All About Hermann’s Tortoises


February 15th, 2013

Summary

Testudo hermanni are small to medium sized tortoises that can make charming pets if their care requirements are met. As juveniles they possess attractive yellow and black markings, but these can fade with age. Adult males have a long and thick pointy tail, which helps to distinguish them from females. This species occurs naturally in Mediterranean Europe. Due to habitat destruction and poaching for the pet trade Hermann’s tortoises are (Dec/2012) IUCN Red list category – near threatened (don’t worry, ours are captive bred). Hermann’s tortoises are micro chipped and require specific CITES documentation to be legally kept and sold in the UK, please ask a friendly member of staff for more information regarding this.

Adult size:

  • T. hermanni rarely grow larger than 18 cm (7.5 inches)

Life span:

  • The oldest known Hermann’s tortoise in the UK was over 110 years! This is a rare case, but a happy and healthy Hermann’s tortoise should be expected to live for over 50 years so they are certainly a long term commitment.

Considerations before purchases

  • Who will look after your new pet if you are away?
  • Can you provide fresh food for your pet?
  • Are you prepared to take on an animal that could live for over 50 years?
  • Is the rest of the family happy to live with a tortoise?
  • Can you afford all the equipment necessary to keep your pet happy?
  • Have you done your research on Hermann’s tortoises and their relevant care?

Handling

Tortoises do not generally enjoy being handled. Care should be taken to avoid dropping your tortoise whilst handling. They have very strong legs, so support your tortoise firmly at all times whilst handling. Approximately 10-15 minutes 3-4 times a week is a suitable amount of time for handling, but this may vary depending on the particular tortoise. Do not handle your tortoise for at least 24hrs when you first take them home to allow them to settle in to the new surroundings.

It is important for hygiene reasons to wash your hands with an anti-bacterial hand wash before and after handling your tortoise.

Feeding & Supplements

In their natural habitat there is an abundance of edible low lying shrubs and weeds. These tortoises need to be provided with a diet high in fibre and calcium, but low in protein and carbohydrates. The majority of the diet should be a blend of different dark leafy greens. Ask a friendly member of staff to print you out a list of suitable plants and remember to wash food items thoroughly to remove residues such as fertilisers or pesticides and avoid collecting feedstuffs from areas of potential contamination. You can purchase a food growing kit from Pets Corner, complete with suitable seeds. Shop bought dark greens such as watercress, rocket and kale can be offered sparingly, with fruit such as strawberries and blueberries rarely offered as a very special treat. Legumes such as beans and peas must be avoided as they are high in protein. Avoid feeding commercially prepared dried foods to juveniles, although if moistened these can be given in very small amounts as a treat. Remember that your tortoise is a vegetarian so should never be given any form of meat product. Lightly sprinkle the food with a calcium carbonate supplement such as Calcidust every meal. Also on alternate days the food must be lightly dusted with a vitamin D3 supplement such as Nutrobal. It is also beneficial to offer cuttle bone which not only provides a calcium source, but also helps keep the beak trimmed – Hermann’s tortoises don’t have teeth.

Housing

Originating from Mediterranean Europe, Hermann’s tortoises are not equipped to survive the English seasons outdoors, particularly as juveniles. It is advised that an indoor enclosure such as a tortoise table is the primary housing, with a supervised outdoor run used during the day in warmer weather (above 17˚C) to allow for essential exposure to natural sunlight. The image of a tortoise table below can be used a guide for the layout of these enclosures and may be covered with a safe protective mesh. Please note that as your tortoise grows, the size of the enclosures will need to be increased accordingly. The outdoor enclosure should be planted with suitable food plants and an area of slate tile or concrete provided to help keep the nails trimmed. Don’t forget that access to an area of shelter is always essential. Glass aquarium/ terrarium type enclosures and vivariums are not suitable for Hermann’s tortoises primarily due to inadequate ventilation. Also tortoises are confused by glass panels and try to walk through glass fronted enclosures leading to undue stress. Items of decor must be kept away from the edges of the enclosure as Hermann’s are excellent escape artists.

We recommend: Zoo Med Repti Basking Spot, Zoo Med Repti Basking Spot, Zoo Med Power Sun UV.

Heating

Hermann’s tortoises are cold blooded reptiles, so they rely on the heat from their external surroundings to regulate their body temperature. In order to do this correctly, known as thermoregulation, access to both a “warm” and “cool” area must be provided with a specific temperature gradient. Ideally the “cool” area should be between 15˚C – 22˚C 24hrs a day, room temperature is usually adequate simulation when kept in a tortoise table for this ‘cool’ area to be achieved. Hermann’s tortoises need to be provided with a “warm” basking area between 32˚C – 38˚C during the day. This is can be supplied in the form of a basking spot bulb in a ceramic housing, controlled by a dimming thermostat and monitored with an accurate thermometer.

Remember that any form of heat emitting electrical device should be temperature controlled by a suitable thermostat.

Lighting

In addition to a temperature specific basking site, Hermann’s tortoises require 12hrs per day of exposure to UVB radiation to facilitate dietary calcium absorption. UVB can be provided by fluorescent lighting such as strip lights, or compact bulbs of desert strength – 10.0. If an open topped enclosure such as a tortoise table is used, then it is possible to use a bulb that supplies both the heat and UVB, along with visible light all in one! These self ballasted bulbs, such as the mercury vapour Zoo Med Power sun, cannot be controlled with a thermostat so care must be taken to ensure that the temperature it provides as a basking site is appropriate. We advise using a digital thermometer to monitor the maximum and minimum temperatures available to your tortoise. Always use a suitable housing for heat emitting bulbs, they should be ceramic and rated to at least the wattage of your bulb of choice. Carefully read the manufacturer’s directions on how to mount any light housing and on the suitable distance lights should be mounted from your tortoise. Exposure to UVB radiation is harmful to humans. Please avoid extended skin exposure to the rays and never look directly at the source of light. UVB bulbs have a limited usage life and we recommend replacing them every six to eight months.

Substrate

There is a chance of impaction with any loose substrate. This means that the tortoise can ingest the substrate leading to blockage of the digestive tract. To help prevent the chance of impaction, a fixed substrate such as Cage carpet can be used. To minimise impaction with a loose substrate the food bowl can be placed on a large slate tile, or surrounded by an area of cobble stones to prevent your tortoise dragging substrate into its dinner. At Pets Corner we provide our tortoises with Tortoise life as a substrate. This has been formulated specifically for Mediterranean tortoises and allows them to dig around as they would in the wild. It is also easy to spot clean daily. We feel it is best to provide an area of substrate, often in the sheltered section, that is deep enough for the tortoise to completely bury itself to aid in hydration of the shell and provide security. Approximately once a month, or more often for larger or messy animals, the entire enclosure will need a thorough clean out, washing everything with a reptile safe disinfectant and changing the substrate.

We recommend: Zoo Med Grassland Tortoise Food, Lucky Reptile Dial Thermometer.

Water

A large shallow bowl of clean fresh water must be available at all times and it will need to be large enough for your tortoise to bath in but not so deep as to pose a risk of drowning. The water level should be just deep enough to submerge the plastron (bottom half of shell). Hermann’s tortoises can’t swim so don’t make it too deep! In addition to the water bowl, your tortoise will require a bath at least twice a week in tepid water the same depth as the water bowl for around ten to fifteen minutes. Be careful not to let the water get too cold. Hermann’s tortoises will take in water at both the front and rear during a bath. This helps to keep your tortoise hydrated as well as flush out any wastes such as faecal and uric matter. Don’t be alarmed if your tortoise defecates in the bath. It is also perfectly normal for them to pass a white substance, but this should not be grainy/ sandy in appearance. If you have any questions regarding this please ask a member of staff. You can purchase special water conditioner to add to tap water before use with your tortoise which contains beneficial electrolytes, neutralises harmful chlorine and chloramines as well as binding heavy metals.

We recommend: Zoo Med Reptisafe, Lucky Reptile Dial Thermometer.

Hibernation

Once your Hermann’s tortoise reaches three years of age you will need to research a suitable method of controlled hibernation as this process is essential for long term health. Hibernation can be very safe if undertaken correctly, but complications can occur. Seek advice from a reptile specialist vet and tortoise specialist organisations such as the Tortoise Trust regarding this delicate process. If at any time during their life you notice your tortoise behaving strangely, or you suspect they are unwell, please seek veterinary advice.

Final Remarks

Hermann’s tortoises can make friendly long lived additions to your family if they are provided with their essential care requirements. Pregnant women, young children and people with weakened immune systems should consult a doctor before exposure to any reptile. Please ask a friendly member of staff for advice if you require further information.

Check List

  • Secure enclosure
  • Basking Bulb Heat source
  • Thermostat
  • Thermometer
  • Water bowl
  • Hides
  • Reptile disinfectant
  • Food
  • Substrate
  • Lighting
  • Décor
  • Hand sanitiser
  • Water conditioner
  • Hermann’s book
  • Supplements