Hermann’s tortoise—along with spiny-legged and edged tortoises—is a Mediterranean tortoise that comes from the rocky slopes, oak and beech forests of Mediterranean Europe. This charming tortoise, with its yellow and brown carapace, thick scales and strong legs, is highly sought after for its gentle temperament and sheer beauty. Caring for this turtle is relatively easy if you live in a favorable climate and plenty of outdoor space. Otherwise, indoor care is complicated.
Common name: Herman’s Turtle
Scientific name: Hermann’s turtle
Adult size: 6 to 8 inches
Life expectancy: On average, up to 75 years old, although some may live longer
Herman’s Turtle Behavior and Temperament
Passive and gentle Hermann tortoises rarely bite. Usually, it will only bite other turtles, pets or humans to protect itself. It doesn’t like to be handled and prefers to be grounded safely.
This active creature enjoys running, digging, foraging and sunbathing. It’s not a climber. Turtles interact frequently and can engage in combat, especially during the spring and fall mating seasons. During courtship, male tortoises will chase and ram females, sometimes causing injury. If you plan to mate, only keep males and females together; otherwise, store them separately.
House Herman’s tortoise
Adult Hermann’s tortoises do not do well indoors, so keep this in mind before bringing them home. Since outdoor housing is highly recommended, your outdoor climate should be very similar to that of the Mediterranean region (Italy, Greece, Bulgaria and Romania).
Turtle habitat should include a shallow water tray (preferably sunk into the ground) for drinking and cooling, rocks, small trees and shrubs, and a shelter to protect it from extreme weather and predators. Since these active turtles tend to burrow, the enclosure should also be escape-proof, with the fence or sides dug several feet into the ground.
If you ultimately decide to house your turtle indoors or move it indoors during the cooler months, you will need a relatively large enclosure (at least 2 feet by 4 feet).
To keep the enclosure clean, scoop up visible pet waste when you notice them. Change the water tray daily. You will need to replace the substrate at least every one to two months.
If housed outside, the average temperature should be around 80 F to 86 F (27 C to 30 C) during the day and no lower than 65 F to 70 F (18 C to 21 C) at night. Simulate these temperatures in an indoor enclosure. Lighting will be the main source of heating for the interior enclosure. Whether indoors or outdoors, you also need to provide your turtle a cool shaded area to avoid the heat. Make sure the water tray you provide is deep enough for your pet to submerge all over in case he wants to cool off.
If outside, the sun will provide ample lighting. If indoors, provide a tanning lamp or heat lamp that mimics the sun, complete with a basking spot (a set of low, flat rocks works well) with an ambient temperature of about 95 F (35 C).
Turtles need UVB light to synthesize vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 helps turtles absorb calcium, which is essential for bone structure and growth. All indoor enclosures should include a 10% fluorescent UVB tube light with a reflector to transmit UVB rays down to the turtle.
Humidity is not a significant issue for turtles. Ambient humidity should be sufficient for your turtle as long as the humidity is at least 25% or higher (which is true of most indoor and outdoor environments).
Most pet owners use substrate or litter to line the bottom of the cage. In the case of turtles, they need it to dig. For indoor enclosures, a mixture of soil, sand, and composted cypress bark should form the substrate for the pet enclosure. The compost mixture should be about two inches deep so your turtle can burrow to cool off or for activities and exercise.
food and water
The turtle’s diet should replicate wild foraging. Choose from a variety of leafy greens and grasses to feed your pet. Complement your vegetables with small amounts of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumbers and carrots, apples, apricots, grapes, melons, peaches and strawberries. Feed from several food trays spread throughout the pen at the same time each day. Give them as much food as they can in 15 to 30 minutes, or you can estimate that the pile of food to be served should be the size of an animal shell.
Indoor turtles need nutritional supplements to compensate for the lack of direct sunlight. Provide your pet with a high-quality tortoise food that includes calcium and vitamin D3 supplements. Wild tortoises also eat insects, slugs, and carrion, but if you feed these critters, provide them in moderation. Turtles are primarily vegetarian; never feed them dog or cat food.
Change and clean the water tray daily and replenish it with filtered water.
Your pet turtle may decide to hibernate if the enclosure or outside temperature drops below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Some species hibernate in the wild for up to five months, usually between October and April. However, it is difficult for indoor tortoises to maintain environmental conditions conducive to safe hibernation. Therefore, it’s best to maintain a consistent enclosure temperature to keep your turtle active year-round.
common health problems
During mating season, male turtles attack other males and females. Monitor and inspect turtle wounds daily and isolate any injured animals. Open wounds require cleaning and antimicrobial treatment to prevent infection. If you are unable to do this, seek medical help from an outside veterinarian.
Captive turtles are also prone to several diseases:
- Respiratory Infections: Usually caused by insufficient lighting, insufficient heating, fresh food, clean water, or environmental stressors; exotic veterinarians may require treatment with antibiotics.
- Metabolic bone disease: Caused by a lack of calcium or problems absorbing calcium; best prevented with adequate full-spectrum lighting or direct sunlight; exotic veterinarians may prescribe liquid calcium treatment.
- Cloacal prolapse: Often caused by dehydration, stones or hardened urate block the bladder; this requires veterinary intervention.
Choose Your Hermann Turtle
It is best to buy your turtle directly from the breeder. Buying from a reputable breeder ensures that your pet is not from a source that depletes wild populations, and that the breeder also provides quality care. Exotic veterinarians and other reptile owners may recommend reputable breeders, or you can find them at reptile shows and exhibits. You can expect to pay $150 to $500 for a Hermann turtle. The price of older turtles has gone up, considering the cost of raising them to adulthood and the fact that they are thriving.
Do not buy Hermann’s tortoises from pet stores or dealers, as these tortoises are likely to come from unknown sources. Often, the housing environment and quality of care are poor, which can increase your risk of getting a sick pet.
Signs of a healthy turtle include a smooth shell with no odd lumps or deformities. Its eyes, nose and mouth should be clear and free of discharge. Check that its drain is clean. The stool should be well-formed, not watery.
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