Spur-thighed Tortoise

The focus of this caresheet is testudo graeca graeca but before we go in to details of the captive husbandry of this species we are going to outline improtant information within the genre.

The Testudo genre is composed of 5 species:

Testudo graeca (Spur-thighed Tortoise)
Testudo hermani (Hermann's Tortoise)
Testudo marginata (Marginated Tortoise)
Testudo kleinmanni (Egyptian or Kleimann's Tortoise)
Testudo weissingeri (Peloponnese Tortoise)

Testudo horsfieldi is now called Agrionemys horsfieldi and Testudo graeca has numerous subspecies but there is still an open debate regarding subspecies divisions.

The Reptile database describes these divisions as follows:

Testudo graeca graeca
Testudo graeca anamurensis
Testudo graeca armeniaca
Testudo graeca cyrenaica
Testudo graeca ibera
Testudo graeca floweri
Testudo graeca lamberti
Testudo graeca marokkensis
Testudo graeca nikolskii
Testudo graeca pallasi
Testudo graeca soussensis
Testudo graeca terrestris
Testudo graeca zarudnyi

Those maintained frequently in captivity are:

T.g.ibera: Turkey
T.g. graeca: North of Morocco and Algeria, also Spain
T.g. terrestris: Siria and from Turkey to Iraq
T.g. zarudnyi: Iran

During the summer of 2001 some lighter coloured Testudo sp. were being sold in the United States - these were later known as "Golden Greeks". These were thought to be Testudo graeca terrestris that had adapted to sandy environments.

In Spain Testudo sp. are included in the "Catalogo Nacional de Especies Amenazadas" where they are under "Interes especial" (Real decreto (439/1990) - this is the catalogue of endangered species. They are under the Appendix II of CITES and are Annex A under european legislation.

Their shell is brown with black patches and they are oval shaped (Arionemys horsfieldi - previously Testudo horsfieldi is rounder) and the plastron is also brown or dull yellow depending on the species. The black patterns on the plastron are triangular in the larger Testudo marginata. In Testudo graeca there is a single supracudal scute wheras T. hermanni may present with one or divided. T. hermanni has a thickened or cornified tail tip which is another characteristic to differentiate these from T. graeca.

Their thighs have modified scales forming large spurs and their nails are resistant.

Males have a longer and wider tail than females and the anal scutes are wider than in females. males may present with a slightly convex plastron and with the supracudal scutes curved inwards.

Their natural habitat is semi-arid with scarse vegetation composed of low bushes.

CAPTIVE HUSBANDRY

This caresheet is considered for the care of Testudo graeca graeca. Other species or subspecies may require different care and there may be improtant differences ie hibernation necessity.

TERRARIUM

These tortoises may be maintained indoors in a tortoise-table or a well ventilated vivarium if kept in a country where outdoor conditions are not adequate for this species ie the United Kingdom. If the outdoor conditions are adequate then outdoor tortoise pens may be setup ie Mediterranean climate.

A spacious enclosure (an adequate size would be 60x90cm for a hatchling tortoise which would increase with age and size) is recommended with obstacules and hiding places - in the wild they may use pine needles or stones to hide away from predators or to escape cold temperatures or even the mid-day sun.

LIGHTING

Sunlight is an essential growth and survival factor for these toroises, whether as an artificial bulb or bulbs/tubes or natural sunlight which includes the ultraviolet spectrum (UV). UV-A is importanat for identification of prey and natural behaviours, whereas UV-B is important for calcium metabolism.

TEMPERATURE AND HUMIDITY

A Basking spot of 32ºC  (max 36ºC ) should be provided along with a thermal gradient for correct thermoregulation - 20-30ºC would be an adequate gradient. A nightime drop to 18ºC would be a safe temperature.

It is very improtant to determine if your Testudo species actually does and should hibernate as there are species and subspecies that do not!

Testudo graeca are a hibernating species and therefore correct husbandry would include hibernating them every year. If this is not performed during the first 2-3 years, it is important to start doing so after obtaining the correct advice in doing so. Outdoor hibernation in the correct climate is ideal but indoor hibernation in a fridge is best in cold countries due to the fact that every year many tortoises kept in a loft or a garage will become blinded, lose their sense of smell, become very ill or die due to extremely low temperatures and low humidity - a fridge is maintained at 5ºC. In outdoor enclosures in Mediterranean countries rodents, especially rats represent and imprtant threat to hibernating tortoises and the author has seen many cases of rat bite trauma.

FEEDING, SUPPLEMENTATION AND WATER

The diet of Mediterranean tortoises (Testudo sp.) in the wild is composed of a vegetable based diet, including leaves, grasses, flowers and occasionally fallen fruits. Although very rarely they may ingest a protein source, these should be considered herbivores and be fed accordingly in captivity. Diet objective should be high fibre, low in fruits and protein, with an adequate calcium-phosphorous ratio of 1.5-2:1 (Scott, 1996).

Tortoises fed on a high protein diet which may include cat or dog foods or peas and beans will often die from renal failure. Peas and beans also contain phytic acid, which in excess will decrease calcium uptake.

An adequate diet for Testudo sp.:


source: http://www.hollyhousevets.co.uk/

Humidity should be kept low and no daily spraying is required. A water bowl should be present at all times and 1-2 shallow baths per week may prove beneficial.

Supplementation is essential for tortoises kept indoors with a special focus on calcium. Although different calcium salts are available, calcium carbonate is readily available and has an adequate absorption and assimilation. Different vitamin supplements are available but all have variable calcium/phosphorous ratios - Reptivite has a 2:1, whereas Vetark Nutrobal and Arkvits have 46:1 and 30:1 respectively and may be more suitable. Daily supplementation may be necessary in growing animals or reproductively active females, whereas every other day may be more suitable for others.

REPRODUCTION

After hibernation these tortoises will enter breeding season with males obsessed with finding a female, often showing "guarding the perimeter" behaviour. When a male encounters a female they will often bite at their feet or bump in to them constantly prior to mounting the female. It is not unusual to see mele tortoises with their mouths open and producing sounds during copulation, whilst the female maintains her position with side to side movement of her front legs. If multiple males are kept together they may express dominant behaviour mounting one another.

After mating there will be a gestation period of 30 days (this may be much longer) and after laying up to 5-6 eggs and possiby more than one clutch, these eggs will hatch after 8-12 weeks depending on temperature.

FURTHER READING

The British Chelonia Group - http://www.britishcheloniagroup.org.uk/

The Tortoise Trust - http://www.tortoisetrust.org/

The British Association of Tortoise Keepers - http://www.batk.org.uk/rust

World Chelonian Trust - http://www.chelonia.org/

Turtle Survival Alliance - http://www.turtlesurvival.org/

REFERENCES

Scott, P. W. ( 1996). Nutritional Diseases in Reptile Medicine and Surgery. BVZS Proceedings 1996.