Hermann’s tortoise

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Profile

The hermann’s tortoise is a small to medium sized tortoise living in southern Europe. This Testudo_hermanni_range_mapgenus contains five species and subspecies. The map below shows the range of three of these subspecies, and the other two live in the same general area. Like other turtles and tortoises, this animal has no teeth. They have a steeply domed shell that is yellow or orange and black. These colors fade with age and eventually become a gray with straw yellow. Adult males have a tail that is long, for a tortoise, and thick. Both male and female have a horny tip to their tail.

Size

Hermann’s tortoises have a shell that can grow to around eight inches (20 cm) long. Their head and tail will add some length to this though. They weigh up to 8.8 pounds (4 kg). For these tortoises, females are heavier and longer than males.

Habitat

Although this tortoise prefers to live in oak forests, much of these along the Mediterranean coast have been destroyed. Instead, these animals live in meadows and farmland in the same general area. Hermann’s tortoises like areas where there are shady spots to rest in, and they normally avoid moist areas.

Diet

Like most other tortoises, hermann’s tortoises are mostly herbivorous, eating many plants found in their range, including dandelions and strawberries. Although plants make up most of this animal’s diet, small invertebrates are sometimes eaten. Occasionally, they will feed on dead reptiles and amphibians or even the flesh of dead rabbits or animal dung. Although hermann’s tortoises are diurnal, active in the daytime, they normally eat in the late afternoon and evening.

Differences

Even within the same subspecies, there can be some slight genetic differences. One of these is the number of claws on their front limbs. Some individuals have five claws while others have only four. This number is greatly influenced by the mother’s genetics. Females with four claws on their front limbs are four times as likely to produce young with the same number of claws. For example, if females with five claws have a twenty percent chance of producing young with five claws, then a female with four claws would have an eighty percent chance of producing young with four claws. There are also some slight differences between male and female besides size and the tail. The carapace (top part of the shell) and the scutes (the sections that make up the carapace) have a slightly different shape depending of if the individual is male or female. These differences take at least four years to be easily seen because the shell must be at least four inches (10 cm) long.

Hibernating

Starting in October, individuals go underground to hibernate for the winter months. They wake up kind of early, in late February, and immediately start breeding.

Mating and eggs

Mating season starts in late February, as soon as hermann’s tortoises wake up from hibernating, and may go on until early spring. Males eight years and older may fight over females eleven years and older and compete in head ramming contests. In between May and July, the female will dig a hole in the ground and lay from two to twelve eggs about four inches (10 cm) deep in the ground. These eggs, which are pinkish-white, are incubated for around ninety days. As with most reptiles, the temperature of the eggs while incubating determines whether the babies will be male or female. The warmer it is, the more females will be produced. At eighty degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees C) only females will be produced and at seventy-eight degrees Fahrenheit (26 degrees C) only males will be produced. Only one clutch of eggs is laid by a female each year.

Young

After hatching, the young will emerge once autumn rains start in early September. If the eggs were laid late in the year, the eggs will also hatch after this time. When this occurs, the hatched young will stay underground until the next spring. For the first four to five years of their life, the young stay fairly close to their birthplace. Until they reach the age of six to eight, these animals are vulnerable to a variety of animals due to the fact that they have a soft shell until this time. These animals include foxes, magpies, rats, wild boar, and many others. Hermann’s tortoises can live for up to forty years.

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Sources:

Photo credits:

  • Hermann’s tortoise: GFDL
  • Hermann’s tortoise range map: Mkljun
  • Mystery animal: L0k1m0nk33
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