Peninsular (mainland or continental) Italy is home to some of the most well-known and classic examples of Testudo hermanni hermanni. A large portion of the subspecie's entire population is found here, scattered. The vast majority of tortoises are encountered along the Thyrrhenian Coast in southern Italy where density is at its highest. On the other side of the mainland along the Adriatic Coast, tortoises are mostly found in areas such as Abruzzo, Apulia and Molise. In accordance with molecular studies, there is a uniformity between all peninsular Italian populations (M. Bellavista et al 2017) with the exception of those occurring in Calabria. Calabrian tortoises have been found to form a new genetic cluster (read more on this HERE). Across its Italian range, Testudo hermanni hermanni typically bears striking coloration and high contrast. Dark colored and light colored examples exist as well as both very small and large ones. While there are particular morphological characteristics found in various local forms, there lacks a standard or constant trait. No two specimens are exactly alike and this of course adds difficulty in trying to assign captive tortoises to one place of origin. Still, there are phenotypic attributes worth noting and they play an important role in helping to keep colonies separated when genetic sampling is out of reach. From our own genetic research, we have been able to match up animals accordingly while taking note of their physical details as well.
Testudo hermanni hermanni occurring in Tuscany are often marked by having an oblong or pear shaped carapace. Animals raised under inadequate captive conditions or with rushed growth do not always feature this shape. The ground color of the shell may be of an orange hue. Very darkly colored animals are encountered in the southern regions while lighter ones hail from the east , on average.The black plastral stripes vary with some animals having areas where they slightly separate. A higher degree of tortoises featuring spots of black pigment on the undersides of the gular scutes tend to turn up in Tuscany. The subocular spot under and behind each eye is less conspicuous or lacking in elderly specimens. The size spectrum for Tuscan tortoises ranges widely. Males may be as small as 4.5" but may surpass 5.5". Females typically rest at between 6 and 7" but can reach 7.5", respectively.
Testudo hermanni hermanni from Tuscany bear bold markings. The oblong carapace is marked by moderate to heavy black pigment and the keyhole varies from wide and well-defined to skinny and and less noticeable depending on how dark the animal is overall. They are not the smallest known local form but are also not the largest. On the plastron, the black stripes are sometimes partly interrupted between the humeral and pectoral scutes or between the abdominal and femoral scutes. This is not an indication that an animal is definitely from Tuscany if it exhibits plastral bands like this.
T. h. hermanni, Tuscany, adult male.
T. h. hermanni, Tuscany, male and female.
T. h. hermanni, Tuscany, plastron
Testudo hermanni hermanni from Apulia (Puglia) are commonly a smaller form. On tortoises from Gargano (a sub-region in the province of Foggia) a flatter carapace is colored a pastel yellow which contrasts the soft black borders and bars. Males are typically between 4 and 4.5" while females may reach up to 6", respectively. The subocular spot tends to be more noticeable than what we usually see on Tuscan specimens. The soft parts, limbs and neck are a uniform light yellow with the nails of the forelimbs matching. The uninterrupted black stripes of the plastron extend from the humeral scutes to the anal scutes and are often thinner in width than some other forms.
Tortoises found in the Gulf of Taranto may be smaller, rounder and darker on average.
Apulia is home to some truly stunning examples of T. hermanni hermanni. The contrast between the soft black and pastel yellow of the carapace appears almost as if it had been painted on intentionally. The head is often dominated by green-yellow scales and the skin is overall light especially on these specimens from Gargano.
T. h. hermanni, Apulia, adult male.
T. h. hermanni, Apulia, adult females.
T. h. hermanni, Apulia, plastron.
As of 2018, some populations of Testudo hermanni hermanni native to Calabria form a new genetic cluster. This sets them apart from other peninsular Italian populations and creates a new management unit for conservation efforts. Color, size and markings vary across the Calabrian range with some animals closely resembling insular (island) tortoises, more so. These tortoises tend to have a ground color that exhibits a greenish hue with frayed markings. Those occurring in the valley of the Neto River resemble the continental forms with a higher degree of black and yellow contrast. The carapace sports a rich golden yellow with strong black markings. Calabria was once thought to harbor the smallest of all T. h. hermanni, and although some of these examples are quite petite at 4" for males and 4.5-5" for females, larger animals are not uncommon.
Testudo hermanni hermanni from the Neto Valley display a beautifully yellow carapace with the classic black markings. The shell tends to be wider and less arched than Tuscan tortoises and the animals may be either rounded or slightly flared at the back. The plastron reveals continuous black stripes from the humeral scutes to the anal scutes.
T. h. hermanni, Calabria, adult female.
T. h. hermanni, Calabria, male and female.
T. h. hermanni, Calabria, plastron.
As stated above, there is a noted uniformity between the T. hermanni hermanni found throughout the Italian peninsula. With the exception of some Calabrian populations forming a separate, distinct genetic cluster (R. Biello, et al 2018), these tortoises are all extremely close in genetics and appearance. Even Calabrian specimens can be very difficult to differentiate morphologically.
Testudo hermanni hermanni of the Italian mainland may feature darker skin than their island cousins but some populations such as Gargano (Apulia) are known for a more uniform light, pale yellow colored skin. The front claws of any population may be light, almost clear or even a dark gray to black (some Tuscan individuals).
T. h. hermanni, Tuscany.
T. h. hermanni, Apulia.
T. h. hermanni, Calabria.
The size spectrum for these continental natives varies heavily with larger examples commonly found in the more northern regions and smaller ones in the south. In our care, it is the tortoises of Tuscany that tend to be the largest on average. While large tortoises do exist on the mainland, they are typically not as large as the "giants" occurring in parts of Sardinia, Sicily and Corsica.
As usual, it is the males that retain smaller dimensions. Any of Italy's mainland male tortoises may reach a carapace length of between 4 and 5.5", respectively.
T. h. hermanni, adult male, Tuscany.
T. h. hermanni, adult male, Apulia.
T. h. hermanni, adult male, Calabria.
Females, the larger of the sexes, will surpass 5 to 6.5" on average and weigh between 650 and 950 grams. Surprisingly big females can and do reach weights of over 1,000 grams. Very small specimens found in parts of both Apulia and Calabria may barely reach 500 grams for females.
T. h. hermanni, adult female, Tuscany.
T. h. hermanni, adult female, Apulia.
T. h. hermanni, adult female, Calabria.
Testudo hermanni hermanni from Peninsular Italy tend to demonstrate a head that features a less conspicuous subocular spot (cheek spot) that what is commonly encountered on insular Italian populations. While it is rather vibrant on young animals (as is the case with any population) it leans towards becoming faded or disappearing entirely in old animals. Some animals however, may retain it well.
The head of Italian mainland tortoises is rounder and less "snake-like" than insular examples. As per the above description of the subocular spot, it is typically faded or lacking except in some tortoises where it is very noticeable. The skin color of the head is dark and may or may not exhibit an array of geenish-yellow scales on the top, mostly toward the back.
T. h. hermanni, Tuscany.
T. h. hermanni, Calabria.
T. h. hermanni, Tuscany.
Despite being neonates, the Italian peninsula's populations bear offspring that are not always that difficult to differentiate from other populations, especially those of insular Italy. Out of the egg, babies are typically dark and drab. Their beautiful coloration does not begin to come out much until they put on noticeable growth. This contrasts the often vibrant looking babies from Sicilian, Sardinian and Coriscan tortoises, but, it cannot be said enough that variation is never far and these descriptions are always subject to change. Both darkly colored insular babies and light colored peninsular babies are not uncommon, they are just simply not encountered as frequently.
Regardless of how they appear upon hatching, it isn't long before these Italian beauties start to show that intense contrast and rich coloration. In some cases, babies will retain a high degree of black pigment throughout the first several years of life before the markings begin to diffuse.
T. h. hermanni, adult and baby Tuscany.
T. h. hermanni, baby, Apulia.
T. h. hermanni, adult and baby, Calabria.
Although this is not always the case, some babies are excellent representatives of their populations by revealing traits early on. Tuscan tortoises may exhibit the orangish hue to the ground color of the shell while Calabrian and Apulian specimens will display a paler color.
T. h. hermanni, hatchlings, Tuscany.
T. h. hermanni, hatchlings, Calabria.