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Testudo hermanni
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Testudo hermanni    Testudo marginata   Testudo graeca   Color variants   Hybrids
    
Testudo hermanni is a sufficiently homogeneous subspecies’ group

 
Testudo hermanni is generally considered as a species consisting of two subspecies: the western, ie the nominal Hermanni, and the eastern, the so-called Boettgeri. However, some studies and observations consider the population dwelling along the northern Adriatic coast as a species in itself, called Hercegovinensis. More investigations are needed to clarify the actual situation of this taxon.
As regards natural populations’ consistency and health, the western subspecies is certainly the one most at risk, as today inhabits very restricted small areas where anthropogenic pressure is particularly intense. Conversely, eastern subspecies has considerable populations and certainly a much less difficult situation.  
Testudo hermanni hermanni is a pretty small tortoise: adult males’ carapace length ranges from 11cm - on average 12-14cm - to 16-17cm: the latter size may be found among Sicily and Sardinia dwellers. A certain variability may be observed even in females, with the largest carapace size reaching 22-24cm: however, its size usually averages between 14cm and 17cm in length.
Testudo hermanni boettgeri usually features a more generous size and in some areas the adult males’ carapace reaches 20cm in length while females’ average length ranges from 16cm to 24cm, although they may show even a 30cm carapace.
Testudo hercegovinensis is a rather small tortoise, somehow very similar to Testudo hermanni hermanni, with a morphology similar to the latter for some traits and to Testudo hermanni boettgeri for others.
Testudo hermanni hermanni (Tuscany)
Testudo hermanni hermanni (Tuscany)


In Tuscany, Testudo hermanni is well acclimatized and succesfully breeds even at the foot of the Apennines. Typically, it is not a very prolific species, as, in general, it lays 2-6 eggs (usually 3 – 5) not more than twice per year, in May and June. The time lapse between the first and the second laying is, on average, 3 or 4 weeks, depending on the climatic conditions. In natural conditions, the newborns begin to emerge from their nests after mid-August until the first days of October, usually after rainy events.
In nature, the sex ratio seems to be well equipoised between males and females, as their number is almost equivalent. Depending on the areas of origin, the carapace can be more or less elongated and/or flattened. This tortoise usually has a moderately convex appearance and its color varies from almost completely black to mostly light colors: however, its shades are vibrant with a sharp contrast between black and yellow, which oftend tends to orange.
Experience has taught me that tortoises reach adulthood when they are 10 years old, but specimens starting their reproductive cycle by the eighth year of life are not uncommon.
Babies’ growth is fairly constant: their carapace reaches 10 cm in length around 5-6 years followed by a period of rapid growth that leads them to achieve the adult size of 15-16 cm for females and 12-14 cm for males within 3-4 years. Obviously, as it occurs with any reptiles, the growth process never stops completely and continues throughout the animal’s life.
Very rare cases of albinism may be observed as well.





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Testudo hermanni hermanni (Sardegna)
Testudo hermanni hermanni (Sardinia)


    
In Sardinia, large populations of Testudo hermanni hermanni dwell especially along the eastern/south-central coast and on the north-western side of the island. As happens with  other Italian populations, they suffer the consequences of their settlement areas’ anthropization, but especially of the damages due to devastating arson fires that every year burn up acres and acres of Mediterranean bush.
The presence of this species in Sardinia and Corsica dates back to very ancient times and fossils traces, which were unmistakably attributed to Testudo hermanni, even date back to Pleistocene era. Some researchers, however, claim that this tortoise species is definitely extinct and that the current populations originate from specimens artificially introduced by man. Personally, I believe that we cannot demonstrate the latter hypothesis on reasonable grounds.
This tortoise typically 4-8 eggs (usually 4-6) 2-4 times a year, from April to June. The time lapse between a laying and the next is 3 weeks on average, depending on the climatic conditions. The newborns begin to emerge after mid-August, usually following rainy events.
The carapace is usually less rounded compared to other Testudo hermanni hermanni peninsular populations and features a greenish color. Adulthood is usually reached before 10 years of age: the beabies’ growth is in fact quite vigorous compared to Western conspecifics as their carapace reaches 10 cm in length around 3-4 years. Their average adult size is even larger, averaging 18-20 cm. My personal observations highlighted another difference compared to other western populations, i.e. different temperatures influence gender determination.

 




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Testudo hermanni hermanni (Puglia)
Testudo hermanni hermanni (Apulia)


This species is currently widespread in Puglia and Basilicata. They say that in the innermost regions quite small-sized specimens are found, with females’ carapace barely reaching 13cm in length and even smaller males. However, no studies or publications have investigated these populations yet. In general, it can be said that Puglia specimens are smaller compared to islanders, being comparable to those living on the Tyrrhenian coast, which they are quite similar to, even morphologically. All this is in accordance with the most recent molecular investigations suggesting a certain uniformity between all peninsular populations of Testudo hermanni hermanni. Indeed, small variations in color and size are often more attributable to an adaptation to the environment than to something else.
As to reproduction, no differences were detected compared to other Thh, both in number of laying (usually 2 or 3 per year) and eggs (3 - 5 each) and there are no significant differences even with Tyrrhenian populations.
Color variations is then the peculiarity that stands out in these populations, featuring extremely soft  black pattern, with a clear recessive homozygosity for the trait. As there are no studies on this topic as well as on other Testudo species or subspecies, this phenomenon has not been yet classified with certainty.





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Testudo hermanni boettgeri
Testudo hermanni boettgeri


Testudo hermanni boettgeri is widely distributed within an area bounded to Bosnia and Herzegovina to the north, Greece to the south and Romania to the east. Populations attributable with certainty to this subspecies are found also in Italy, along the Adriatic coast up to Bosco della Mesola. Testudo hermanni boettgeri probably used a greater number of glacial shelters compared to Testudo hermanni hermanni, which explains the major morphometric colors pattern differences observed among the populations. These differences are even genetically observable: in fact, while the western subspecies shows little or no differences even between very distant populations, these are certainly more pronounced among the different populations dwelling within the distribution area of boettgeri Testudo hermanni, living even in restricted areas.
Populations certainly belonging both morphologically and genetically to Testudo hermanni boettgeri subspecies, are very prolific compared to western subspecies. More than 12 eggs are laid per laying (usually 6 – 9), even three times a year from May to July. On average, egg hatching times are lower compared to Testudo hermanni hermanni’s in the same monitored incubation conditions (3-4 days). In nature, newborns begin to emerge as early as mid-August, usually in September. Babies vigorously grow, and, under optimal conditions, they reach the average adult size even before 10 years of age.
Testudo hermanni boettgeri is usually more adaptable to different climatic conditions compared  to western subspecies and get very easily acquainted with humans.
In different breedings some albino variants were selected, in addition to color variants without or barely with black spots, or sporadic leucism cases.





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Testudo hercegovinensis
Testudo hercegovinensis


In the past, these specimens were considered as Testudo hermanni boettgeri (THB): however, recent genetic studies have shown a significant difference, so as to consider Testudo hercegovinensis as a species in itself. An attentive observer can immediately notice the different characteristics compared to THB, ie smaller size - usually females’ carapace does not exceed 15-17cm in length and males’ 13-14 cm - a typical livery, especially in newborns upon hatching, and the nearly total absence of inguinal scales. Behavior and biology are similar to other Testudo hermanni’s, and the distribution area is the same. Finally, I myself observed a few peculiarities. Among these, I have noticed that, on average, eggs are very large and their number varies from 2 to 5 per laying, which, just as happens with Testudo hermanni hermanni (Thh) and Thb, may occur three times a year. While the average number of eggs is similar to Thh’s, sizes are generally more generous and similar to thb’s. Most likely, this is a species which has been preserved in a glacial shelter different from THH and Thb’s and for evolutionary convergence it is very close in size and livery to other Th’s subspecies. Incubation times are equal to THB’a and lower than THH’s, on average even 4-6gg. This is a convergent species that until now, as already mentioned, has always been identified as a Thb population, just smaller in size. Their colors do not feature a bright and vibrant background like Thh, but certainly the blacks and part of the patterns remind them more than Thb.





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