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Greek Tortoise : 

Testudo graeca

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia :


Spur-thighed tortoise - Greek tortoise (Testudo graeca)

The spur-thighed tortoise or Greek tortoise (Testudo graeca) is one of five species of Mediterranean tortoise (genus Testudo, family Testudinidae). The other four species are theHermann's tortoise (Testudo hermanni), Russian tortoise (Testudo horsfieldii), Egyptian tortoise(Testudo kleinmanni), and marginated tortoise (Testudo marginata).

Spur-thighed tortoise

Distribution :


The spur-thighed tortoise's habitat is North Africa, southern Europe, and southwest Asia. It is prevalent in the Black Sea coast of the Caucasus (from Russia Anapa to Abkhazia Sukhumi to the south), as well as in Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan.


Characteristics :


The Greek tortoise (Testudo graeca ibera) is often confused with Hermann's tortoise (Testudo hermanni). However, notable differences enable them to be distinguished.



Conservation status 

Scientific classification :









Species:T. graeca


Binomial name

Testudo graeca
Linnaeus, 1758

Note allopatric ranges of "Maghreb" (T. g. graeca) and "Greek" (T. g. ibera) populations


T. g. graeca

  • Testudo pusilla Linnaeus, 1758

  • Chersine pusilla Merrem, 1820

  • Testudo mauritanica Duméril & Bibron, 1835

  • Testudo mauritonica Kercado, 1835(ex errore)

  • Testudo whitei Bennett, 1836

  • Peltastes mauritanicus Gray, 1873

  • Testudo graeca graeca Mertens, 1946

  • Testudo gracea Nutaphand, 1979(ex errore)

  • Testudo whitie Highfield & Martin, 1989 (ex errore)

  • Furculachelys whitei Highfield, 1990

  • Testudo graeca sarda Ballasina, 1995 (nomen nudum)

  • Testudo graeca whitei Artner, 1996

T. g. anamurensis

  • Testudo graeca anamurensisWeissinger, 1987

  • Testudo ibera anamurensisHighfield, 1990

  • Testudo terrestris anamurensisDavid, 1994

  • Testudo anamurensis Vetter, 2002

  • Testudo graeca amurensis Ferri, 2002 (ex errore)

T. g. antakyensis

  • Testudo antakyensis Perälä, 1996

  • Testudo graeca antakyensisZwartepoorte, 2000

  • Testudo terrestris antakyensisBour, 2002

  • Testudo ibera antakyensis Artner, 2003

T. g. armeniaca

  • Testudo graeca armeniacaChkhikvadze, 1989 (nomen nudum)

  • Testudo graeca armeniacaChkhikvadze & Bakradze, 1991

  • Testudo graeca armaniacaChkhikvadze & Bakradze, 1991 (ex errore)

  • Testudo armeniaca Vetter, 2002

  • Testudo terrestris armeniaca Bour, 2002

T. g. buxtoni

  • Testudo ecaudata Pallas, 1814

  • Testudo buxtoni Boulenger, 1921

  • Testudo terrestris buxtoni Bour, 2002

  • Testudo ibera buxtoni Artner, 2003

T. g. cyrenaica

  • Testudo graeca cyrenaica Pieh & Perälä, 2002

  • Testudo cyrenaica Vetter, 2002

  • Testudo cyrenaika Stettner, 2004(ex errore)

T. g. floweri

  • Testudo floweri Bodenheimer, 1935

  • Testudo graeca floweri Mertens, 1946

  • Testudo terrestris floweri David, 1994

  • Testudo ibera floweri Artner, 2003

T. g. ibera

  • Testudo ibera Pallas, 1814

  • Chersus iberus Brandt, 1852

  • Testudo iberia Blyth, 1853 (ex errore)

  • Medaestia ibera Wussow, 1916

  • Testudo ibera racovitzai Călinescu, 1931

  • Testudo graeca ibera Mertens, 1946

  • Testudo ibera ibera Gmira, 1993

  • Testudo terrestris ibera David, 1994

T. g. lamberti

  • Testudo graeca lamberti Pieh & Perälä, 2004

  • Testudo lamberti Perälä, 2004

T. g. marokkensis

  • Testudo graeca marokkensis Pieh & Perälä, 2004

  • Testudo marokkensis Perälä, 2004

T. g. nabeulensis

  • Testudo flavominimaralis Highfield & Martin, 1989

  • Furculachelys nabeulensisHighfield, 1990

  • Testudo nabeulensis Welch, 1994

  • Testudo graeca flavominimaralisArtner, 1996

  • Testudo graeca nabeulensisArtner, 1996

T. g. nikolskii

  • Testudo graeca nikolskiiChkhikvadze & Tuniyev, 1986

  • Testudo ibera nikolskii Highfield, 1990

  • Testudo terrestris nikolskii David, 1994

  • Testudo graeca niiolskii Paull, 1997(ex errore)

  • Testudo nikolskii Vetter, 2002

T. g. pallasi

  • Testudo graeca pallasiChkhikvadze, 1989 (nomen nudum)

  • Testudo graeca pallasiChkhikvadze & Bakradze, 2002

  • Testudo pallasi Danilov & Milto, 2004

T. g. perses

  • Testudo perses Perälä, 2002

  • Testudo ibera perses Artner, 2003

T. g. soussensis

  • Testudo graeca soussensis Pieh, 2001

  • Testudo soussensis Vetter, 2002

T. g. terrestris

  • Testudo terrestris Forsskål, 1775

  • Testudo zolhafa Forsskål, 1831(nomen nudum)

  • Testudo zolkafa Forsskål, 1831(nomen nudum)

  • Testudo zohalfa Forsskål, 1835(nomen nudum)

  • Testudo graeca terrestris Wermuth, 1958

  • Testudo terrestris terrestris David, 1994

  • Testudo ibera terrestris Artner, 2003

T. g. zarudnyi

  • Testudo zarudnyi Nikolsky, 1896

  • Testudo graeca zarudnyi Mertens, 1946

  • Testudo ibera zarudnyi Gmira, 1993

  • Testudo terrestris zarudnyi David, 1994


Testudo graeca ibera

Subspecies :


The division of spur-thighed tortoises into subspecies is difficult and confusing. Given the huge range over three continents, the various terrains, climates, and biotopes have produced a huge number of varieties, with new subspecies constantly being discovered. Currently, at least 20 subspecies are published:


  • T. g. graeca (North Africa and South Spain)

  • T. g. soussensis (South Morocco)

  • T. g. marokkensis (North Morocco)

  • T. g. nabeulensis - Tunisian spur-thighed tortoise (Tunisia)

  • T. g. cyrenaica (Libya)

  • T. g. ibera (Turkey)

  • T. g. armeniaca - Armenian tortoise (Armenia)

  • T. g. buxtoni (Caspian Sea)

  • T. g. terrestris (Israel/Lebanon)

  • T. g. zarudnyi (Iran/Azerbaijan)

  • T. g. whitei (Algeria)

This incomplete listing shows the problems in division into subspecies. The differences in form are primarily in size and weight, as well as coloration, which ranges from dark brown to bright yellow, and the types of flecks, ranging from solid colors to many spots. Also, the bending-up of the edges of the carapace ranges from minimal to pronounced. So as not to become lost in the number of subspecies, recently a few tortoises previously classified as Testudo graeca have been assigned to different species, or even different genera. 


The genetic richness of Testudo graeca is also shown in their crossbreeding. Tortoises of different form groups often mate, producing offspring with widely differing shapes and color. Perhaps the best means of identification for the future is simply the place of origin.


The smallest, and perhaps the prettiest, of the subspecies is the Tunisian spur-thighed tortoise. It has a particularly bright and striking coloration. However, these are also the most sensitive tortoises of the species, so they cannot be kept outdoors in temperate climates, as cold and rainy summers quickly cause the animals to become ill. They are also incapable of long hibernation.


At the other extreme, animals from northeastern Turkey are very robust, such as Hermann's tortoise. The largest specimens come from Bulgaria. Specimens of 7 kilograms (15 lb) have been reported. In comparison, the Tunisian tortoise has a maximum weight of 0.7 kg (1.5 lb). Testudo graeca is also closely related to the marginated tortoise (Testudo marginata). The two species can interbreed, producing offspring capable of reproduction.




Males differ from females in six main points. Firstly, they are generally smaller. Their tails are longer and taper to a point evenly, and the cloacal opening is farther from the base of the tail. The underside is somewhat curved, while females have a flat shell on the underside. The rear portion of a male's carapace is wider than it is long. Finally, the posterior plates of the carapace often flange outward.


Mating and reproduction


Immediately after waking from hibernation, the mating instinct starts up. The males follow the females with great interest, encircling them, biting them in the limbs, ramming them, and trying to mount them. During copulation, the male opens his mouth, showing his red tongue and making squeaking sounds.


During mating, the female stands still, bracing herself with her front legs, moving the front part of her body to the left and right in the same rhythm as the male's cries. One successful mating will allow the female to lay eggs multiple times. When breeding in captivity, the pairs of females and males must be kept separate. If multiple males are in a pen, one takes on a dominant role and will try to mate with the other males in the pen. If more males than females are in a pen, the males might kill each other to mate with the female.


One or two weeks before egg-laying, the animals become notably agitated, moving around to smell and dig in the soil, even tasting it, before choosing the ideal spot to lay the eggs. One or two days before egg-laying, the female takes on an aggressive, dominant behavior, mounting another animal as for copulation and making the same squeaking sound the male produces during copulation. The purpose for this behavior is to produce respect in the tortoise community, so that the female will not be disturbed by the others during egg laying. Further details of egg-laying behavior are the same as those detailed for the marginated tortoise.


Trade :


Spur-thighed tortoises are commonly traded as pets, despite the illegality of this trade. In source countries such as Morocco, this can lead to unsustainable removal of wild individuals for local pet trade and for export. There are also welfare concerns with this trade as the animals are not properly housed when being sold. [2]




Tunisian spur-thighed tortoise

Testudo graeca, male 

Testudo graeca, 4 years

T. graeca


T. g. ibera

Greek Tortoise Care Sheet :


 courtesy to : by 



Greek tortoises inhabit a variety of arid habitats in Northern Africa, southwest Asia and southern Europe.

Greek Tortoise (Testudo graeca)


Found in North Africa, southwest Asia and southern Europe, the Greek tortoise inhabits a variety of habitats, including some that are particularly arid: rocky hillsides, Mediterranean scrub, forests, fields and meadows are all occupied by the Greek tortoise subspecies. A highly domed carapace joins the singly hinged plastron by a thick bridge. The coloration ranges from yellow-gold to dark brown or black. Flecks, borders, rays and spots on the shell produce a pattern reminiscent of a Greek mosaic, hence the common name. One to three raised scales, spurs or tubercles are located on either side of the tail, on each thigh (these spurs are the reason for the alternate name, the Mediterranean spur-thigh tortoise). The head is blunt with large eyes and the front legs exhibit large scales and thick, powerful claws. The supracaudal shield just above the tail is undivided.


Several subspecies of the Greek tortoise are recognized, which has enabled a high amount of confusion in regard to proper identification of captive specimens. Familiar forms of the Greek tortoise are:


Ibera Greek tortoise (Testudo graeca ibera)
Libyan Greek tortoise (T. g. cyrenaica)
North African Greek tortoise (T. g. graeca)
“Golden” Greek tortoise (T. graeca ssp.)
Tunisian Greek tortoise (T. g. nabulensis)


Over the last few decades, many Greek tortoises, particularly Ibera and goldens, were imported into the United States for the pet trade. Many of these animals harbored parasites and diseases and, sadly, many did not survive. Those that received medical attention and appropriate care, however, are now thriving in captivity. This founder stock has produced a high number of captive-bred babies, some now grown up and producing offspring of their own, and these USA-born tortoises have proven to be an excellent choice for the reptile keeper. A rather responsive species, the Greek tortoise has gotten rave reviews from those who have attempted to keep it long term, the right way.



Greek Tortoise Availability


Depending on the subspecies, Greek tortoises are readily available. Forms such as the Ibera Greek and now the golden Greek have produced well under captive conditions and healthy hatchlings can be found at reptile expos, pet stores, online dealers and private breeders. Throughout the year, one can usually locate babies available for sale with ease.


Keepers are strongly advised to refrain from buying freshly imported Testudo graeca from the wild; these specimens are brought over in droves and are typically offered for sale in spring and late summer. Only the very experienced tortoise keeper should attempt to take on such a challenge. As always, buy captive bred over wild caught.


Greek Tortoise Size


Depending on the subspecies, Greek tortoises will grow to between 5 and 8 inches. Some examples of T. g. ibera may attain 10 or 11 inches, but this is rare. Male Greek tortoises are usually smaller than females, but again, there are exceptions.
At hatching, most Greek tortoises are no more than an inch in length. They can grow rapidly when overfed and reports of them reaching 4 inches in less than two years is common, but not recommended.


Greek Tortoise Life Span


Testudo graeca subspecies are known to be some of the longest lived of the tortoises. Reports suggest well into the 100s. In the wild, many do not live past the age of 20 due to predation and other factors. When kept safe and under optimum conditions, Greek tortoises thrive and can live to a ripe old age. Some have outlived their keepers.


Greek Tortoise Housing


Housing Greek tortoises outdoors in a naturalistic pen is always best. During the warmer part of the year, they can be kept in spacious enclosures that are well planted with edible vegetation and receive plenty of time in natural, full sun.
Indoors, the construction of a “tortoise table” will suit the needs of Greek tortoises well. A 3-by-6-foot unit made of ply wood will suffice for a single adult and up to a pair of adults. Wood is always recommended over plastic or glass so that the tortoises cannot see through their enclosure’s walls. This way they will learn their boundaries and it will lessen their attempts to escape.



Although they don’t get as large as other tortoises, Greek tortoises still need ample space, especially if they’re being kept indoors.


Lighting, Temperature and Humidity:


As always, natural sunlight should be utilized whenever possible and the tortoises fully benefit in many ways from being exposed to it. When housing them inside, proper lighting is essential for keeping them healthy. Many options are available, such as daylight spot bulbs, infrared heat bulbs and fluorescent tube lighting.
Mercury vapor bulbs, which provide both UVA and UVB, are a personal favorite of mine. A 100- to 150-watt mercury vapor bulb installed above one end of the indoor tortoise enclosure creates a perfect basking area. It also lights up the enclosure nicely.
The opposite end should remain cool.


You can also use a regular incandescent spot light for the basking area, so long as it reaches a temperature of 95 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. In this case, a fluorescent UVB-emitting bulb will need to be installed as well. The ambient room temperature where your indoor tortoise enclosure is located should remain between 75 and 85 degrees.


When raising hatchlings, a humidity level of between 65 and 70 percent is appropriate. This can be achieved by spraying down the enclosure every other day with warm water. A water dish in combination with a substrate that retains humidity (see following substrate section) will do the trick, as well. By keeping baby Greek tortoises well hydrated and at a sufficient humidity level, they will grow smoothly and retain a good weight.


Greek Tortoise Substrate


The three best substrates for housing Greek tortoises indoors are cypress mulch, aspen shavings, or a 50/50 mix of top soil and play sand. When using aspen it is very important to make sure the tortoises stay hydrated because it tends to be very dry. Rabbit pellets are OK, but they do not retain humidity well and mold will grow quickly in soiled areas. Cedar and pine beddings absolutely must be avoided, as they are toxic to tortoises.



Hatchling Greek tortoises that are kept well-hydrated and maintained at the proper humidity levels should grow into healthy adults.

Greek Tortoise Food


Greek tortoises spend much of their time gazing on edible landscape. For this reason, it is an excellent and healthy idea to offer weeds such as dandelion, clover, plantain, hawksbit, cat’s ear, wild strawberry and thistle. When these items are not available (often during the winter months), they can be replaced by dried, bagged organic herbs. These can be found online.


Store-bought greens such as collard, mustard, kale and turnip can be offered sparingly. Commercial diets such as Mazuri Tortoise Diet are excellent for helping Greek tortoises to maintain good weight, but again, should be offered only in moderation. Calcium supplements in the form of cuttlebone are wonderful additions to their diet; the tortoises will gladly nibble on them.


Greek Tortoise Water:


Many Greek tortoises originate from extremely arid habitats while others are found in more temperate locations. Regardless of their origin, all Greek tortoises need to stay hydrated. A shallow water dish should be available at all times for drinking and soaking, and it should be cleaned/changed frequently. Tortoises defecate in their water, so keeping the supply clean is a must. Greek tortoises also appreciate an occasional misting of their environment, which prompts them to empty their bowels and drink.


Greek Tortoise Handling and Temperament:


Similar to most turtles and tortoises, Greek tortoises do not like to be held. They should be picked up only when absolutely necessary, such as prior to being soaked, cleaning of the enclosure and health checks. While they tend to become very responsive to their keepers and will approach for food, they should not be over-handled by any means.
Greek tortoises are easy-going, friendly and interactive, but like all reptiles, they should never be overly stressed.


Greek Tortoise Breeding :


Male Greek tortoises will exhibit the classic behavior of “shell ramming,” in that they use their carapaces to slam into the females in order to coax them into breeding. Once the female submits to the male’s advances (he will also viciously bite at her legs and face) he will mount her from behind and begin copulation. A series of high-pitched squeaks will emanate from the male’s mouth as he sticks out his tongue during copulation.

While mating, male Greek tortoises will stick their tongues out and make high-pitched squeaking sounds.


This act of courtship generally takes place in April and May, with egg-laying commencing in June. The female digs a 4- to 7-inch long, flask-shaped nesting chamber with her hind legs before depositing three to six eggs (sometimes more, depending on the subspecies). She then covers the nest and leaves the eggs to hatch on their own.


I prefer to dig up the eggs to incubate them artificially. They are placed in closed deli cup containers on slightly moistened vermiculite and incubated at 84 to 88 degrees. Higher temperatures will result in females; the lower, males.


After 55 to 70 days, the baby tortoises will hatch. I leave them inside the egg containers inside the incubator until their yolk sacs have been absorbed. Then they are placed in rearing enclosures for the first few years of life, before being moved to the larger enclosures where the adults are kept.




As studbook coordinator for the North American Regional Studbook for the Western Hermann’s tortoise (Testudo hermanni hermanni), Chris Leone is no stranger to Mediterranean tortoises and their care. He has kept and worked with numerous species such as Greek, Egyptian, marginated and Hermann’s tortoises. Visit his websites at and

Videos on Greek Tortoises care :

Greek tortoise Care

The care and tank setup for a Greek Tortoise

Animal of the Week - Golden Greek Tortoise

Greek Tortoises: The Pet For You!

Tortoises  -  Introduction Care and breeding - General information   PART one   ..  PART two 

                      -   Species List :                        

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