Spur-thighed tortoise

Spur-thighed tortoise
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Testudines
Suborder: Cryptodira
Family: Testudinidae
Genus: Testudo
Species: T. graeca
Binomial name
Testudo graeca
Linnaeus, 1758
Note allopatric ranges of "Maghreb" (T. g. graeca) and "Greek" (T. g. ibera) populations
T. g. graeca
  • Testudo pusilla Linnaeus, 1758
  • Chersine pusilla Merrem, 1820
  • Testudo mauritanica Duméril & Bibron, 1835
  • Testudo mauritonica Kercado, 1835 (ex errore)
  • Testudo whitei Bennett, 1836
  • Peltastes mauritanicus Gray, 1873
  • Testudo graeca graeca Mertens, 1946
  • Testudo gracea Nutaphand, 1979 (ex errore)
  • Testudo whitie Highfield & Martin, 1989 (ex errore)
  • Furculachelys whitei Highfield, 1990
  • Testudo graeca sarda Ballasina, 1995 (nomen nudum)
  • Testudo graeca whitei Artner, 1996
T. g. anamurensis
  • Testudo graeca anamurensis Weissinger, 1987
  • Testudo ibera anamurensis Highfield, 1990
  • Testudo terrestris anamurensis David, 1994
  • Testudo anamurensis Vetter, 2002
  • Testudo graeca amurensis Ferri, 2002 (ex errore)
T. g. antakyensis
  • Testudo antakyensis Perälä, 1996
  • Testudo graeca antakyensis Zwartepoorte, 2000
  • Testudo terrestris antakyensis Bour, 2002
  • Testudo ibera antakyensis Artner, 2003
T. g. armeniaca
  • Testudo graeca armeniaca Chkhikvadze, 1989 (nomen nudum)
  • Testudo graeca armeniaca Chkhikvadze & Bakradze, 1991
  • Testudo graeca armaniaca Chkhikvadze & Bakradze, 1991 (ex errore)
  • Testudo armeniaca Vetter, 2002
  • Testudo terrestris armeniaca Bour, 2002
T. g. buxtoni
  • Testudo ecaudata Pallas, 1814
  • Testudo buxtoni Boulenger, 1921
  • Testudo terrestris buxtoni Bour, 2002
  • Testudo ibera buxtoni Artner, 2003
T. g. cyrenaica
  • Testudo graeca cyrenaica Pieh & Perälä, 2002
  • Testudo cyrenaica Vetter, 2002
  • Testudo cyrenaika Stettner, 2004 (ex errore)
T. g. floweri
  • Testudo floweri Bodenheimer, 1935
  • Testudo graeca floweri Mertens, 1946
  • Testudo terrestris floweri David, 1994
  • Testudo ibera floweri Artner, 2003
T. g. ibera
  • Testudo ibera Pallas, 1814
  • Chersus iberus Brandt, 1852
  • Testudo iberia Blyth, 1853 (ex errore)
  • Medaestia ibera Wussow, 1916
  • Testudo ibera racovitzai Călinescu, 1931
  • Testudo graeca ibera Mertens, 1946
  • Testudo ibera ibera Gmira, 1993
  • Testudo terrestris ibera David, 1994
T. g. lamberti
  • Testudo graeca lamberti Pieh & Perälä, 2004
  • Testudo lamberti Perälä, 2004
T. g. marokkensis
  • Testudo graeca marokkensis Pieh & Perälä, 2004
  • Testudo marokkensis Perälä, 2004
T. g. nabeulensis
  • Testudo flavominimaralis Highfield & Martin, 1989
  • Furculachelys nabeulensis Highfield, 1990
  • Testudo nabeulensis Welch, 1994
  • Testudo graeca flavominimaralis Artner, 1996
  • Testudo graeca nabeulensis Artner, 1996
T. g. nikolskii
  • Testudo graeca nikolskii Chkhikvadze & Tuniyev, 1986
  • Testudo ibera nikolskii Highfield, 1990
  • Testudo terrestris nikolskii David, 1994
  • Testudo graeca niiolskii Paull, 1997 (ex errore)
  • Testudo nikolskii Vetter, 2002
T. g. pallasi
  • Testudo graeca pallasi Chkhikvadze, 1989 (nomen nudum)
  • Testudo graeca pallasi Chkhikvadze & Bakradze, 2002
  • Testudo pallasi Danilov & Milto, 2004
T. g. perses
  • Testudo perses Perälä, 2002
  • Testudo ibera perses Artner, 2003
T. g. soussensis
  • Testudo graeca soussensis Pieh, 2001
  • Testudo soussensis Vetter, 2002
T. g. terrestris
  • Testudo terrestris Forsskål, 1775
  • Testudo zolhafa Forsskål, 1831 (nomen nudum)
  • Testudo zolkafa Forsskål, 1831 (nomen nudum)
  • Testudo zohalfa Forsskål, 1835 (nomen nudum)
  • Testudo graeca terrestris Wermuth, 1958
  • Testudo terrestris terrestris David, 1994
  • Testudo ibera terrestris Artner, 2003
T. g. zarudnyi
  • Testudo zarudnyi Nikolsky, 1896
  • Testudo graeca zarudnyi Mertens, 1946
  • Testudo ibera zarudnyi Gmira, 1993
  • Testudo terrestris zarudnyi David, 1994

The spur-thighed tortoise (or Greek tortoise) (Testudo graeca) is one of five species of Mediterranean tortoise (genus Testudo, family Testudinidae). The other four species are the Hermann's tortoise (Testudo hermanni), Russian tortoise (Testudo horsfieldii), Egyptian tortoise (Testudo kleinmanni), and marginated tortoise (Testudo marginata).


The spur-thighed tortoise's habitat is North Africa, southern Europe, and southwest Asia. It is prevalent in the Black Sea coast of the Caucasus (from Russia Anapa to Abkhazia Sukhumi to the south), as well as in Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan.


The Greek tortoise (Testudo graeca ibera) is often confused with Hermann's tortoise (Testudo hermanni). However, notable differences enable them to be distinguished.

Testudo graeca ibera
Testudo graeca, male
Greek tortoise Hermann's tortoise
Large symmetrical markings on the top of the head Only small scales on the head
Large scales on the front legs Small scales on the front legs
Undivided carapace over the tail Tail carapace almost always divided
Notable spurs on each thigh No spurs
Isolated flecks on the spine and rib plates Isolated flecks only on the spinal plates
Dark central fleck on the underside Two black bands on the underside
Shell somewhat oblong rectangular Oval shell shape
Widely stretched spinal plates Small spinal plates
Movable posterior plates on underside Fixed plates on underside


Testudo graeca, 4 years

The division of spur-thighed tortoises into subspecies is difficult and confusing. Given the huge range over three continents, the various terrains, climates, and biotopes have produced a huge number of varieties, with new subspecies constantly being discovered. Currently, at least 20 subspecies are published:

This incomplete listing shows the problems in division into subspecies. The differences in form are primarily in size and weight, as well as coloration, which ranges from dark brown to bright yellow, and the types of flecks, ranging from solid colors to many spots. Also, the bending-up of the edges of the carapace ranges from minimal to pronounced. So as not to become lost in the number of subspecies, recently a few tortoises previously classified as Testudo graeca have been assigned to different species, or even different genera.

The genetic richness of Testudo graeca is also shown in their crossbreeding. Tortoises of different form groups often mate, producing offspring with widely differing shapes and color. Perhaps the best means of identification for the future is simply the place of origin.

The smallest, and perhaps the prettiest, of the subspecies is the Tunisian spur-thighed tortoise. It has a particularly bright and striking coloration. However, these are also the most sensitive tortoises of the species, so they cannot be kept outdoors in temperate climates, as cold and rainy summers quickly cause the animals to become ill. They are also incapable of long hibernation.

At the other extreme, animals from northeastern Turkey are very robust, such as Hermann's tortoise. The largest specimens come from Bulgaria. Specimens of 7 kilograms (15 lb) have been reported. In comparison, the Tunisian tortoise has a maximum weight of 0.7 kg (1.5 lb). Testudo graeca is also closely related to the marginated tortoise (Testudo marginata). The two species can interbreed, producing offspring capable of reproduction.


Males differ from females in six main points. Firstly, they are generally smaller. Their tails are longer and taper to a point evenly, and the cloacal opening is farther from the base of the tail. The underside is somewhat curved, while females have a flat shell on the underside. The rear portion of a male's carapace is wider than it is long. Finally, the posterior plates of the carapace often flange outward.

Mating and reproduction

T. g. ibera
T. graeca

Immediately after waking from hibernation, the mating instinct starts up. The males follow the females with great interest, encircling them, biting them in the limbs, ramming them, and trying to mount them. During copulation, the male opens his mouth, showing his red tongue and making squeaking sounds.

During mating, the female stands still, bracing herself with her front legs, moving the front part of her body to the left and right in the same rhythm as the male's cries. One successful mating will allow the female to lay eggs multiple times. When breeding in captivity, the pairs of females and males must be kept separate. If multiple males are in a pen, one takes on a dominant role and will try to mate with the other males in the pen. If more males than females are in a pen, the males might kill each other to mate with the female.

One or two weeks before egg-laying, the animals become notably agitated, moving around to smell and dig in the soil, even tasting it, before choosing the ideal spot to lay the eggs. One or two days before egg-laying, the female takes on an aggressive, dominant behavior, mounting another animal as for copulation and making the same squeaking sound the male produces during copulation. The purpose for this behavior is to produce respect in the tortoise community, so that the female will not be disturbed by the others during egg laying. Further details of egg-laying behavior are the same as those detailed for the marginated tortoise.


Spur-thighed tortoises are commonly traded as pets, despite the illegality of this trade. In source countries such as Morocco, this can lead to unsustainable removal of wild individuals for local pet trade and for export. There are also welfare concerns with this trade as the animals are not properly housed when being sold.[2]

See also



  1. Fritz, Uwe; Havaš, Peter (2007). "Checklist of Chelonians of the World". Vertebrate Zoology. 57 (2): 296–300. ISSN 1864-5755. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-12-17. Retrieved 29 May 2012.
  2. Bergin & Nijman (2014). "Open, Unregulated Trade in Wildlife in Morocco's Markets, TRAFFIC Bulletin". Retrieved 23 March 2015.
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