Hermann’s tortoise (Testudo hermanni)

Western Hermann's tortoise
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Hermann’s tortoise fact file

Hermann’s tortoise description

GenusTestudo (1)

A European tortoise, Hermann's tortoise (Testudo hermanni) has a distinctly coloured, yellow-orange, domed shell, with bold black markings (2) (4). The head is brown or black, sometimes with a lighter chin (2), and often with a yellow spot on each side of the head (4). It has a slightly hooked upper jaw and, like other tortoises, possesses no teeth (5), just a strong, horny beak (4). The scaly limbs are greyish to brown, with some yellow markings, and the tail bears a spur (a horny spike) at the tip (4). Adult males have particularly long and thick tails (2), and a well developed spur, distinguishing them from females (4).

Tortue D'Hermann.
Tortuga Mediterránea.
Length: up to 20 cm (2)

Hermann’s tortoise biology

In late February, Hermann’s tortoise emerges from under a bush or old rotting wood, where it has spent the winter months hibernating, buried in a bed of dead leaves (4). Immediately after surfacing from its winter resting place, Hermann’s tortoise commences courtship and mating (4). Courtship is a rough affair for the female, who is pursued, rammed and bitten by the male, before being mounted (2). Aggression is also seen between rival males during the breeding season, which can result in ramming contests (2).

Between May and July, female Hermann’s tortoises deposit between two and twelve eggs into flask-shaped nests dug into the soil (2), up to ten centimetres deep (4). Most females lay more than one clutch each season (2). The pinkish-white eggs are incubated for around 90 days and, like many reptiles (2), the temperature at which the eggs are incubated determines the hatchlings sex. At 26 degrees Celsius, only males will be produced, while at 30 degrees Celsius, all the hatchlings will be female (4). Young Hermann’s tortoises emerge just after the start of the heavy autumn rains in early September, and spend the first four or five years of their lives within just a few metres of their nest (2). If the rains do not come, or if nesting took place late in the year, the eggs will still hatch but the young will remain underground and not emerge until the following spring (4). Until the age of six or eight, when the hard shell becomes fully developed, the young tortoises are very vulnerable to predators, and may fall prey to rats, badgers, magpies, foxes, wildboar and many other animals. If they survive these threats, then Hermann’s tortoises may live for around 30 years (4).

Hermann’s tortoise is almost entirely herbivorous, feeding on a variety plants which are found in its habitat (4), generally in the late afternoon and evening (2). This includes clover, dandelions, strawberries, and numerous other plants and herbs (4). To supplement this plant-based diet, Hermann’s tortoise eats smaller amounts of earthworms, snails, slugs and insects (2), and also feeds occasionally on the flesh of dead rabbits, lizards and amphibians (4), and even faeces (2).


Hermann’s tortoise range

Hermann’s tortoise occurs in southern Europe, and is distributed from north-eastern Spain, across southern France, western and southern Italy to Romania and Turkey. It also occurs on a number of islands in the Mediterranean, including the Balearics, Corsica, Sardinia and Sicily (2) (4). Some consider there to be two subspecies of Hermann’s tortoise: a western and an eastern subspecies (1) (4).


Hermann’s tortoise habitat

While this tortoise is thought to favour evergreen Mediterranean oak forest, much of this forest has disappeared and so it can now also be found in dry meadows, arid hillsides, rocky slopes and farmland (2). Hermann’s tortoise prefers areas where it can find shade and hidden resting places (4), and moist areas are generally avoided (2).


Hermann’s tortoise status

Hermann's tortoise is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3). Subspecies: Testudo hermanni hermanni (Western Hermann’s tortoise) is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Near Threatened


Hermann’s tortoise threats

In the past, Hermann’s tortoise was threatened by exploitation. It was eaten by people during days of food rationing throughout the Second World War, and convents and monasteries ate the flesh of this tortoise on fasting days, as it was considered neither meat nor fish (4).

Today, the primary threat facing this tortoise is the destruction of its habitat. Urban development has impacted their Mediterranean habitat, leaving their range smaller and fragmented (4). An increase in tourism in southern Europe in recent decades has played a major role in this, with the construction of many roads and the resulting heavy traffic impacting populations (6). Wildfires that strike the Mediterranean region from time to time affect the tortoise and its habitat; a population in the French Pyrenees was entirely eradicated by a wildfire in 1986 (4). In addition, despite laws that protect Hermann’s tortoise, this species is still collected from the wild for the pet trade (4).


Hermann’s tortoise conservation

Many conservation measures have been initiated to ensure the long-term survival of Hermann’s tortoise. In 1987, a program for the protection of Hermann’s tortoise started in France, with the following year seeing the opening of ‘Tortoise Village’ (4). Situated near the village of Gonfaron, this ‘village’ takes care of more than 300 injured tortoises each year, primarily Hermann’s tortoises but also other species, as well as conducting a breeding program and releasing tortoises back into the wild (4) (7). Another example of the conservation attention Hermann’s tortoise is receiving is the measures implemented when a large highway was constructed through the core areas of one of the largest tortoise populations in France. During the construction of this road, 300 Hermann’s tortoises were kept in outdoor enclosures and were released once the highway was complete. Fences were erected to keep tortoises off the road and a tunnel was dug under the road to allow animals to move between the separated areas of suitable habitat (6). Furthermore, its listing on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the legal protection it receives in many of its range countries, help mitigate the threat of collection (3).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.


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Diet comprises only vegetable matter.
Hibernation isa winter survival strategy in which the animal passes the winter in a resting state. This period of inactivity is characterised by specific biological and biochemical changes including lowered blood pressure and respiration rate.
To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.


  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2011)
  2. Ernst, C.H., Altenburg, R.G.M. and Barbour, R.W. (1997) Turtles of the World. ETI Information Systems Ltd, Netherlands.
  3. CITES (June, 2008)
  4. Bonin, F., Devaux, B. and Dupré, A. (2006) Turtles of the World. A&C Black Publishers Ltd, London.
  5. Burnie, D. (2001) Animal. Dorling Kindersley, London.
  6. Guyot, G. and Clobert, J. (1997) Conservation measures for a population of Hermann’s tortoise Testudo hermanni in southern France bisected by a major highway. Biological Conservation, 79: 251 - 256.
  7. Village des Tortues – Soptom (July, 2008)

Image credit

Western Hermann's tortoise  
Western Hermann's tortoise

© Mario Schweiger

Mario Schweiger


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