Everything You Need to Know About Hermann’s Tortoises

Hermann’s tortoises are among the most favored tortoise species for keeping as pets, and it’s easy to understand why. They possess a level of individual personality that is quite uncommon among reptiles, often displaying charming and amusing behaviors. 

The Hermann tortoise, scientifically known as Testudo Hermanni and named in honor of the French naturalist Johann Hermann, has maintained its prominent status in the world of reptiles for many years. 

Originating from the rocky hillsides, oak forests, and beech forests of Mediterranean Europe, Hermann’s tortoise, along with the spur-thighed tortoise and the marginated tortoise, belongs to the Mediterranean tortoise group. 

This captivating tortoise, characterized by its yellow and brown shell, robust scales, and sturdy limbs, is highly sought after for its gentle nature and sheer beauty.

Hermann’s Tortoises Profile

Origin: Mediterranean Europe

Scientific Name: Testudo hermanni

Size: 6” for males and 8” for females

Weight: 1.5-2.5kg

Color: Yellow and Brown

Life Span: 50-100 Years


Young tortoises and certain adult individuals showcase striking black and yellow-patterned shells, although as they age, this vibrancy may gradually fade into a more subdued gray, straw, or yellow hue. 

These tortoises feature slightly curved upper jaws and, like all tortoises, lack teeth, relying on robust, horn-like beaks for feeding. Their scaly limbs range from greyish to brown, adorned with some yellow markings, and their tails sport a spur, a horn-like spike, at the tip. 

In particular, adult males are distinguished by their notably long and thick tails, along with well-developed spurs, setting them apart from females.

Habitat for Adult Hermann’s Tortoises

Adult Hermann’s tortoises are not well-suited for indoor environments, so it’s essential to keep this in mind when considering bringing one into your home. 

Outdoor housing is strongly recommended, with the outdoor climate closely resembling that of the Mediterranean region, which includes countries like Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania.

A suitable tortoise habitat should include a shallow water pan (preferably set into the ground) for drinking and cooling off, rocks, small trees, shrubs, and a shelter to provide protection from extreme weather conditions and potential predators. 

Ensuring the enclosure is escape-proof, either through fencing or by burying the sides a couple of feet underground, is crucial since these active tortoises tend to burrow.

If you opt to house your tortoise indoors or need to bring it inside during colder months, it’s essential to provide a relatively spacious enclosure, with a minimum size of 2 feet by 4 feet.

Maintaining a clean enclosure involves promptly removing visible pet waste when observed and changing the water pan daily. Additionally, you should replace the substrate at least once every one to two months to ensure a healthy environment for your tortoise.

Mating Rules

Hermann’s tortoises follow a polygynandrous (promiscuous) mating pattern, where both males and females have multiple partners. 

Females choose mates based on visual and auditory cues, and olfactory cues may also play a role. Males compete for mates by gently biting the female’s legs, but this behavior is less aggressive than in some other tortoise species.

Breeding season occurs in February after hibernation, with nesting from May to July. Females dig nests and lay clutches of 2-12 eggs, sometimes having two clutches in one season. 

The eggs incubate for about 90 days, hatching in mid-August or September. After laying the eggs, the mother provides no care, and hatchlings remain near the nest for 4-5 years for carapace development. 

Behavior and Temperament

The Hermann’s tortoise is generally docile and seldom bites. It typically resorts to biting only when feeling threatened, whether by other tortoises, other pets, or humans. This tortoise tends to avoid handling and prefers to remain securely on the ground.

As an active species, Hermann’s tortoise enjoys activities such as running, digging, foraging, and sunbathing, but it is not inclined to climb. Tortoises often interact with each other and may even engage in combat, particularly during the breeding seasons in spring and fall. 

During courtship, male tortoises may chase and collide with females, sometimes resulting in injuries. It’s advisable to only house males and females together if your intention is to facilitate mating; otherwise, it’s best to keep them in separate enclosures.

Food and Diet

To mimic a tortoise’s natural foraging habits, provide a diet rich in leafy greens and grasses. Complement these greens with smaller portions of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumber, carrots, apples, apricots, grapes, melons, peaches, and strawberries. 

Feed your tortoise once daily at a consistent time, distributing the food across several food trays within its enclosure. Offer an amount that can be consumed within 15 to 30 minutes, roughly equivalent to the size of the tortoise’s shell.

Indoor tortoises may lack direct sunlight, so consider a high-quality tortoise food that includes essential supplements like calcium and vitamin D3 to compensate for this deficiency. While wild tortoises may consume insects, slugs, and carrion, it’s advisable to provide these items in moderation. 

Tortoises are primarily herbivores, so avoid feeding them dog or cat food. Remember to change and clean the water pan daily, replenishing it with filtered water for your pet’s hydration needs

Best Environment for Herman’s Tortoise

Maintaining humidity levels for tortoises is generally not a major concern. In most indoor and outdoor environments, where the humidity naturally reaches at least 25% or higher, the ambient moisture should suffice for your tortoise’s well-being. 

When your tortoise is outdoors, natural sunlight will adequately provide the necessary lighting. For indoor enclosures, it’s essential to install a basking light or heat lamp that closely mimics the sun, accompanied by a designated basking spot, often achieved using a set of low, flat rocks. This basking spot should maintain an ambient temperature of around 95°F (35°C).

Tortoises rely on UVB light to synthesize vitamin D3, a crucial component for calcium absorption, essential for their bone development and growth. If your tortoise resides outdoors, ensure that daytime temperatures consistently hover between 80°F to 86°F (27°C to 30°C) and avoid dropping below 65°F to 70°F (18°C to 21°C) during the night. 

When replicating these conditions in an indoor habitat, appropriate lighting becomes your primary heat source. Whether indoors or outdoors, it’s imperative to provide a cool, shaded area where your tortoise can escape excessive heat. 

Additionally, make sure that the water pan you provide is deep enough for your pet to fully immerse itself if it seeks to cool down.

Health Problems

During the mating season, male turtles can become aggressive toward both other males and females. It’s essential to closely monitor and inspect your tortoises on a daily basis for any signs of injuries. If you notice wounds, it’s crucial to isolate the injured animals. 

Open wounds will need proper cleaning and treatment with antibacterial solutions to prevent infection. If you’re unable to perform this, it’s advisable to seek medical attention from a veterinarian who specializes in exotic animals. Tortoises kept in captivity are also vulnerable to various illnesses, including:

  • Respiratory infections: Typically caused by factors such as inadequate lighting, heating, provision of fresh food, clean water, or environmental stressors. Treatment often involves antibiotics and should be administered by an exotics veterinarian.
  • Metabolic bone disease: This condition arises due to a lack of calcium or difficulties in calcium absorption. It can be effectively prevented by ensuring adequate exposure to full-spectrum lighting or direct sunlight. If necessary, an exotic veterinarian can prescribe a liquid calcium treatment.
  • Cloaca prolapse: Dehydration or the presence of a stone or hardened urate blocking the bladder commonly causes this issue. It requires prompt intervention by a veterinarian to address and resolve the problem.

Frequently Asked Question

  1. How long can a tortoise be upside down?

Tortoises can remain upside down for hours, provided they are not submerged in water. However, it’s essential to inspect their shells for any injuries or blood spots. If your tortoise refuses to eat or displays abnormal behavior for the remainder of the day, it’s advisable to consult a veterinarian to ensure its well-being.

  1. Can I leave my tortoise outside at night?

During the initial years of your tortoise’s life, it is generally advisable, as recommended by experts, to keep your pet indoors for most of the time. You should only bring them outdoors during periods of warm weather. Hatchlings, in particular, are quite susceptible to predators, so it’s crucial not to leave them unattended outside for extended periods or during the night.

  1. How long can a tortoise go without water?

Typically, a healthy tortoise can endure up to a week without water, particularly in a low-humidity environment. However, it’s important to note that tortoises ideally should not go without fresh drinking water for more than two days. Going without water for over 48 hours can pose significant risks to their overall health and well-being.

Murphy Bernier

Murphy Bernier

Murphy Bernier is a New-York based freelance writer, professional blogger and certified dog trainer. She networks shelter pets to help them find homes and volunteers for rescue groups as she is passionate about dog rescue and adoption. From a very early age, she developed extensive animal handling skills from her dad, and that’s where her love for animals started.

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