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Testudo graeca is a taxon featuring great variability

According to the current knowledge and the most recent molecular studies, there is not a clear and fully shared classification concerning testudo graeca. This taxon is widespread from Asia Minor to the East, up to the south to the Atlas Mountains to the west, the African far west. Two main groups are easily recognizable: African and non-African (Europe and Asia Minor). Among these we may identify, in turn, more or less accepted spin-offs, from time to time revised or combined. In a nutshell, we may say that most Authors recognize 5 African and 5 non-African subspecies. However, the future may have in store more surprises and significant changes.
Testudo graeca ibera
Testudo graeca ibera


Testudo graeca Ibera (Tgi) is certainly the most widespread subspecies of Testudo graeca’s Eurasian group. It is also the one showing the greatest morphological variability: Balkan populations are smaller in size while Turkish are larger. Male specimens show an aggressive behavior toward females and both sexes have a remarkable propensity for hibernation. Adulthood is not reached before the tenth year of life. From that moment onwards, females lay, on average, 6-9 large-sized eggs three times a year with incubation times significantly longer compared to other Testudo (approx. 10 days) and with an average temperature fluctuating between 29 ° C - 32 ° C . In general, tortoise lovers have a bad opinion of Testudo graeca, because they claim that this species is a Testudo herpes virus carrier. What we know for sure is that Tg species is herpes virus–resistant, suggesting that this pathogen has probably evolved in this group of Testudo. However, the spread of this terrible disease is only due to the promiscuous conditions in which these animals are often kept by their breeders. Such conditions promote debilitation and stress that boost  virus replication, which, like any other herpes virus, is encysted in the host where remains for lifetime. For this reason (this recommendation applies to all tortoises species), it is never advisable to cross-breed different species and subspecies: this precaution, in association with simple hygienic standards, is enough to ensure that no problems will arise in future. Since there is no evidence that the virus is transmitted through the eggs, we should simply prevent babies from coming into contact with adult specimens whose origins are unknown.
Testudo graeca Iberia is more sociable and less fearful, I would dare to say almost “exuberant”, towards humans: in my opinion, it is certainly the “most intelligent, tameable and nicest" Testudo species.




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Testudo graeca terrestris
Testudo graeca terrestris

These are very special tortoises! You are surely wondering what distinguishes them from any other Mediterranean Testudo described here. All and nothing.  Actually, they differ from any other Testudo species for their extremely variable colors, ranging from almost completely yellow (golden Greek), to black through infinite shades of brown, pink, yellow, blue. Babies, with their bright orange, brick red and gray/blue colors are true eye-catchers. Yes, they are even blue: I could not believe my eyes when I saw them for the first time, when they emerged from the egg shell!
I waited some time before writing this description, because I wanted to deepen my breeding experience first. Now I can say that this is an easy turtle to breed if you have a large, cold greenhouse. In the greenhouse, the tortoises will not be affected by extreme and sudden thermal changes between day and night. Besides, these conditions will allow a life cycle imitating that of their areas of origin during the coldest and most rainy months in Italy. From May to September they can safely live in the outdoors.
Under these conditions, the hibernation begins in late November and ends in mid or late February, when the tortoises begin to eat and the males actively start mating. Within the first decade of April, the laying begins with 3 - 5 eggs each. This species can lay, at about 3 weeks intervals, even 3 or 4 laying during one season, with a maximum of 12-13 eggs per year. We should bear in mind that these animals’ carapace barely reach 20 cm (females) and 13-14 cm (males) in length, respectively. Therefore, we can say that these tortoises are small enough to adapt to quite extreme climate conditions.
Their reproductive behavior is similar to other Testudos’, with an incubation period that may vary from 70 to 90 days at 29°C - 32°C.
Due to past indiscriminate collections from their places of origin and to the fact that these animals have not survived except for few specimens, imports from their places of origin - some of which are currently in a state of war (Syria) - are no longer allowed in Europe. Therefore, breeding and reproduction of animals that are kept in private collections plays a crucial role.
In conclusion, this is an extremely interesting, uncommon species, which however requires certain breeding precautions that are not suited to everyone.





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Testudo graeca graeca
Testudo graeca graeca


The taxon of African testudo graeca is currently much discussed and probably additional in-depth studies will follow in order to have an exact idea of its actual structure. Except for the isolated testudo graeca Cyrenaica that lives in the homonymous Cyrenaica peninsula in Libyan territory, all other populations succeed one another in a fairly constant fashion up to reach, from Tunisia through Algeria, the coasts and the Atlas Mountains to the south/west of Morocco. Isolated populations ascribable to this taxon are then found in central-western Sardinia and in Spain but not further to the north: this is a clear sign of adaptation to particularly hot climates with winters decidedly mild. Specimens are generally small or medium-sized, well below  20cm, even though very large specimens of alleged Algerian origin were found, even in Sardinia. Their reproductive behavior is quite similar to any other Testudo’s, just as happens with testudo graeca terrestris that lives in very similar climates. In the same conditions, the incubation period, on average, is longer. Babies, difficult to breed and very sensitive to housing conditions, grow quickly and reach adult size even before 10 years of age. Some subspecies go into hibernation, although shorter, since in nature they are unlikely to experience more than one or two months of harsh climate.
These are not animals easy to breed and require solutions which are poorly suited to the proper climate, more temperate and rainy, on Mediterranean northern shores.





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Testudo graeca nabeulensis
Testudo graeca nabeulensis


One of the officially recognized subspecies, testudo graeca nabeulensis, is generally located in Tunisia. Due to its peculiar shape and color, in addition to the generally smaller size compared to Northern Africans, this tortoise is quite easy to identify. However, the variability that distinguishes it, depending on the particular place of origin, sometimes makes this task pretty hard. This species is difficult to breed outside of its habitat as it easily falls ill. Babies are even more delicate and mortality is very high. Personally I have observed in some markets, including that of Nabeul, a huge number of stalls where specimens of all ages were on sale, especially babies or very young animals. I think that they need a warm and dry climate for most of the year, otherwise I could not explain the vitality those specimens showed. Although I am aware that any dead animal could be readily replaced, all the specimens I observed were apparently healthy and happily eating, barely shaded by large awnings, seemingly indifferent to the unbearable heat. None of the Testudo living along  the north Mediterranean coast would have survived those extreme climate conditions, let alone eating: they would rather escape, looking for an adequate shelter from the heat. The number of annual layings and eggs is similar to Testudo hermanni hermanni’s.
Sardinian populations are generally believed to be of Tunisian origins, although, on average, they appear larger and with a more variable morphology.
It is worth mentioning a large-sized, well-known population where some females’ carapace can reach and exceed 30cm in length.





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