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Egyptian Tortoise

Testudo kleinmanni


Hermann's Tortoise

Testudo hermanni

Russian Tortoise

Testudo horsfieldii

Marginated Tortoise

Testudo marginata

Mediterranean tortoises may well have been among the most popular pets of the last 100 years, but for all that, most keepers know surprisingly little about them.
'Mediterranean tortoise' is a phrase which is used to describe four species of tortoise, three of which live around the Mediterranean Sea, and one of which shares similar habits (notably hibernation) and is therefore grouped with the other three. These are some of the most popular tortoises in the pet industry.
These tortoise species are reasonably easy to keep in captivity, providing you understand and meet their requirements. Most of the tortoises imported over the last 20-30 years died within a couple of years due to poor feeding and husbandry. Today, the requirements of Mediterranean tortoises are well understood and if these are met then these species could easily outlive their owners! All four species are fairly small tortoises, which makes it easier to meet their requirements than some of their larger tropical cousins. They are well suited to life outside in the summer, as long as they have somewhere to shelter from the rain and protection from predators, but they need warmer accommodation in spring and autumn and somewhere safe and cool to hibernate for two or three months in the winter.
Although these species are similar in their requirements, each has its own individual needs and differences and even between sub-species there are sometimes different requirements. It is therefore essential to find out exactly which species (and sub-species) of tortoise you have in order to find out more exactly what your tortoises requirements are. If you can meet these requirements, then Mediterranean tortoises make excellent pets and are far more interesting than most people imagine.

Although grouped with the Mediterranean tortoises (because of vaguely similar care requirements and the fact that it hibernates), The Horsfield's Tortoise (Testudo horsfieldi) is not in fact from the Mediterranean at all instead coming from Pakistan, Eastern Iran, Afghanistan, Western China and Russia. It is also commonly known as the Russian tortoise. It is a fairly small tortoise reaching maximum lengths of up to eight and a half inches.
Although female Mediterranean tortoises display slight mobility of the caudal plastron, sex determination is usually based on:

  • Tail length: Males tend to have longer tails.
  • Plastron conformation: Males tend to have a prominent concavity to the plastron, which facilitates mounting females for mating.
  • Relative position of the vent or cloacal opening with respect to the caudal aspect of the carapace: The male vent is located further away from the body and closer to the tip of the tail.
  • Body size: Females are also usually larger than males. Females also tend to be broader and heavier.

Male tortoises are typically territorial. Two males can fight quite viciously, sometimes causing serious injuries. Keep such males separately. In a restricted enclosure, males can also cause severe stress and injury to females. Enclosures need to be sufficiently large to permit escape and hiding from unwanted attentions.
Whereas in the past, European species of tortoise were frequently imported under unsuitable conditions from their Mediterranean homelands and failed to thrive in more northerly latitudes, a much better understanding of their requirements has meant that they are now being regularly bred in the UK and North America. If you are thinking about obtaining a young tortoise, the best time will be during the spring or early summer.

Be prepared to redraft your will when you acquire a tortoise as a pet, so you can plan for its future! Today’s young tortoises are still likely to be alive when our grandchildren are elderly.                        


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Greek Tortoise

Testudo graeca ibera

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