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Testudo marginata
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Unique among all tortoises

What mostly distinguishes any tortoise from a Testudo marginata, is the bellmouth that characterizes this species and makes it literally unique. This tortoise reaches the greatest size compared to any other existing Testudo, whose closest relative is, on the other hand, the smallest Mediterranean tortoise: Testudo kleinmanni. These two species derive from a common ancestor, which in turn differentiated from the group of the testudo graeca with which it easily hybridize and whose hybrids are fertile as well. With an average sized carapace of more than 30cm in length and a weight of more than 3kg, this tortoise is equalled only by exceptional specimens of testudo graeca and testudo hermanni boettgeri. Specimens up to 40 cm and more, whose weight exceeds 10 kg, are not uncommon.
Originating from the Greek peninsula, this species is well acclimatized and has sizeable populations also in the neighboring Macedonia and Albania. However,  Sardinia is surely the place where its population is equally large and its average size most generous.

Testudo marginata (Sardinia)
Testudo marginata (Sardinia)

Testudo marginata was introduced in Sardinia probably by Greeks in ancient times or even earlier. Here, this species acclimatized so well that today the island populations appear decidedly numerous, especially in certain areas. The human settlement of the habitat and, above all, uncontrolled and illegal harvesting, as well as the terrible fires that every year burn acres and acres of Mediterranean bush, have significantly reduced the populations size compared to the past. Maier (1994 ) suggests that the Sardinian populations are a subspecies of the Greek nominal species: however,  recent genetic studies seem to contradict this assumption.
What most differentiates the Sardinian Testudo marginata populations from the Greek ones is the larger size and the more domed carapace. Length being equal, the weight of a Sardinian specimen is on average higher than a Greek’s.
Colors are usually brilliant and varied in young animals, while in older specimen they tend to fade. Among these populations, completely melanistic specimens as well as interesting cases of albinism are frequently found. Tm reaches an average size  of 30 cm in length, but specimens up to 40 cm and more are not rare.
This prolific species, can perform up to 4 layings per year from April to the beginning of July, laying 8-12 eggs each. Babies begin to emerge as early as mid August. Compared to Testudo hermanni, this tortoise shows a longer period of activity.
Testudo marginata’s carapace reaches an average size of 15 cm around 5 years of age, and it literally doubles its length between 10-12 years.

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Testudo marginata marginata (weissingeri)
Testudo marginata (weissingeri)

Testudo marginata is regarded as a single species across its distribution area as a whole, even though some Authors recently described at least three subspecies based on certain morphological differences, which later were fully rejected as a result of thorough genetic testing.
It therefore should be noted that in nature each species has populations more or less adapted to a particular climate: as a result, we can observe a significant variability which is not necessarily suggestive of a new subspecies, let alone a new species.
Conversely, it may happen that for evolutionary convergence, new morphologically indistinguishable species are discovered. For this reason, Testudo marginata weissingeri should be  simply considered as a zonal peculiarity of Testudo marginata.
For those who do not have large spaces for specimens that may also become very large, the choice of specimens that remain a little bit smaller, but in optimal conditions may grow much more than they would do in the areas of origin, can certainly allow them to breed also this very nice and peculiar tortoise species.
No differences from Testudo marginata were observed, except for smaller average sizes. Both species show the same reproductive cycle, involving up to 4 layings per year with an average of  8-11 eggs, which are just a little smaller. Under equal incubation conditions, eggs hatch over the same number of days.

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