© 2017 Chris Leone/Garden State Tortoise LLC.

Testudo graeca terrestris

The tortoises on this page might look rather familiar. That is because they have frequented the pet trade at various intervals mainly throughout the last 17 years. You might know these as "Golden Greek tortoises" but the proper name is Mesopotamian tortoise. The reason for this is due to the fact that "Golden Greek" is a made up term. In the early 2000's these beautifully gold colored Testudo graeca began hitting the market as they were imported in droves. As usual, dealers had little to no history on them or what their subspecies actually was and sadly, they didn't bother to do much research. Older literature dubbed these small, yellow tortoises as Testudo graeca floweri. More recent taxonomy suggests that many of these golden beauties are actually the subspecies Testudo graeca terrestris found in areas like Syria and Jordan. The presence of T. g. terrestris with darker coloration within a population is one reason why the term "Golden Greek" is actually inaccurate. To boot, none of these so called Golden Greek tortoises occur in Greece. Perhaps the best way to sum up this dealer given term is that it's simply referring to a number of morphological traits. The overall light coloration with little to no black, similar colored skin and a smaller size for T. graeca are the most targeted traits when one mentions this tortoise. However, the fact of the matter remains that Golden Greeks aren't a species or really even a subspecies. Instead, they are a group of lighter colored animals found in some of the most arid and hot places within Testudo graeca's natural range. Their golden or yellow color enables them to successfully thrive in these harsh regions by reflecting solar radiation. Still, some taxonomic history can be found about these interesting animals. An interesting article on the subject can be found at this link: What Exactly is a Golden Greek?

Not Always So

 "Golden"

Most tortoise enthusiasts assume that Testudo graeca terrestris is close to or entirely golden. The fact of that matter is that black is a typical part of their overall coloration too. Tortoises will show varying degrees of black pigment and occasionally, there are some that are very, very dark. Golden or light examples can be found in any Greek tortoise subspecies throughout their range. This is another reason why the term "Golden Greek" can be seen as inaccurate. T. g. terrestris strongly varies in its golden tones as well. Pale yellow, rich yellow, ochre, tan and even vibrant orange are all classically part of their color scheme. 

In several of these photos, tortoises we can expect to see when we think of Testudo graeca terrestris are shown as well as those that may surprise us. Rather orange specimens and bright yellow ones are what many hope to acquire when searching for this subspecies. Perhaps a more appropriate way to narrow a search is to dub the animals as "golden variant of Testudo graeca terrestris", rather than outright titling the entire subspecies as "Golden Greeks". As if I haven't said it enough already on this site, understanding variation with the genus Testudo is key.

Females are larger than males. Some may surpass 1,000 grams while males fall into the 300-500 gram range. Captive born juveniles from populations where the majority of animals are very "golden" may exhibit extreme yellow coloration early on even if they were darker upon hatching.

Testudo graeca terrestris is by no means a large tortoise as we can see, but even within their compact range of dimensions, there are still variants with certain limitations. As with any species, different geographical populations can have different size spectrums.

The Issue With "terrestris"

Testudo graeca terrestris is seemingly used as a "blanket term" and covers a vast amount of tortoise groups. We are far from a final verdict in truly classifying what these animals are scientifically, so it may be best to keep them according to coloration if one does not know where they came from originally. Variation really is extreme within this subspecies and this does not only concern coloration. Size and shape vary strongly as well. There are larger, more elongate animals with dark coloration and tiny animals which are entirely yellow. There are medium sized ones with orange tones and there are some that bear the classic black and yellow look of Hermann's tortoises and many T. g. ibera. They are certainly different from each other with darker animals being more cold tolerant on average. Until science pays the attention to these tortoises that they deserve, we as keepers are somewhat in the dark. This is yet another reason why knowing the history and origins of your animals is so important. 

Hatchling Variation

We now know the Mesopotamian tortoise to be highly variable belonging to a vast distribution which contains countless populations. Stepping outside of "golden comfort zone", one must accept the truth that this tortoise comes in many colors. Babies often resemble the adults that produce them but given the fact that keepers have mixed these animals up so badly, we don't always know exactly what we are looking at. With the exception of Testudo graeca marokkensisbaby Greek tortoises are all extremely similar to begin with.

Golden colored adults with little to no black pigment will produce very yellow babies on average. Babies tend to feature the classic black central line or dot on each carapace scute. Black lines the sutures between the carapace scutes and this may fade entirely as the animals grow.

Hatchlings produced by darkly colored adults may exhibit a beautiful chocolate color with black borders. These animals can grow into heavily blotched looking animals and some may be nearly all black.