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Greek Tortoise Care Sheet

Scientific Facts

Common Name:Greek Tortoise, spur-thighed tortoise
Scientific Name:Testudo graeca
Life Span:125 years +++
Size:5 to 8 inches in size, 15 + pounds in weight
Habitat:Rocky hillsides, Mediterranean scrub, fields, forests, and meadows
Country of Origin:North Africa, southern Europe, and southwest Asia

Physical Description

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The Greek tortoise is a tortoise in the family Testudinidae and is one of the five species of tortoises found in the Mediterranean areas. This is a very long-lived animal with a lifespan of up to 125 years or more. There are even reports of Greek tortoise species that are more than 200 years of age. 

Often, the Greek tortoise is confused with Hermann’s tortoise, but there are very notable differences. Let’s first focus on the physical characteristics of the Greek tortoise. 

The Greek tortoise has a highly-domed shell that has a single plastron and a thick bridge. There are different colors of this species, and it ranges from a lovely yellow-gold to a cool dark brown or black. There are spots and rays found on the shell, and this creates a similar pattern to a Greek mosaic tile and hence, its name.

The head of this tortoise is blunt with pretty large eyes with the front legs having large scales and thick claws. These powerful claws can easily catch prey in the water, or the tortoise can use this to move about easily. Meanwhile, the supracaudal shield located just above the tail remains undivided. 

Comparing a Greek tortoise with a Hermann’s tortoise

To avoid confusion and to easily identify each species, it’s important to discuss the very obvious difference between a Greek tortoise and Hermann’s tortoise. 

The Greek tortoise has large, asymmetrical marks found at the top of the head while Hermann’s tortoise only has small scales on its head. The Greek tortoise has large scales on its front legs, large spurs on each thigh, and an undivided carapace on the tail. Hermann’s tortoises have small scales on their front legs, no spurs on the legs, and have divided carapace near the tail.

The size of the shells is different too. Greek tortoises have an oblong shape while the other has an oval shell. On the underside, the Greek tortoise has one dark central fleck while the other has two black bands located on its underside. Hermann’s turtle has a tail spur at the tip.

Subspecies

The Greek tortoise subspecies spans a wide range of locations over three continents. These subspecies differ in living environments, climates, terrains, and biotypes. Until now, more tortoise subspecies are being discovered, and twenty are known and published:

  • T. g. graeca from North Africa and South Spain
  • T. g. soussensis from South Morocco
  • T. g. marokkensis from North Morocco
  • T. g. nabeulensis or the Tunisian tortoise from Tunisia
  • T. g. Cyrenaica from Libya
  • T. g. ibera from Turkey
  • T. g. armeniaca or the Armenian tortoise from Armenia
  • T. g. buxtoni from the Caspian Sea
  • T. g. terrestris from Israel/Lebanon
  • T. g. zarudnyl from Iran/Azerbaijan
  • T. g. whitei from Algeria
  • T. g. floweri from Jordan

This is an incomplete list of subspecies of the Greek tortoise. These subspecies differ in size, weight, and coloration. Colors range from dark brown to bright yellow with all shapes and sizes of flecks and marks. The shell’s bending up along the edges can also range from minimal bending to more pronounced bending.

This variety of subspecies of the Greek tortoise is seen in its crossbreeding. Tortoises from different groups come together and mate, and therefore, this produces babies with different shapes, colors, and traits. And according to experts, the best way to identify tortoise species is to simply refer to its place of origin.  

The smallest and the loveliest of all the Greek tortoise subspecies is the one from Tunisia. This tortoise has a bright coloration. However, it is one of the most sensitive and cannot be placed outdoors in areas where there are temperate conditions. Cold and rainy conditions can make this tortoise sick. The Tunisian tortoise cannot hibernate for a very long time. And when it comes to the most robust, the tortoise from Turkey or Hermann’s tortoise is the winner.  

Life Span

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The Greek tortoise is one of the longest-lived reptiles with some species living up to 100 years or more, especially when kept in captivity. But in the wild, this turtle cannot live past 20 years because of predation and other environmental factors. But when kept in an environment with the best conditions, Greek tortoises can even outlive their owners. 

The Greek Tortoise is traded as a pet in many countries. Despite being illegal, it is still being sold from Morocco and Spain. This indiscriminate trade has led to the unsustainable removal of wild tortoises for export. 

Many animal welfare groups are concerned that traders do not provide appropriate housing for turtles as they are transported and sold. Because of these, an increased mortality rate among captive Greek tortoises has been reported. At present, the IUCN has declared the Greek tortoise as a vulnerable species. 

Greek Tortoise have three stages of development: hatchlings, juveniles, and adults 

1) Hatchlings

Baby tortoises hatch after 55 to 70 days. These look very cute and have colors that range from golden yellow, light brown to dark brown. The shells are large and oval, the small legs and hands have noticeable claws while the head is round and flat. Hatchlings are small, and you can fit three baby Greek tortoises in one hand. These may already start to eat fruits, veggies, and herbs.

2) Juveniles

Juvenile Greek tortoises look very much like their parents, only a slight difference in size. The shells are larger; therefore, the head and legs may now fit inside the shell even further. The color is darker than a hatchling and is almost the same as its mother and father.

3) Adults

Adult males and females develop fast, and soon, the two genders can be easily distinguished. Males are smaller, their tails are longer and may taper to a point. The cloacal opening of males is farther from the tail while its underside is curved. Female Greek tortoises have flat shells on its underside. The rear of the carapace is wider and longer. The carapace ends may flange outward, which may help during mating. 

Eating Habits

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Greek tortoises spend a lot of time grazing, and this means that you must include weeds like dandelions, plantains, clover, wild strawberry, thistle, and cat’s ear in its diet. If these plants are not available, you can offer organic herbs, which may be purchased from online pet supplies stores. 

You may also feed your turtle supermarket-bought food such as kale, turnip, mustard, collards, and other fruits. Do not overfeed a pet Greek tortoise because a healthy weight is a key to a longer life.  

Sleeping Habits

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Depending on where the Greek tortoise species originated from, it can sleep during the day or be active during the daytime. Those that live in areas where there is more sunlight tend to stay active in the morning and sleep during nighttime. 

But for those who live in areas where it’s cold most hours of the day, the tortoise may sleep more than usual. Greek Tortoise will sleep in the daytime or during the evenings. Mostly, tortoises sleep after eating; these will find a comfortable spot and sleep. But in the wild, it is common to see Greek tortoises resting the same spot together.

Water

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Greek Tortoises live on the land where it can eat, forage and mate. It can wade in shallow water where it can nibble on aquatic plants. If you were to keep a Greek Tortoise in captivity, consider an enclosure with a dish or tray of water where it can drink and just play in the water.

The water inside a turtle’s tank also helps improve humidity inside the enclosure. But you need to keep this water clean and fresh to avoid bacterial growth inside the tortoise tank.

Development and Reproduction

After a Greek tortoise wakes up from hibernation, its urge to mate starts. When a male sees a female, it becomes very interesting. They will show their interest by following females everywhere. A male may also bite the foot or hand, ram their bodies to the body of the female and try to mount them. These movements are known to stimulate the female. 

During the act of copulation, the male will open his mouth and take his red tongue out. He will make squeaking sounds as they mate. The female, on the other hand, will remain still and use her hind legs to brace herself. She will move her body to the right or left as the male moves and cries. 

One successful mating will make the female lay eggs even multiple times. When you are breeding Greek tortoises in captivity, pairs of male and female tortoises must be kept separate; otherwise, the females will continue laying eggs and waste nutrients. If multiple males are in a tank, one male will dominate and will mate with other males inside the enclosure. And if there are more males than females inside the pen, the males can fight each other just to mate with the female. 

Around one or two weeks before the female lays eggs, she will become very agitated and will move around the tank to smell and try to dig in the soil. The female may also become so aggressive and dominant and will mount other animals to copulate. She may mimic the male and have the same squeaking sound that they make during copulation. 

Experts say that the female does this behavior so she can earn respect in the community and protect herself as she lays eggs. She will lay six eggs that are up to 7-inches long. Because of the shape of the eggs, she makes a flask-shaped nest using her hind legs. She may lay more eggs depending on the tortoise’s subspecies. After all the eggs are deposited in the shell, she will cover it with leaves. The eggs will hatch on their own. 

How to Breed

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To breed Greek tortoises, you must start by establishing your tortoises inside their breeding pens. These will need time to settle and adjust before these will breed and lay eggs. Most Greek tortoises will even need a year to adjust to a new home and set their hierarchies. So for the best chance of breeding success, leave the females and males inside their pens for at least a year to help establish their hierarchies.

Some experts place their groups of tortoises in pens that measure 76 inches long, 50 inches wide, and 32 inches in height. This can accommodate up to 6 females. Usually, female Greek tortoises need da larger pen so they can use an area where they can build nests. When the females remain undisturbed, these will have time to set the hierarchy in their group. Females will do this by false-mounting each other, and once they have established this, they will live peacefully even in small groups. 

The males are kept apart from the females once these have mated. The male tortoises can be kept together and will live peacefully as long as there are no females in the group. Males will also set up hierarchies in the group by mounting each other, but sometimes males may become aggressive as this happens and results in biting matches until the top male has won.  

Common Health Problems

Greek Tortoise may suffer from health issues like the following. 

Shell Problems

Shell problems are very common in tortoises due to bacterial, viral, and fungi. If you overlook a dirty tank, your tortoise can suffer from cracked and fractured shells. Meanwhile, females may suffer from shell problems after aggressive mating. Watch out for physical injuries like bleeding, abscess, and incomplete healing. 

2) Abscesses

Abscesses are swelling or any tumor-like growth on any part of the tortoise’s body. The most common areas where abscesses happen are the eyes and the opening of the ear. And the most common cause of abscesses is vitamin A deficiency. 

3) Respiratory Infections 

Greek Tortoise may suffer from different respiratory conditions because of bacteria and viruses present in its tank and also due to vitamin A deficiency. Beware of common signs like open-mouth breathing, wheezing, lack of appetite, and lack of energy. Another symptom is discharged from the nose, which indicates that this needs medical treatment right away.

4) Parasites 

Symptoms like diarrhea and weight loss may be due to intestinal parasites. Roundworms are most common in turtles, and to avoid complications; this should be treated right away. Take your turtle to the vet at once.

5)Tortoise injuries 

Greek Tortoises can be prone to many kinds of accidents and may even get into fights with other male tortoises in its enclosure. This may also fall and break its shell, and as the shell breaks, it may develop serious injuries. So for any injury, take your tortoise to the vet ASAP. 

If there are injuries on the eyes, nose, or head and bleeding, visit the vet immediately. And if you find vomiting, loose stools, or blood in stools, take your tortoise to the vet to prevent dehydration and other metabolic problems. If there are injuries on the skin, head, shell, or eyes, wash the wound with water and cover it with a gauze or bandage. Afterward, take it to the vet.  

6) Vitamin A Deficiency

Vitamin A deficiency happens when a diet that lacks vitamin A. Without vitamin A, countless conditions can result in skin changes, lack of appetite, swelling of the eye and the lids, swelling of the ears, respiratory problems, and lethargy. You should provide a diet rich in vitamin A or provide supplements. 

Preventing Illness

Always maintain tank cleanliness. Change the water in the tank once every week and use a water filter to clean water in the tank. Use an effective disinfectant and warm water. Change the water frequently to avoid the growth of bacteria, and as much as possible, remove any food remnants in the tank as well as poop. 

Be sure to take your turtle to the vet for checkups. Make vet visits often when your turtles are in their hatchling phase. Always maintain the best temperature in the tank to prevent illness because of poor temperature and humidity. Also, monitor the temperature, humidity, and water inside the tank.

Behavior

You need to understand some of a Greek tortoise’s unique behaviors, so you can better take care of your pet.

1) Mating behaviors

Greek tortoises are in mating mode after hibernation. Males will instantly mate with females as soon as he sees them. He will exhibit different behaviors like biting, mounting and surrounding his mate. 

During mating, a male can be very aggressive and may mount his mate very vigorously. He will display his tongue and cry in loud shrieks.  

2) False-mounting

Females may false-mount other females to show hierarchy. The winner becomes the leader of the group, and then after it is determined, all the female turtles in pen can live harmoniously. Males may also false-mount each other to show hierarchy in pen, and afterward, they live peacefully until the next breeding time.

3) Takes time to get settled

Greek tortoises can take time to adjust to a pen before they decide to mate or even eat. It may take up to a year or more to adjust, but as soon as they do, mating commences as well as a turtle’s good appetite. 

4) Female aggression

Males will continuously mate with females, and this can cause injury and nutrient depletion as she lays clutch after clutch of eggs. To prevent this, females may sometimes exhibit their rights in their group by being very aggressive. She will mount other females and males, display her tongue and cry like a male. Experts believe that this happens so that females can peacefully lay her eggs without being disturbed. 

5) Hibernation

Depending on where the tortoise originated, it may hibernate or not. If your turtle takes long and frequent naps, let him be and just keep the room quiet so he can relax and recuperate. Remember that after hibernation, your turtle may want to eat, so prepare a good mean afterward.                                                                                               

Habitat

The natural habitat of Greek tortoises are arid, rocky hillsides, forest, fields, meadows, and Mediterranean scrubs. If you want to place your tortoise outdoors, construct a naturalistic pen. During the warm times of the year, these should be placed in a spacious cage or tank. Place edible vegetation and place a lot of room where your pet can get more natural light. 

If you want to keep your tortoise indoors, have a tortoise table made of plywood. Experts recommend using wood than glass or plastic as walls so that turtles can easily see their boundaries and stop escaping from the enclosure. A 3 x 6-foot tortoise table can hold one adult tortoise.

Lighting & Temperature

A full-spectrum UV lamp and a heating lamp inside the tortoise’s enclosure is a must. There are many types of lamps, but the best has to be an LED light. This can provide good light but will not make the tank too hot. This light is also energy efficient and will burn longer than other lamps. 

Lighting must be adjustable with temperature adjustments and height adjustments. Have a battery-powered lamp in case of any brownouts or outages. So never overlook this because low temperatures may affect your pet’s health.

The pen must be well heated. A lamp and a heating pad will maintain the temperature inside the tank. You must always monitor tank temperature and humidity. And to maintain low humidity, place a pan of water inside the tank. Use a handy mister to spray water on the walls of the pen to adjust humidity. 

Tank Accessories

Always keep the tortoise enclosure simple and very clean. You may add décor in the tank but avoid any décor that can injure your pet. Choose a simple set up with soil, sand, and a few rocks where the tortoise can sit on. Use a separate tank for breeding. Females with eggs need more loose soil inside the tank or pen so she can lay her eggs safely. 

Sanitation

You must always keep the tank clean to prevent dangerous parasites. Also, tortoises and turtles can spread Salmonella, a dangerous bacteria that can affect humans. This can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and other life-threatening symptoms. You must clean the tank regularly, especially if you have more than one tortoise inside. 

Use a disinfectant to clean the tank well. Use warm water and rinse the tank. Wash your hands or wear protective clothing when you clean your tortoise’s cage. Also, make sure everything is dry before you place your Greek tortoises in the tank.

Availability – Where to Get One?

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Greek Tortoises are available in pet shops and pet stores locally and online. But we strongly advise not to buy one to stop illegal pet trade. If you want to care for a tortoise, adopt one from a friend and don’t buy from traders, pet shops, or online stores. 

Greek Tortoises are sold around $500 depending on the gender, size, subspecies, and other factors, Shipment, and handling may depend on where you’re located. Adopting a Greek Tortoise will cost nothing, plus you are supporting the cause of adopting and not buying efforts to save this creature by not supporting poachers and the illegal pet trade. 

How to Care for a Greek Tortoise?

Here are tips on how to care for a Greek Tortoise:

  • When handling tortoises, don’t drop them or place them in a cold area. Always place it back in its tank as gently as possible. 
  • Greek Tortoises may roam the yard or outdoors as long as you protect it from predators. You can use a collapsible cage to protect your pet. To take it on a trip, bring its food, water, and a handy lamp.
  • After handling a Greek Tortoise, wash your hands to avoid the spread of Salmonella and other deadly diseases. Greek Tortoises may be affected by parasites, so quarantine a new pet before you place it inside a tank with your other pets.
  • Monitor the temperature of the tank or enclosure. Always keep the tortoise tank’s temperature ideal for your pet by using a bright light or reptile lamp if there’s no sunlight. 
  • Constantly check your pet for any problems such as breathing and shell conditions. If you have a new tortoise, don’t immediately drop it in the tank where there are males or females. Put this under quarantine to rule out any diseases for a few weeks before placing it inside the main tank.
  • Feed your turtle the right food. With the right food, you will prevent deficiencies and infections. Consult a vet for the best food depending on your pet’s developmental stage.
  • Take your tortoise to the vet regularly. Do this often when you have a young or senior pet. 
  • A new Greek tortoise pet should be handled with care. Place it in quarantine to avoid contaminating the whole tank with possible bacteria or parasites. Remove it from quarantine only after two weeks. 
  • Greek tortoise males can fight until they are wounded and bleeding. So don’t place a female inside the male tank, especially after hibernation when their breeding insects are in full throttle. 

FAQ Section

How big is a Greek tortoise?

Depending on the subspecies, Greek tortoises can grow 5 to 8 inches. The T. g. Iberia can get 10 to 11 inches, but this is a very rare Greek tortoise subspecies. Meanwhile, male Greek tortoises are smaller than females. 

Can Greek tortoises make good pets?

Greek tortoises are pleasant pets, especially for a dedicated owner. And because of their affable characteristics, this pest is loved by most tortoise pet owners.

How fast do Greek tortoises grow?

Hatchlings are no more than an inch long. These can grow very fast because of the best nutrition and the right care. Some may grow up to 4 inches in less than a couple of years. 

Will tortoises recognize their owners?

Yes, some tortoises can develop a strong bond with their owners, and some pet owners say that they can recognize the voice and the smell of their owners. This is why you must interact with your pet more and more so it can recognize you, your voice and your smell.

Do tortoises have feelings?

Greek tortoises don’t have feelings, but they can tell if their owners are near. There are no reports regarding this at all.  

Is there a tortoise that remains small?

The Chersosbius signatus is the smallest species of tortoise and is also known as the speckled tortoise. Some tortoises grow large, especially when taken cared for in captivity. 

Do tortoises bite?

Greek tortoises may bite each other for dominance, and males may bite females while mating. Males may bite other males while females may also bite fellow females to exert dominance in an enclosure or tank. 

Can a Greek tortoise feel it when their shells are touched?

Some studies show that tortoises can feel it when their shells are being touched. But there is a different sensation from a touch on the head or their legs. Some pet owners love to have their necks scratched, and their heads petted. 

Can Greek tortoise carry salmonella?

Almost all reptiles carry some parasites, and one of these is Salmonella. This is why you must wash your hands before and after holding your pet. Make sure to wash your car and to wear protective gear like gloves and goggles when you wash and clean your pet’s tank or enclosure. 

Are tortoises good luck?

In some cultures, tortoises are good luck. The tortoise is one of the four celestial creatures in feng shui; the other animals are the tiger, dragon, and phoenix.

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