The Hermann’s Tortoise is one of the most popular species of tortoise. They can be kept in captivity, but like many turtles, they do not enjoy being handled.
In this guide, you’ll learn:
- What is a Hermann’s tortoise?
- How to care for a Hermann’s tortoise
- How big do they get?
- How long do they live?
- How much they cost?
What's In This Guide?
Hermann’s tortoises are a vibrant, small species of tortoise that is becoming increasingly popular in the reptile trade but has possibly been traded by humans for thousands of years.
The Hermann’s tortoise comes from Europe, particularly small populations found in Italy, the island of Sicily, Sardinia, Spain, and other scattered islands near France and Corsica.
Much of the native range of the Hermann’s tortoise has been destroyed, leading to their endangered status according to the IUCN. This species is divided into two subspecies, including the Eastern Hermann’s tortoise (Testudo hermanni boettgeri) and Western Hermann’s tortoise (Testudo hermanni hermanni).
Despite the difference in subspecies, both Hermann’s tortoise species have similar enough care that we can create a general guide and provide pointers to ensure the health and long-term growth of this popular little tortoise.
Appearance & Colors
Eastern Hermann’s Tortoise
The Eastern Hermann’s tortoise is more popular and represented in captivity compared to the Western Hermann’s tortoise. The Eastern Hermann’s tortoise is larger and its colors are duller or muted. They have a large, slightly rounded head compared to a sleek Western tortoise’s. Their arms and legs are small and stumpy, in true tortoise fashion as well. The scales on their arms and legs act as a thin armor from the elements and predators.
Western Hermann’s Tortoise
The Western Hermann’s tortoise often has mixed genetics with the Eastern Hermann’s tortoise. Their shell is a dark, ashy brown, or beige color with block markings along the scutes. On the third vertebral scute, the Western Hermann’s tortoise will have a black dot or marking, which is absent from the Eastern tortoise. The Western Hermann’s tortoise also has similar colors but is slightly smaller and has higher contrast from its Eastern counterpart. The colors become a deep yellow or orange color, almost looking like a “pastel” version of the Eastern Hermann’s tortoise. Their faces are similar and rounded at the front, made for eating plant material from shrubs and ground plants.
Skin & Scute Shedding
Both Eastern and Western Hermann’s tortoises do not shed their shell scutes. Most aquatic species of turtle will shed their scutes as they grow. Aquatic turtles also shed their skin in the water as a form of growth. However, tortoises of many species, including both Hermann’s tortoise species, do not shed their skin (visibly, though they do shed some slightly).
These tortoises have large, external scales visible on their arms and legs that often become larger as they move from the body of the tortoise outwards. These scales help act as armor and, along with their shell, protect them from predators and the harsh elements in their native range.
Size: How Big Do Hermann’s Tortoises Get?
Size varies between the Hermann’s tortoise subspecies. In both subspecies, sexual dimorphism exists in which males are smaller than females. The Eastern subspecies will reach about 6 inches for males, and about 8 inches in females.
The size of the tortoise generally varies depending upon what locale they come from. For example, those originating from Southern Bulgaria may reach a whopping 10 inches, while others from Greece will not surpass 6 inches. The Western subspecies is smaller than the Eastern, and males often reach only 4-4.5 inches. Females will reach about 6 inches maximum.
There will be variation between these figures however, the numbers are accurate for general members of the Hermann’s tortoise species.
Lifespan: How Long Do Hermann’s Tortoises Live?
With proper care, diet, and habitat, a Hermann’s tortoise can live between 30-60 years, though some may live well beyond this threshold, so prepare for a lifelong commitment! One specimen from a friend of mine was imported into the United States in 1970 and was already an adult. She then lived until 2014, until passing away at LEAST 50 years of age.
Behavior & Temperament
Hermann’s tortoises are generally peaceful with their environment and are not as destructive as other species. They react well to food and may even show signs of begging when you approach their enclosure.
Hermann’s tortoises, if housed with others of their species, can bully one another and outcompete others for food, space, and heat. The bullied animal amongst two or more Hermann’s tortoises will eventually eat less, become smaller, and eventually likely die. Separating the tortoises or providing a large enough space for the other to get away is key to keeping peaceful animals. Plenty of hides, heating areas, and burrows are also a sure way to mitigate aggression and competition for space and resources. Several hatchlings can be kept together if space permits, but pay attention in case any fall behind in size and are outcompeted for food.
How To Care For A Hermann’s Tortoise
Tank Size & Dimensions 📐
A Hermann’s tortoise generally, like most species of tortoise, should not be kept in an aquarium. When they can see out of the enclosure (like the glass walls of a fish tank), they will relentlessly try to walk through the glass and cannot understand the concept of the barrier. They will spend their entire days and nights trying to escape, and it can easily stress the animal out. This can lead to health issues and abrasion of the skin, so make sure you provide an enclosure without clear walls.
Rubbermaid stock tanks or containers, plywood “tortoise tables”, or other variants of enclosures work well for keeping this tortoise species.
A hatchling will be content in a container roughly 2×3 feet, and at least 6 inches tall to prevent climbing out or escaping. If a tortoise can climb out or has a way to wedge themselves amongst decorations and climb, they often will. Giving hatchlings too large of a setup when they are young will stress the animal out, and they get “lost” in the environment and not pick a suitable location to spend most of their time. You will find yourself constantly digging and searching for the hiding tortoise.
If space permits, several Hermann’s tortoises can be kept together. Slowly scale up the size of their habitat as they grow into adulthood.
Tank Setup 🏠
For a hatchling Hermann’s tortoise, a Rubbermaid container from any local store can house them comfortably. Make sure the tub is roughly 2×3 feet, and at a minimum of 6 inches high to prevent escapees.
A juvenile (4-inch animal) will do well in a larger enclosure (8×4 feet) with a variety of different hides, plant material, and a consistent substrate that allows for burrowing.
All setups should be relatively similar, with only small changes being made as the tortoise grows. The habitat should be roughly consistent, and over time only get larger and larger. Edible plants, half rounds, and wooden logs work great to provide cover, encourage foraging behavior, and give the tortoises a place to hide. A hide with damp sphagnum moss and a regular hide will benefit hatchlings as well, as the humid hide helps assist with shell growth.
Substrate for a Hermann’s tortoise should allow them to burrow and bury themselves, as they would in nature. A good substrate that holds humidity relatively well and is cheap is a clean topsoil mixed with peat moss or coconut coir.
While sand does not hold humidity well, mixing this into the dirt in a very small amount will help replicate more naturally what these tortoises would come across in their European habitats.
Some breeders recommend using 2 inches of cypress mulch on the top of the dirt and peat moss layer, however it can be mixed with the dirt as well. Cypress works particularly well for holding humidity fairly well and for its antifungal properties that prevents microbes and organisms from establishing in the enclosure. It is imperative that you choose a substrate that, in general, retains humidity well and is deep enough for the tortoise to burrow.
Hermann’s tortoises do not like to be seen and spend most of their time burrowed and hiding if not foraging for food.
Temperature & Lighting ☀️
For a Hermann’s tortoise, nothing is better than natural sunlight. These animals occur in warm islands in their native habitat, where UVB and sunlight is strong. This is why it is important to keep the tortoise’s enclosure, if outdoors, in the sunniest area of the yard and away from cover of trees or large plants.
Smaller shrubs should be used to provide some cover, but ultimately the Hermann’s tortoise will benefit from strong sunlight. For indoor lighting, a 10.0 UVB bulb should be used across the habitat. For hatchlings, a 50-75 watt or 100-150 watt bulb for adults and juveniles should be placed far enough away from one area of the enclosure to keep temperatures around 90 to 95F. Up to 105 is acceptable but only for adults, and only in the WARMEST hot spot of the enclosure.
Using multiple basking lights in a larger enclosure may help keep things natural as well and allow options for the tortoise. Regardless of age, these lights should be kept on for 12-14 hours a day. Ambient temperatures of about 80-85F work well, and nighttime temps can reach the low 70s without issue.
Humidity for Hermann’s tortoises is extremely important to ensure they keep a smooth shell and grow without deformity. Pyramiding is a condition in which the scutes of a tortoise’s shell are raised and lumpy. It is commonly attributed to a lack of humidity. High humidity is the key to a smooth tortoise shell.
A misting system or spray bottle should be used to keep the humidity around 70%. Do NOT allow the substrate to dry out by misting frequently and spraying it down as well. In the wild, both hatchlings and adults will burrow in the leaf litter and ground, in which humidity is very high.
Older animals will spend more time not burrowing and on the surface, but are also at a smaller risk for pyramiding compared to hatchlings and neonates. It is the job of neonates to hide from predators and stay in the high humidity underground and amongst plant debris, therefore you must replicate this in your enclosure. After the lights are turned off at night time, breeders will commonly keep a lid on the enclosure to ensure humidity will build-up, and the lid is removed in the morning.
Food & Water Requirements 🥕
For Hermann’s tortoises, a very shallow water dish less than ½ inch deep should be provided, especially for hatchlings. Keeping these animals hydrated is the key to raising happy and healthy tortoises. Soaking hatchlings for 15 minutes in lukewarm water 3-4 times a week will be beneficial as well, as they often defecate during this time after taking a large drink.
Clean water should always be provided, and misting to mimic rain will be well received by the tortoises. They will often extend their necks and drink from small puddles of water that accumulate on their faces.
Low protein and high fiber, calcium-rich foods are essential to keeping Hermann’s tortoises. They spend most of their time in nature either hidden or foraging for edible plant matter. Supermarket produce is often lacking acceptable levels of fiber and is too high in sugar. Too much fruit can lead to diarrhea or internal parasites, and too much protein will cause renal failure. Pesticide-free, locally grown weeds like dandelions, clovers, plantains, thistle, and catsear are excellent food choices. Mulberry leaves work very well as well. Mazuri tortoise diet is a great staple diet for Hermann’s tortoises. Variety is key, but Mazuri works very well for long-term growth! Cuttlebone for calcium intake can also be beneficial for these tortoises. They will chew on the cuttlebone as they feel they need calcium.
Common Health Problems ⚕️
- Health problems caused by improper feeding occur when tortoises are given too much fruit, which can lead to diarrhea or internal parasites. Too much protein will cause renal failure. Too much calcium can lead to issues long term.
- Shell rot can occur in conditions that are too wet as well, and vitamin deficiencies can occur if the animals are not fed enough of a variety.
- Eye infections are common in unsanitary conditions, so spot clean your enclosure if you see tortoise waste and change their water frequently.
- Poor habitat conditions in the form of low humidity can lead to dehydration and pyramiding.
Hermann’s Tortoise Handling & Socializing
Hermann’s tortoises do not like to be handled
Just don’t. The number one tip for handling a Hermann’s tortoise is not to. These are wild animals, even when hatched in captivity. Despite their association of humans with food, they still are wary of predators and do not enjoy human presence. Tortoises do not “love” and will simply tolerate at best. This is crucial for tortoise keepers to understand for the benefit of the animal. If you don’t need to handle them, it is best not to.
Can more than one Hermann’s tortoise live together?
In a large enough enclosure or when closely watched, Hermann’s tortoises can live together. Providing multiple warm spots and hides, as well as plants for visual barriers can assist in success of keeping tortoises together.
In general though, these are solitary animals and will battle with one another regardless of sex. Bullying is common amongst turtle and tortoise species, and the Hermann’s tortoise is no exception. Be cautious if keeping two Hermann’s tortoises together, and make sure you can provide a large enough enclosure long term.
How To Choose A Hermann’s Tortoise
Signs Of Health
Bright eyes, a smooth and rounded shell, and a highly responsive Hermann’s tortoise are a good sign they are healthy. NEVER purchase a Hermman’s tortoise from someone who imports wild-caught animals. They often are riddled with parasites and we do NOT support poaching and taking from the wild.
Smooth, brightly colored shells are a very good sign of a well-raised tortoise. Extra scutes will not affect the growth of the tortoise in the long term. Be aware of deformities and ensure the animal has grown a small amount before purchasing your tortoise.
Eyes & Skin
The eyes and skin of a Hermann’s tortoise should be clear of any cloudiness or apparent issues. There should be no missing scales or nails absent from the tortoise.
Male Hermann’s tortoises will have longer, thicker tails but be smaller than females. They can also be more aggressive, especially during mating seasons such as spring and fall. Females will have smaller tails and be generally larger than males.
Are Hermann’s Tortoises Expensive?
Cost of Food
A 25lb bag of Mazuri tortoise diet is only $40, so keeping a Hermann’s tortoise is relatively affordable in terms of food.
The space is not as expensive so much as the area they will inhabit is. Providing a large, outdoor area is best for a Hermann’s tortoise. The wood for a large enclosure should be no more than $1-300 for an enclosure that can house several adult Hermann’s tortoises. Soil and peat moss are relatively cheap as well, the real cost is in long-term care of the animal and tending to their needs.
What About Vet Visits?
Always have a ~$2-500 emergency vet fund for your animals. Respiratory infections, shell rot, or eye infections can set you back $200 easily. $70-100 is typical for just a visit to the vet, minus any prescribed antibiotics or medication. Regular vet visits for a checkup are recommended yearly, and make sure you visit a vet that specializes in reptiles otherwise, you’re wasting your time and money!
How big do Hermann’s Tortoises get?
Depending on the subspecies, Hermann’s tortoises can grow anywhere from 4 inch males in the smaller, Western subspecies, up to large, 9 inch females from Eastern Hermann’s tortoise locales. Overall though, these tortoises will not get as large as other species such as the Redfoot, Sulcata, or Leopard tortoise and are a great, charismatic species.
How long do Hermann’s Tortoises live?
Hermann’s tortoises can live for a very long time. They are a lifelong commitment and can live anywhere from 30-60 years, however individuals will vary. Chelonians (turtles) of all species live an astoundingly long time, so be ready!
Do Hermann’s Tortoises bite?
Yes, they can bite. A bite will not likely lead to an injury, but avoid their mouths if you can. They are not known to be aggressive and would more likely retreat in their shell than bite. This, however, does not mean that they won’t.
Are Hermann’s Tortoises aggressive?
Hermann’s tortoises can be aggressive amongst one another. They are not known to be particularly friendly or unfriendly, but providing plenty of space and visual barriers will mitigate issues. They will tolerate humans, but come spring time will fight amongst males for mating rights.
Do Hermann’s Tortoises need a heat lamp?
Yes, Hermann’s tortoises need a heat lamp AND a source of UVB to create calcium and maintain their body temperature. They also need heat in order to increase their metabolism and digest food. Without this, they WILL succumb to the cold and die.
Do tortoises get attached to their owners?
No. Hermann’s tortoises will at best tolerate humans, and associate you with food. This is as far as their attachment will go. Tortoises do NOT enjoy cuddles, scratches, petting, or being treated like popular mammal pets such as cats or dogs. Understanding this from the start and before getting a Hermann’s tortoise is very important, and this fact goes for likely all tortoise and turtle species.