Hermann's tortoise (Testudo hermanni) is a species of tortoise. It is very popular with pet lovers and is the most common tortoise species kept as a pet, the reason being that they are fascinating and very fun-loving. Hermann's tortoises can mix easily with humans and it is easy to learn about their habits.
Hermann's tortoises are small to medium-sized tortoises from southern Europe. Young animals and some adults have attractive black and yellow-patterned carapaces, although the brightness may fade with age to a less distinct gray, straw, or yellow coloration. They have slightly hooked upper jaws and, like other tortoises, possess no teeth, just strong, horny beaks. Their scaly limbs are greyish to brown, with some yellow markings, and their tails bear a spur (a horny spike) at the tip. Adult males have particularly long and thick tails, and well-developed spurs, distinguishing them from females.
Hermann’s tortoises live in southern Europe, from north-eastern Spain to southern France, southern and western Italy, Romania, and Turkey. They have also made their home on several islands in the Mediterranean, the Balearics, Sardinia, Sicily, and Corsica among them. They prefer evergreen Mediterranean oak forest, however, this forest in great part has disappeared, so Hermann's tortoises now also inhabit dry meadows, shrubland, and farmland. They favor areas where they are able to find shade and secluded resting places, and they generally avoid moist areas.
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.
Hermann’s tortoises are almost completely herbivores (folivores), eating a variety of 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, 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 to 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 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.