Hermann's tortoise has a distinct yellow-orange dome-shaped shell, with bold black marks. There are two subspecies, the eastern Hermann’s tortoise and the western Hermann’s tortoise. The eastern species has a shell which is less highly domed than that of the western species. The brightly colored shell of these tortoises may fade with age. Their tails have a nail or large scale towards the end. These animals are very popular with pet lovers and are the most common tortoise species kept as a pet, a reason being that they are fascinating and very fun loving. They can mix easily with humans and it is easy to learn about their habits.
Hermann’s tortoise lives in southern Europe, from north-eastern Spain, to southern France, southern and western Italy, Romania and Turkey. It has also made its home on several islands in the Mediterranean, the Balearics, Sardinia, Sicily and Corsica among them. While it seems to prefer evergreen Mediterranean oak forest, this forest in great part has disappeared, so it now also inhabits dry meadows, rocky slopes, arid hillsides, and farmland. This tortoise favors areas where it is able to find shade and secluded resting places, and it generally avoids moist areas.
Habits and lifestyle
During the winter, Hermann's tortoises hibernate, returning to activity in late February. They are active in the daytime, and may, if necessary, be dormant for long periods in summer months. Early in the morning, they leave their night shelters, usually consisting of hollows protected by hedges or thick bushes, to warm their bodies basking in the sun. Then they roam about the meadows of their Mediterranean habitat, looking for food. Their sense of smell determines which plants to eat. Around midday, when the sun is too hot for them, they return to their shelters. The home range of these tortoises is different for each population. Females usually have larger ones, from 0.9 to 7.4 ha., while males have a range of 0.7 to 4.6 ha. The size of the home ranges may be limited due to habitat loss. A Hermann's tortoise communicates through a range of visual, auditory, tactile and olfactory signals. Such signals are also used in reproduction.
bale, nest, turn, dole, creep
Diet and nutrition
Hermann’s tortoises are almost completely herbivore (folivores), eating a variety plants, which includes dandelions, clover, strawberries, and many other plants and herbs. They also eat smaller amounts of snails, earthworms, slugs and insects, and sometimes carrion from rabbits, lizards and amphibians, or even feces.
Hermann’s tortoises are polygynandrous (promiscuous); males and females both have multiple mates. A female uses visual cues and the males’ high-pitched calls to choose a quality mate. Olfactory cues seem to also be used in mate selection, though exactly how this works is still unknown. A male will also compete to mate by biting the kegs of the female, but not so aggressively as other tortoise species. Hermann's tortoises breed in February after the winter hibernation. Nesting starts in May and ends in July. A female will build a nest by digging in the ground, and will lay between 2-12 eggs in the soil at a depth of several centimeters. They sometimes lay two clutches in one breeding season. The incubation period is usually 90 days, and eggs hatch in mid-August or September. Once the eggs are laid, the mother leaves them on their own. The hatchlings usually stay close by the nest until they are 4 to 5 years old, to allow for the complete development of their carapace.
In the past, Hermann’s tortoises were eaten by people during the Second World War when there was food rationing, and the inhabitants of monasteries and convents ate them on fasting days, their flesh being regarded as neither meat nor fish. The primary threat today is habitat destruction. Urban development has left their range smaller as well as fragmented. Wildfires that strike from time to time in the region affect both the tortoises and their habitat, for example, in the French Pyrenees in 1986 an entire population was killed by wildfire in 1986. In addition, in spite of laws to protect Hermann’s tortoise, they are still poached for the pet trade.
The IUCN Red List and other sources do not provide the Hermann’s tortoise total population size. Currently this species is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are decreasing.
Fun facts for kids
- The temperature during incubation of the Hermann’s tortoise eggs determines the gender of the hatchlings. At 26 degrees Celsius, they will all be males, and 30 degrees Celsius produces all females.
- Being naturally passive around humans, Hermann’s tortoises can make very good pets, especially for children.
- “Carapace” is the name for the top of the tortoise’s shell, while the underside is called a “plastron.”
- 60 different bones connected to each other make up a tortoise’s shell.
- Tortoises can withdraw their head, limbs and tail into their shells when under threat or being attacked by a predator.
- A tortoise has good all-round vision as well as an excellent sense of smell.