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What Is a Hermann's Tortoise?

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  • Written By: Angie Bates
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 27 November 2016
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Hermann's tortoise is a type of small tortoise very popular in the pet trade. Native to Europe, the Hermann's tortoise is still found in the wild around its original range, but captive tortoises have been exported as pets throughout Europe and overseas. These tortoises are active, easy to breed, and hardy. The scientific name for Hermann's tortoise is Testudo hermanni.

When young, the Hermann's tortoise has a brightly colored shell, called a carapace, of yellow and black that fades as the tortoise ages. Small reptiles, adult tortoises are only 5–10 inches long (12.7–25.4 cm). Females are usually larger than males but have shorter tails.

There are two subspecies of Hermann's tortoise: the western, Testudo hermanni hermanni, and the eastern, Testudo hermanni boettgeri. The western ranges from northern Spain and Italy into southern France, whereas the eastern lives in Greece, Yugoslavia, and Albania, as well as the Balkans and southern Italy. The two subspecies can be differentiated by yellow spots on the western's head and a more diffused pattern to the eastern's shell.

In the wild, Hermann's tortoises live in oak forests or rocky hills in arid climates. They are mostly vegetarian, eating flowers, leaves, grass, and plant stalks. They also may supplement their diets with invertebrates like slugs and snails. In captivity, traditional vegetables can be fed to these reptiles with success.

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Hermann's tortoises are very active, spending a lot of time exploring. The males frequently fight with each other, particularly during breeding season, and may be aggressive toward females as well. Though not always necessary, it is sometimes safer for owners to house male and female tortoises separately, unless they are actively breeding.

Breeding occurs in spring through summer. Females dig 3–4 inch (7.6–10 cm) deep nests in dirt in which they lay between two and 12 eggs. Eggs may be incubated for 90–120 days before hatching.

Although these tortoises are small, they require large enclosures and do best outside. Enclosures should have plenty of naturally growing food available, as well as rocks and bushes for hiding. A southern exposure for basking is also necessary.

As hardy, easy to breed reptiles, Hermann's tortoises are highly desirable in the pet trade and were once collected from the wild by the thousands. This over-collection threatened their wild existence. Thankfully, the wild populations have rebounded and most of the tortoises sold as pets are now captive-bred. The wild populations are still not safe, however. Although their populations are relatively stable in the early 21st century, habitat destruction is threatening their survival.

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