Greek Tortoise

Spur-thighed tortoise, Common tortoise, Moorish tortoise

Kingdom
Phylum
Subphylum
Class
Order
Suborder
Superfamily
Family
Genus
SPECIES
Testudo graeca
Population size
Unknown
Life Span
125-200 yrs
TOP SPEED
8 km/h
WEIGHT
0.9-2.3 kg
LENGTH
15-18 cm

The Greek tortoise is one of the five species of tortoise from the Mediterranean. It can be a range of colors, including black, dark yellow, gold, and brown. This tortoise is named for the patterns on its shell, which have the different colored dots and the borders of a traditional Greek mosaic. A Greek tortoise has a domed carapace, a flat head with large eyes, big scales on its legs, and strong claws.

Distibution

Greek tortoises live in southern Europe, North Africa, and southwest Asia. There are many of them on the coast of the Black Sea coast in the Caucasus (from Russian Anapa to Abkhazia Sukhumi in the south), and also Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. The ones in North Africa live in semi-arid scrub, brush and grassland and areas in the Atlas Mountains, and are also found among coastal dunes, rocky, brushy hillsides, marshland borders, and pine woods. The populations in Eurasia and the Middle East live on plateaus and mountains, usually on barren hillsides, dry open steppes, and wastelands where the vegetation ranges from dry woodlands or scrub thorn to sea dune grasses.

Greek Tortoise habitat map

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

There are many subspecies of Greek tortoises, and some of them are very different to each other. For example, those living in colder climates hibernate at the cooler times of the year, while others do not hibernate and prefer warmer areas because cold temperatures are not good for them. These animals are terrestrial and occur in areas with low humidity and dry climates. They sometimes stay in a burrow during the hotter times of the day, but otherwise are diurnal. They begin their day by basking on rocks, their legs and head extended entirely. Then they graze, retiring afterwards to the closet scrape.

Diet and Nutrition

Greek tortoises are herbivorous, and eat a variety of herbaceous grasses and plants across their range.

Mating Habits

REPRODUCTION SEASON
North African populations: April - May, and again in autumn; Eurasian and Middle Eastern tortoises: May or June
INCUBATION PERIOD
55-70 days
FEMALE NAME
female
MALE NAME
male
BABY NAME
hatchling
BABY CARRYING
1-7 eggs

Little information is known about the mating behavior of Greek tortoises. Generally, tortoises exhibit either polygynous (one male to many females) or polyandrous (one female to many males) mating systems. Immediately after waking up from hibernation, the tortoise’s mating instinct starts up. Males will follow females and encircle them, ramming them and biting their limbs. North African Greek tortoises mate from April until May, and then again in autumn, though this varies greatly, based on locality and altitude. Nesting takes place in May and June, with the possibility of more than one clutch being produced each season. Middle Eastern and Eurasian tortoises generally nest during May or June, though sometimes from April to July. Usually there are one to seven eggs in a clutch (average three to four), though large tortoises in Algeria lay as many as 12 - 14. The eggs begin to hatch after 55to 70 days.

Population

Population threats

Greek tortoises are threatened by the illegal pet trade, and habitat degradation and loss, mostly as a result of overgrazing by livestock.

Population number

The IUCN Red List and other sources do not provide the Greek tortoise total population size. Currently this species is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • Another name for the Greek tortoise is the spur-thighed tortoise, on account of the large conical tubercle on each thigh.
  • Many species of tortoise, including this one, cannot swim and have to stay on land.
  • Greek tortoises live longer than most other species of tortoise in existence today. Owning one as a pet brings a huge responsibility that potentially is passed down for several generations.
  • These animals constantly create an overnight "scrape", which is a nest made beneath sharp oak shrubs. They are used by several tortoises, and you can see their trails coming out of them.
  • Tortoises and turtles are a very old family of reptiles, originating about 220 million years ago. Of all animals that have backbones, these are the only ones with a shell as well, made of 59 - 61 bones with plates called scutes covering them, which consist of keratin, the same substance in our fingernails.
  • The tortoise cannot crawl out of its shell because it is permanently attached to its spine and rib cage. The top of the shell is a “carapace,” and the bottom is a “plastron.” These animals can feel pain and pressure through their shells, just like we can feel pressure through our fingernails.

References

1. Greek Tortoise Wikipedia article - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spur-thighed_tortoise
2. Greek Tortoise on The IUCN Red List site - http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/21646/0

More Fascinating Animals to Learn About