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For tortoise, terrapin and turtle care and conservation

Care of THE SPUR-THIGHED TORTOISE (Testudo graeca)

HABITAT: In areas with hot summers, moist or dry areas, hillsides and light woodland. 

SUBSPECIES: Four subspecies are recognised with two others now being accepted. 

1. The Mediterranean Spur-thighed Tortoise (Testudo graeca graeca)

Spur Thighed

RANGE: Spain, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. 

2. The Asia Minor Spur-thighed Tortoise (Testudo graeca ibera)

Asia Minor Spur-thighed Tortoise

RANGE: Central Balkans to the Black Sea, Turkey, USSR to Iran. 

3. The Middle Eastern Spur-thighed Tortoise (Testudo graeca terrestris

RANGE: Syria, Israel, Sinai. 

4. The Iranian Spur-thighed Tortoise (Testudo graeca zarudnyi)

RANGE: Occurring in eastern and southern Iran.

Two others are mentioned in J.B.Iverson's "A Revised Checklist with Distribution Maps of the Turtles of the World" (1992): The Anamurum Spur-thighed Tortoise (T.g.anamurensis) from the South Coast of Turkey and Nikolsky's Spur-thighed Tortoise (T.G.nikolski) from the northwestern Caucasus region of the USSR.

FEATURES: The Spur-thighed Tortoise has a small spur on each thigh and a single supracaudal plate. There is rather coarse scaling on the front of the fore-legs. Colour is variable from yellow to orange, brown and black and, like the carapace length, varies according to subspecies*. Females display a moveable hinge on the plastron facilitating egg laying. Eggs hatch in 78-81 days. * The Middle Eastern Spur-thighed Tortoise (T.g.terrestris) is the smallest, highly domed, with yellow cheeks and a yellow blotch on the top of its head. It has a pattern of dark blotches on a dark yellow background on every scute. It resembles the second smallest, the Mediterranean Spur-thighed Tortoise (T.g.graeca) from Tunisia and Morocco;(the Algerian type is lighter coloured and displays a pattern of dark lines on a grey-sandy background). The Iranian Spur-thighed Tortoise (T.g.zarudnyi) is the second largest animal and mainly black with a rather rounded carapace, a black head and black scaled limbs. The largest is the Asia Minor Spur-thighed Tortoise (T.g.ibera); it can reach a carapace length of 25cm or more and its carapace is more elongated than its Iranian cousin; the scutes have black blotches on a yellow background and usually both head and limbs are yellow.

FEEDING: In captivity the animals learn to accept most fruits and vegetables although all of them have their own idiosyncrasies. Care must be taken that a good mixture of food is offered as well as a vitamin and mineral supplement giving a balanced intake. Provide a greenhouse or indoor facility with heatlamps during the colder spells of the summer and in spring and autumn. The animal can successfully be hibernated. The Spur-thighed Tortoise is treated according to Appendix 1 of CITES. It is estimated that the total number of Mediterranean tortoises imported into Britain from the 1890's, when the trade commenced, until 1984, when it was stopped, has exceeded ten million animals. An estimated 67% of the animals came from or via Morocco and concerned the Mediterranean Spur-thighed Tortoise (Testudo graeca graeca). Obviously, animals were rounded up from all over the country, including neighbouring countries like Algeria and Egypt. After the Second World War, when stocks in northern Africa were dwindling, the hardier East European tortoises began to be imported; amongst them the Hermann's Tortoise from what was then Jugoslavia. In 1984 a ban was imposed. It was agreed with the EEC Council to treat three species of tortoise, the Spur-thighed Tortoise (Testudo graeca), the Hermann's Tortoise (Testudo hermanni), and the Marginated Tortoise (Testudo marginata) according to Appendix 1 of the Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). This meant the animals were completely protected and commercial trade strictly prohibited. Unfortunately, a consumer demand had been created and after the ban was imposed on the Mediterranean tortoises in 1984, consignments of tropical tortoises began to arrive in Britain; animals even more unsuitable to the British climate than their temperate cousins of the Mediterranean. From the USA the American Box Turtles suddenly appeared; small swamp dwellers prone to pneumonia and ear infections. From South America members of the Geochelone families could be found n pet shops and from eastern Africa the Leopard and Pancake Tortoises entered. It should be pointed out that the first step to good husbandry of these animals is separating the various species from different continents so as to avoid cross infections; also hibernators and non-hibernators should never be kept together.

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