What Is a Greek Tortoise?

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  • Written By: Rebecca Mecomber
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 11 October 2019
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The Greek tortoise, also known as the spur-thighed tortoise, is one of four members of the European Testudinidae land tortoise. This tortoise is native to the Mediterranean region and is found in the wild in various parts of Spain, Eastern Europe, Northern Africa and the Middle East. It prefers very arid regions with hot summers and rocky steppes or deserts in which to breed. Growing to a length of 8 to 10 inches (20 to 25 centimeters) at maturity, the tortoise can live up to 50 years. Many tortoise species appear very similar; the Greek tortoise generally sports large, symmetrical designs on its head, large scales on its front legs, an undivided carapace over its tail, and an oblong or rectangular shell with wide spinal plates.

Greek tortoises are generally shy creatures, preferring to lurk underneath driftwood or rocks. Tortoises taken from the wild are often much more bashful than their captive-hatched counterparts, as they tend to retreat into their colorful shells. Many find the tortoise's shell attractive with its varying shades of green to an exotic golden color, making the Greek tortoise a popular reptile pet. Caring for a tortoise is not difficult, although the reptile does have some basic needs that must be met for maximum health.


The tortoise needs a warm, very dry environment, as humidity may cause illness. In dry climates, the Greek tortoise can be kept in an outdoor pen and in an enclosure over the winter. Glass terrariums are a common enclosure, but the terrarium must be well-ventilated to avoid health problems associated with moisture. This reptilee thrives in a wooden cage; filled with sand and quipped with a UV-emitting heat lamp, the cage mimics the tortoise's native climate. UV rays ensure that the tortoise receives sufficient amounts for vitamin D3 production, a nutrient required to keep it healthy.

The Greek tortoise suffers from the same diseases and ailments common to other tortoises. Dampness is a serious threat, contributing to respiratory problems and disease. Mammal pet foods, which inhibit calcium absorption and excessive fruit intake meddle with the Greek tortoise's sensitive digestive system and nutritional needs. Runny or bloody feces, a diminished appetite, a runny nose and puffy eyes are signs of a stressed or sick tortoise and require intervention from a veterinarian qualified in reptile care.

Tortoises are generally very happy in their pens, contentedly munching on salad greens, grass, dandelions, vegetables and the favorite prickly pear cactus pads. The Greek tortoise requires a high fiber, calcium-rich diet. Cuttlebone or calcium powder sprinkled over its meals usually provides sufficient nutrients for a long, healthy life. Another caution is that the tortoise may drown if provided with too much water. A shallow pan gives the tortoise the option of a wading bath, but prevents the tortoise from the dangers of water.

Overall, the Greek tortoise is a relatively enjoyable and carefree pet. The reptile is listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List as a vulnerable reptile. Reputable sellers usually provide documentation of the origin of the tortoise, allowing the pet owner to care for the tortoise according to its native environment.


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