Adult males, unlike the females, possess long, thick tails and well-distinguished spurs.
Hermann’s tortoise is distributed throughout southern Europe, with the eastern subspecies being found in Romania, Turkey, Greece, Albania, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Serbia, and North Macedonia. The western subspecies occurs in southern France, eastern Spain, Corsica, Sicily, Sardinia, the Balearic Islands, and the southern and central Italy.
Its natural habitat includes Mediterranean evergreen forests, oak forests, arid, rocky slopes, scrubby vegetation, and grassy hillsides.
Although the average life expectancy of Hermann’s tortoise is approximately 30 years, some individuals may live for 90-100 years. The oldest Hermann’s tortoise ever recorded was from UK, and it lived for more than 110 years.
In the wild, these herbivorous reptiles mainly feed on leaves and flowers. They occasionally eat fruits in moderation for additional nutrition. In captivity, the Hermann’s tortoise consumes lettuce, clover, dandelions, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, cucumber, grapes, peaches, apricots, apples, strawberries, as well as flowers, pods, and leaves of legumes.
The Hermann’s tortoises breed once each year immediately after the winter hibernation, which ends in late February. Females use olfactory and visual cues, as well as high-pitched calls made by males in order to select quality, healthy mates. The courtship process can be quite rough for a female, which is followed, rammed, and bitten by its male partner, before being mounted. Both the female and male tortoises can have multiple mating partners.
Nesting occurs between May and July, with the female Hermann’s tortoises building flask-shaped nests by digging deep (up to 10 cm) into the soil and depositing 2-12 eggs in them. Most of the female tortoises lay over one clutch of eggs per season, with the eggs being incubated for approximately 90 days. Young hatchlings emerge from their eggs in early September when heavy autumn rains start and they spend the first 4-5 years very close to their nests.
The eggs hatch even if it does not rain or the nesting takes place late. Then the young, however, remain underground and they do not emerge till the next spring. Until their shell becomes hard and fully developed at the age of 6-8 years, the young Hermann’s tortoises are vulnerable to attacks by predators such as foxes, badgers, rats, wild boars, and magpies.
Hermann’s tortoise is considered an endangered species and has been categorized as “Near Threatened” by the IUCN. The decline in its population has been attributed to poaching, as well as habitat destruction due to wildfires and construction. Several tortoise sanctuaries have been set up in Europe that rescue injured tortoises and take in unwanted pets. Reintroduction programs have also been started to stabilize the existing population.