Hermann's Tortoise

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Species group:

Other common names: European Tortoise; Western Hermann’s Tortoise(T. h. hermanni); Eastern Hermann’s Tortoise (T. h. boettgeri)

Scientific name: Testudo hermanni

The Basics:
Although no tortoise may be considered a “beginners pet”, this personable European native is one of the better choices for those with suitable dedication and space. Often described as “charming”, Hermann’s Tortoises can become, more than most reptiles, more “family member” than pet.

The Hermann’s Tortoise ranges over much of southern Europe (including Sicily, Corsica and other associated islands), from northeastern Spain to Romania and eastern Turkey.

They are limited to arid habitats such as open oak forests, overgrown meadows, thorn scrub, and the margins of agricultural land.

Appearance / Health:
The domed carapace may be yellow, olive or light to orange-tinted brown in color, and bears dark blotches. Adults measure 6-11 inches in length.

Hermann’s Tortoises take very well to “domestic life”, with captive longevities approaching 50 years. Metabolic bone disease is common in animals that are not provided with ample calcium and/or UVB exposure. Females without access to a suitable nesting site may retain their eggs. Respiratory tract infections and ear abscesses are common in both damp habitats and overly-dry habitats. The lack of a moist retreat may cause irregular shell formation, usually in the form of lumps, among hatchlings. Fiber-poor diets lead to digestive disorders, and a diet rich in fruit will cause colic-like ailments. Other possible problems to be aware of include swollen eyes (Vitamin A deficiency), overgrown beaks, and obesity.

Behavior / Temperament:
Hermann’s Tortoises become very trusting and responsive, and quickly learn to “beg’ for food when their owners appear. They are alert and aware of their surroundings, and feed readily from the hand. Like most turtles, they dislike being handled and carried about.

Hermann’s Tortoises are very active and need spacious enclosures. Glass aquariums are unsuitable. Adults do best in custom-made enclosures measuring at least 4 x 4 feet, but preferably larger; outdoor maintenance is ideal. Plastic-based rabbit cages, large plastic storage boxes, and cattle troughs can also be modified as turtle homes. Drinking water should be available, and the animals should also be soaked in a tub of shallow water for 15-20 minutes, 1-2x weekly.

A 6-8 inch deep mix of sand and soil is the best substrate. The substrate should be of a depth that allows the tortoise to create a shallow depression for night-time use.

Exposure to UVB light is essential. Mercury vapor bulbs broadcast UVB over greater distances than do florescent models, and provide beneficial UVA radiation as well. Temperatures should range from 80-85 F, with a basking site of 95 F. Provide your pet with the largest home possible, so that a thermal gradient (areas of different temperatures) can be established. Thermal gradients, critical to good health, allow turtles to regulate their body temperature by moving between hot and cooler areas.

Females and youngsters often co-exist, but must be watched as dominance hierarchies develop. Males fight viciously, and usually harass females with near-constant mating attempts.

Hermann’s Tortoises consume a diet that is high in fiber and calcium and low in protein and fat. In the wild, they feed almost exclusively on grasses, herbaceous plants and flowers, with fruit only sporadically available. High protein foods such as beans and dog food should be strictly avoided. Fruit is not necessary, although a few berries can be given as a weekly treat during the summer.

In the warmer months, native grasses, weeds, and flowers should, if possible, comprise the bulk of your tortoises diet (learn to identify toxic species). The following are readily accepted by most individuals:

Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum),

Dandelion (Taraxacum spp.)

Hawkweeds (Pictis spp.)

Clovers (Trifolium spp.)

Cat's ears (Hypochoeris spp.)

Mallows (Malva spp.)

Sedums (Sedum spp.)

Chickweed (Stelaria media)

Hedge mustard (Sisymbrium sp.)

Bramble (Rubus fruticosus)

Plantains (Plantago spp.)

The balance of the diet should include seasonally available greens such as kale, endive, Swiss chard, mustard/collard greens, and romaine. Other produce can be added as available, but avoid spinach and iceberg lettuce, and use bok-choy sparingly. Commercial grassland tortoise diets may be added to your pet’s salad, but should not be used as a mainstay.

Most meals provided to growing animals should be powdered with a calcium source. Vitamin/mineral supplements should be used 2-3 times each week. Both can be reduced to once weekly for well-nourished adults. A calcium block or cuttlebone may be left in the terrarium for “as needed” use (not all individuals will consume calcium in this form).

Wild Hermann’s Tortoises become sexually mature when approximately 10-12 years old, but pets may reproduce at age 4-6, or earlier. Mature males may be distinguished from females by their longer, thicker tails. Breeding usually occurs without the need for temperature manipulation, although a hibernation period of 2-3 months at 42-45 F has also proven effective. Pairs must be watched closely, as males may injure non-receptive females.

Gravid (egg-bearing) females usually become restless and may refuse food. If the home enclosure is not suitable for nesting, they should be removed to a large container (i.e. 5x the length and width of the turtle) provisioned with 8-10 inches of slightly moist soil and sand. Gravid females that do not nest should be seen by a veterinarian as egg retention invariably leads to a fatal infection (egg peritonitis). It is important to note that females may develop eggs even if unmated, and may produce 3-4 clutches each year; a single mating may result in fertile clutches years later. The 1-20 eggs may be incubated in a mix of 1 part vermiculite to 1 part water (by weight) at 84-90 F for 60-90 days. Males are produced at low incubation temperatures and females at high; 86 F yields both sexes.


managable size, hardy tortoise, loving personality, lovely yellow pattern, great longterm pets


important commitment, pyramided shell, lifelong companion


winter hibernation, medium sized tortoise, free range, minimum maintenance, nice little shelter

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