The Hermann’s tortoise (Testudo hermanni) is one of the most popular species of tortoise to be kept as a pet. They have a great personality and are known for their gentle and passive nature, making them great little companions. Closely related to the Greek tortoise and the marginated tortoise, many of their needs are similar to other Mediterranean species, but it’s important to know about your particular tortoise to be able to provide the best care possible.
Hermann’s Tortoise Fact File
There are two subspecies – the western Hermann’s tortoise (Testudo hermanni hermanni) and the eastern Hermann’s tortoise (Testudo hermanni boettgeri) – but they are both commonly referred to as Hermann’s tortoises (Testudo hermanni) despite a few differences. The dalmatian tortoise is thought to be another geographical variant found in between the western and eastern Hermann’s tortoise subspecies.
On average, Testudo hermanni can live up to around 75 years of age but they have been known to live even longer in good conditions.
The western subspecies is usually a little smaller than their eastern counterparts, but will generally grow from 6-8 inches in size, with females growing larger than the males. The shell of the western subspecies is often more rounded than that of the eastern Hermann’s tortoises, too. They have strong hind legs and large, thick scales on the outside of their front legs.
Their scutes are often a deep rich yellow colour, with upto 50% of each scute dark brown or black in colour. Young tortoises are paler in colour than the adults. On the fifth vertebral scute, the one just behind their head, they often have a distinct, dark keyhole or a “mushroom cloud” kind of shape, however, this is not always present in eastern specimens. The scute above their tail is split into two parts which makes them distinguishable from other species. Testudo hermanni also have a claw-like tip to their tail which is more distinct in males than females.
Most individuals have a distinct yellow spot underneath each eye however, this may be missing on older tortoises. If you have a look at the underside of your tortoise, you will see two black stripes running from the top to bottom. These black markings may appear to be a constant line whereas others may be broken up a little around the anal scutes, but they should be distinguishable either way.
This Mediterranean tortoise is found in habitats across southern Europe including southern France, Albania, Romania, Turkey and Spain, as well as some of the western Mediterranean islands, too, such as the Balearic islands. Their natural habitat includes oak forests with rocky slopes and scattered vegetation, where it is relatively dry and there is ample sunlight. You can also sometimes find them in coastal dunes and pastures, as long as there is still food for them to eat.
Both eastern and western Hermann’s tortoises hibernate between October and April, however this can vary depending on the particular climate. They will hibernate underground, where they are safe from predators, while the hibernation means they don’t have to worry about food scarcity. During their active months, you will find Testudo hermanni warming up in the morning sun and then using the energy to forage and explore. When it gets too hot they will likely find cover until it begins to cool down at dusk.
Males can be aggressive during breeding season and can seriously injure each other at times; they will bite the limbs and heads of rival males and will try and tip them over on their backs. Due to them being found on rocky hillsides, this can be fatal if the tortoise rolls down a steep hill!
Testudo hermanni are almost exclusively herbivores and will mostly eat plants and fruits however in their natural habitat you will often see them eat the occasional earthworm, small insect, or even snail, to supplement their diet.
Testudo hermanni will begin breeding soon after they wake from hibernation in spring. The males will begin searching for a female using olfactory and visual cues. Once they have found a potential mate you will usually observe the male head bobbing, he will also ram her with his shell and bite her limbs.
The female will often try to get away but once they have been mounted and the male makes noises during copulation, she will stay still until the male has finished. Before the male is successful, he will usually fall off a few times and continue to bite at the female.
Females will lay their clutches of eggs between May and July, with each clutch having between one and nine eggs. The western Hermann’s tortoise usually lay fewer eggs than the eastern Hermann’s tortoise, due to their smaller size. The female leaves the nest and will not interact with the eggs nor with the baby tortoises when they hatch. The eggs will remain in the nest for up to 124 days and then all the hatchlings will emerge between August and October, most commonly after some summer rainfall. Young Hermann’s tortoises will usually stay close to the nest site for the first few years of their lives, or until their shell is fully developed.
The IUCN red list has listed the Hermann’s tortoise (Testudo hermanni) as a near threatened species with a declining population. Due to their wide distribution, some of their populations are more threatened than others, however, some are relatively stable. There have been some reintroduction efforts to boost the wild populations, however, as one of the most popular pet tortoises species, most captive breeding is done within the pet trade to supply the demand.
As with most species of tortoises, their main threats include habitat destruction and poaching for the illegal pet trade. The construction of roads and the resulting traffic have also had a major impact on the Hermann’s tortoises and their movement, breeding, and other natural behaviours. What’s more, there is a high mortality rate for tortoises trying to cross these busy roads, thus aiding the decline of the Hermann’s tortoise population.
Keeping a Hermann’s Tortoise as a Pet
Hermann’s tortoises are common pets in the UK and don’t require much more than any of the other tortoises you will hear about. However, most tortoises have different needs that allow them to thrive, and these are no different. These are the needs of the Hermann’s tortoises.
Hermann’s tortoises can live quite happily in a tortoise table or in a garden pen as long as it is big enough for them to explore, they have enough space as they continue to grow, and you provide them with everything that they need.
We recommend buying a tortoise table that is big enough to accommodate them throughout their entire lives, so you don’t have to upgrade as they grow; something that looks huge for a baby tortoise may not be adequate for a fully grown 8” adult. An enclosure around 2 feet x 4 feet should be more than sufficient, but you will need larger if you plan on having more than one tortoise. Even indoor tortoises will enjoy some natural sunlight every now and again, so it’s a great idea to create an outdoor pen for them to explore throughout the warmer months, too, which can be as big as you can provide!
Although Herman’s tortoises are not considered to be climbers, the walls still need to be tall enough that they cannot climb out; 6” is the minimum but we think it is a good idea to have the walls as tall as the length of your tortoise, just to be safe.
If you do provide them with an outdoor enclosure, then you should bury the walls a few feet into the ground because these tortoises love to burrow and will soon dig their way to freedom if given the chance!
Hermann’s tortoises make great outdoor tortoises as long as you live in a temperate climate and it doesn’t get too cold at night. With this in mind, if you live in the UK, we recommend keeping them inside for part or all of the year due to the unpredictable weather, damp conditions, and lack of sunlight.
As their natural habitat is relatively dry, you should make sure that you do not provide a substrate that stays damp for too long as it could cause respiratory problems or even shell rot, in extreme cases. A suitable tortoise substrate mixture of soil, sand, and bark is a great option for Hermann’s tortoises, however too much soil and it can cause impaction if your tortoise eats too much of their substrate, or it gets stuck onto their food.
They love to burrow so you should provide 2-4 inches of substrate for them to carry out this natural behaviour. However, bear in mind that the deeper you make your substrate, the less distance there is to the top of the walls, so you have to find the right balance between sufficient depth to burrow and not too deep that it facilitates their escape! Some people will make the substrate deeper in the corners and then place a mesh or a barrier above it so the tortoises cannot climb out.
In the wild, Hermann’s tortoises will bask in the sunlight and soak up all of the UVB rays they need to grow and develop correctly. Therefore, you need to provide your tortoise with adequate lighting so that they are able to do the same in captivity. Without UVB light they cannot synthesise vitamin D3 which helps them to absorb calcium for the development of a healthy shell and healthy bones.
A fluorescent UV light can be placed at one end of your enclosure so that your tortoise can bask, get all the rays they need, and then move out of the heat if they need to. You can buy a timer so that the light turns on and off automatically, without you having to worry about it every day; you should set the timer so that they get around 12 hours of light each day.
Similar to the lighting situation, you should create spaces in your tortoise’s enclosure that allows them to move away from the heat if they get too hot. Place a basking light at one end of the enclosure to make a suitable temperature gradient so they can move in and out of the heat as they please.
The ideal temperature for a Hermann’s tortoise is around 27-30C, and it should never fall below 18C during the day so make sure that the temperature in the basking spot is at the upper end of this range. At night, it is acceptable for the temperature to drop, so you can turn off your heat lamp, but it should never be less than 15C. You can hook your heat lamp up to a thermostat so that it turns on and off when it reaches the desired ambient temperature.
Even if your tortoise is spending lots of time outside, you should still provide them with an additional heat source if the temperatures remain low for extended periods of time. Reptiles require heat to be able to perform their daily bodily functions such as moving, foraging, and even digesting their food so it’s important to monitor the temperatures throughout the day and night using an accurate thermometer.
Most tortoises do well at a humidity of 40-70%, anything out of this range and they can become dehydrated or can develop respiratory issues. You can maintain the humidity by misting your tortoises and their enclosure each day, making sure your tortoise table is not next to a source of dry heat such as a radiator, and providing the correct substrate.
Both the eastern and western Hermann’s tortoise enjoy eating succulents so you can plant these throughout their enclosure to break up the space. However, always monitor how much they are eating and remove them if you think it could be affecting their diet. Check which plants are safe for tortoises to eat before placing anything inside their enclosure.
Although they do not like to climb, they are used to rocky environments so you should place rocks, logs, and other obstacles throughout their enclosure so that they are encouraged to explore.
As with all tortoises, the Hermann’s tortoise requires a small, shallow water bowl for them to drink from, bathe in, and cool off. You should provide fresh water daily and clean out their bowl frequently as they will often drag their substrate into their water whenever they are climbing in and out.
Based on their natural habitat and behaviours, the Testudo hermanni has slightly different requirements to some of the other Mediterranean species.
Although it is natural for a Hermann’s tortoise to hibernate when the temperature drops too low, captive specimens can remain active all year round if you keep the temperatures constant and high enough. If your tortoise is kept outside then you should move it inside to maintain the temperature and avoid hibernation. Most tortoise owners do not have the correct setup or knowledge to be able to safely assist their Hermann’s tortoise into and out of hibernation therefore it is often recommended to avoid it completely, when possible.
If you do decide to allow your tortoise to go into hibernation, then you should do your research so you can provide them with the correct conditions and bring them out of hibernation after around 3 months.
All tortoises have different nutritional needs based on the foods that they would naturally eat in the wild, and Hermann’s tortoises are no different. Thankfully, you do not need to worry about any variations between the western Hermann’s tortoise and the eastern subspecies, as they will mostly eat the same foods. You should aim for a diet that is low in protein and high in fibre for their general maintenance. Food items that are perfect for your Hermann’s tortoise includes:
- Curly kale
- Plaintain leaves
- Collard greens
- Mustard greens
Fruits and vegetables are high in sugar and should be fed in moderation so bulk up their diet with leafy greens and weeds from the garden, as long as they are easily identifiable. You should provide your tortoise with fresh food on a daily basis and remove any leftovers at the end of the day. You can even opt for a specially formulated tortoise diet that includes everything that they need.
Hermann’s tortoises can suffer from the same illnesses and diseases as any other captive tortoises, if not given the correct environment. Make sure that you give them the correct lighting and diet to prevent metabolic bone disease, and monitor the humidity to avoid respiratory infections.
Adult males and females can be aggressive towards each other during the breeding seasons so always check your tortoises for minor wounds and cuts and separate them if you think they are causing any harm to each other.
Hermann’s tortoises are known for being gentle and will only bite if feeling threatened. As with other tortoises, they don’t like being handled so be recommend this being done minimally so as not to stress them out.
They will often associate their human with feeding time so you may see them coming out of their hides whenever you go near, thinking you have food! They are very inquisitive tortoises that we are sure you will enjoy watching and interacting with.
Buying a Hermann’s Tortoise
Make sure you buy your Hermann’s tortoise from a reputable breeder so you can be sure that it has not been removed from the wild, thus affecting the decline of the natural population. Whether you buy a western Hermann’s tortoise (Testudo hermanni hermanni) or one of the Eastern subspecies (Testudo hermanni boettgeri), you need to know where your tortoise came from to ensure that it is ethically bred.
Life With Your Tortoise
As with all tortoises, Hermann’s have specific needs to be able to thrive but with the right care, they should live long and happy lives.
We hope that this guide has prepared you for life with your new Hermann’s tortoise but feel free to ask any more questions that you may have.