Hermann’s Tortoise Care sheet
To date there are three recognized subspecies.
The western Hermann’s tortoise considered the nominate race, is the smaller and rarer subspecies. These animals typically attain smaller dimensions than their cousins and appear more attractive as well. The ground color they exhibit is a rich golden yellow to bright greenish yellow bordered by jet black bars, bands or blotches usually covering more than 50% of the carapace. There is a well defined “keyhole” symbol on the 5th vertebral scute just above the supracaudal shield and it is present in more than 95% of the species. The head is rather snake or lizard like in appearance and is sleeker than the heads of the other subspecies. A bright yellow fleck or spot is clearly visible underneath and just behind each eye and this is present in almost all animals except for extremely old ones. The skin color resembles that of the carapace’s ground color but is usually darker and drabber. On the plastron there are two longitudinal jet black bands that are well formed and are only broken on the gular and anal scutes in some cases. The seam between the femoral scutes on the plastron is longer than that of the seam between the pectorals but in certain instances they can appear even. Rarely is the pectoral seam longer than the femoral. Females rarely exceed six inches while males may never surpass four; however larger examples have been recorded.
The western Hermann’s tortoise is also known for being rounder and more domed in appearance when compared to the other subspecies. The eastern Hermann’s tortoise (Testudo hermanni boettgeri) is the larger more common race. These tortoises are duller in appearance and colors as well as markings can vary extremely. The ground color of the carapace is typically a horn color or can be brown, tan, yellowish, or cream colored. Black or dark brown bars, bands and/or blotches border the ground color. The 5th vertebral scute usually lacks the “keyhole” symbol but is found in some specimens especially captive bred ones and unusually attractive individuals. The head is bulkier with the eyes situated higher up and the yellow spot or fleck under each eye is usually absent. Skin color is dark and may be tan, brown or grey. The plastron exhibits the longitudinal black markings but they are faded, broken up often and nowhere near as well defined or prominent as in their western cousins. The seam between the pectoral scutes is usually longer than that of the femorals or they may appear even in various cases. Females typically reach seven to eight inches but extremely large ten inch plus females have been encountered in parts of the world such as Bulgaria. Males usually do not surpass six inches but larger animals are not unheard of. These tortoises have a flatter appearance and are more elongate than round.
The Dalmatian Hermann’s tortoise (Testudo hermanni hercegovinensis) is a newly described subspecies and there is quite a bit of question surrounding them. They appear almost identical to the eastern Hermann’s tortoise and only a few small details separate the two. Carapacial ground colors as well as markings are the same as in the eastern race only it is said that the black pigment covers less than 50% of it. The yellow fleck or spot under each eye is present but not as bright as in the western race. The “keyhole” symbol is also visible on the 5th vertebral in this subspecies although I have seen many without it. The longitudinal black bands are present on the carapace yet they are nowhere near as clearly defined as in the western race but are more solid and uniform than in the eastern race. The pectoral and femoral scute seams are even in length and there is a sharp “U” shape that is formed by the top edges of the humeral scutes. In the eastern and western race this shape is more of a “V”. Perhaps the most distinguishable characteristic of these tortoises is the absence of the inguinal scutes where the carapace meets the plastron just in front of each hind leg. The eastern and western races both exhibit the inguinal scutes but most Dalmatians do not. However, is has been recorded that Dalmatians may have both inguinals or in some cases just one.
Sex: Sexual dimorphism is very apparent in Hermann’s tortoises. Males like most species of chelonian are smaller than females. They exhibit a concave plastron and a very long, thick tail. The vent is also further past the end of the plastron when compared to females. Males also appear more trapezoid in overall shape while females may be rounder or more elongated. Females have a shorter, stubbier tail and the plastron is flat. Both sexes exhibit the hardened tip or spur at the end of the tail and it is believed that males use this to stimulate the female’s cloacal region during courtship. It is unknown if it is of any use to females. Males can prove to be overly aggressive towards other males as well as females during breeding season. Females are usually very passive and only become aggressive when they are gravid or in very crowded conditions.
Distribution:These tortoises are found throughout southern Europe. Yugoslavia, Albania, Romania, Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria are all inhabited by the eastern race while the western race is restricted to Italy, France and Spain.
Habitat: Hermann’s tortoises are found in Mediterranean oak forest, rocky hillsides, pastures and scrub land. These areas include south facing slopes and the abundance of low lying shrubs and various edible weeds. Rocks, logs, grasses and shrubs are used for climbing, burrowing under and for creating scrapes as retreats for the tortoises to hide in and seek shade. These animals are not found in water and are poor swimmers and due to where they live, water is scarcely available. Hermann’s tortoises obtain most of their water through their diet and may drink from rain puddles as well.
Housing: Hermann’s tortoises are best kept in outdoor enclosures where they can live in semi natural conditions. A well planted outdoor pen situated on well drained soil makes for a great captive environment for these tortoises. Do not construct pens on wet or moist areas and simply using a grassy lawn is not a good idea. Although Hermann’s tortoises prefer a bit more humidity in their environment than most other Testudo, they should never be subjected to damp situations. A variety of edible weeds to promote natural grazing is suggested as well as an array of decorations such as logs, rocks, slates, shrubs, African grasses and bushes for exercise, hiding and burrowing. Make sure to keep tortoises well protected from predators such as dogs, cats, ravens, foxes, and overly curious children. A thick wire mesh screen should cover most if not all of the outdoor enclosure to keep invaders out. Indoors these animals can be housed in large custom built units or “tortoise tables”. A substrate of sterilised topsoil. UVB and UVA emitting bulbs should be used especially with hatchlings to help achieve proper growth and heat. Half logs, rocks or boxes with an entrance cut into them make great hide outs. Frequent warm baths are recommended for tortoises kept indoors to help with hydration and expelling waste build ups. Keep tortoises away from windows and doors leading to the outside in order to avoid harmful drafts. All glass aquariums do not make suitable homes for Hermann’s tortoises, even for hatchlings.
Feeding: Hermann’s tortoises require a diet rich in fiber and very low in protein. When feeding hatchlings pay close attention to growth because pyramiding can easily happen in young specimens. As stated before, allowing tortoises regular access to a variety of edible weeds, grasses and flowers induces natural grazing which in return promotes proper growth. Fruits should not be offered to these animals. Italian mixes, Romaine and red leaf lettuce are safe in smaller amounts when weeds are scarce in winter. A calcium supplement is recommended when feeding Hermann’s tortoises and these can easily be found in most pet stores world wide in the form of a powder. Cuttle fish bone commonly used for birds is a great source of calcium for these tortoises especially gravid females. The animals will simply gnaw at the brittle bone until they are satisfied. (See http://www.thetortoi…database_14.asp for suitable plants to feed your tortoise)
Breeding:There is no doubt that a hibernation or cooling period does lead to long term breeding success but it can and does happen without it. In the wild these tortoise wake up from their winter rest anywhere from March through May (depending on region) and nesting occurs from May through July. Males reach a peak in sexual activity immediately following their emergence from their hibernaculums and again several weeks prior to cooling down for the winter ahead of them. Females have been known to store sperm for quite some time and can produce a few years’ clutches from just one mating.When engaging in courtship the male chases the female relentlessly biting at her legs and face. Shell ramming is not as common in this species as it is in other Testudo but it does occur. Once the female cooperates she will lift her self with her hind legs and allow the male to achieve successful copulation. The male mounts her from behind and curls his tail under where the vents will meet and mating begins. During copulation the male emits several high pitched squeaks and holds his mouth open with his tongue hanging out.Gravid females become extremely restless when they are nearing nesting. They will continuously pace the perimeter of their enclosure in search of a proper nesting site. Females prefer south facing slopes with well drained soil to deposit their eggs and dig several test holes usually up to three days prior to the actual event.Females of the eastern race typically lay four to six eggs in a single clutch. Larger and smaller clutches are also encountered. Females of the western race usually produce less with two to three eggs being in a single clutch. Females of both races have been known to double and even triple clutch in one season with anywhere from fourteen to thirty days in between nests.
Incubation: Eggs laid in an outdoor enclosure or specially made indoor nesting box should be removed at once and placed in an incubator. Hovabators make great incubators and can be found in both pet and feed stores. An incubation medium of moistened but not wet vermiculite or perlite works best. Sucess has been achieved with soil, sand, aspen bedding and sphagnum moss as well. Place each clutch in their own deli cup or small Tupperware with a few holes punched into the lid. Turning the eggs right after they have been laid will not cause any harm although once the embryo has begun to grow it is imperative that you do not turn them. The key to successful incubation of Hermann’s tortoise eggs to make sure you do not keep them too moist. Keep a large bowl of water in the incubator for the entire incubation period and only lightly spray down the individual deli cups occasionally. At a temperature between 84 and 91 degrees Fahrenheit the baby tortoises will emerge from their hard shelled eggs in about 55 to 62 days. Like most chelonians their sex is determined by the temperature the eggs are incubated at and higher temps will produce females, lower temps will produce males.
Hatchlings: Hatchling Hermann’s tortoises are quite small immediately following hatching and need time to straighten out. During the time they have been inside the egg they have basically been folded in half. When the babies leave the egg their movements are awkward until they achieve normal formation. The yolk sac in some instances may be visible for roughly a week and is the animal’s source of food for the first few days to a week of its life. Once the remainder of the yolk sac has been absorbed the babies usually begin feeding voraciously. They require the same diet as adults do but it may be necessary to cut their food in to tiny pieces to aid them in swallowing. A calcium supplement is very important in raising tortoises and should be provided at feeding time. A proper enclosure for hatchlings and juveniles should closely replicate that of the adults’ but on a smaller scale. Hermann’s tortoises in captivity can achieve sexual maturity in as little as five to six years, however this is in no way the norm as it usually the result of ‘power feeding’, eight or nine years is far more desireable to avoid problems. It is suggested that you grow the babies slow like they would in nature to avoid pyramiding and other deformities. Be sure to give hatchlings 20 minute daily warm baths.
This Care Sheet Has Been Created By Chris Leone and adapted by Kelly Hearn.(Sourced from http://www.gardensta…mannssheet.html ) (Permission given from author.)