The eastern Hermann's tortoise (Testudo hermanni boettgeri) is by far the most common of the Mediterranean tortoises of the genus Testudo alongside Testudo (Agrionemys) horsfieldii, known as the Russian or Horsfield's tortoise. This attractive tortoise is frequently encountered at reptile expos and through online classified dealers. Success with breeding the eastern Hermann's has been achieved by countless keepers across the globe as they continue to not disappoint when it comes to being a prolific and rather reliable chelonian. Testudo hermanni boettgeri is far more reproductive than its western cousin Testudo hermanni hermanni and an avalanche of captive born hatchlings are available every year in the United States and other countries. They are highly adaptive, personable and robust. Although a Hermann's tortoise (and the most well-known), they are quite different from the western subspecies and are extremely variable in size and coloration. This tortoise is subjected to so much variation that they typically are not broken down into locales or forms like T. h. hermanni. Genetically speaking, T. h. boettgeri's localities do not show the same differences that their western counterparts do (for example, the marked difference between continental and insular forms of T. h. hermanni). Eastern Hermann's tortoises are a very hardy European chelonian much like Testudo graeca ibera in that they tolerate cold temperatures very well and conform to many areas outside their natural range.
Testudo hermanni boettgeri exhibits variation in many ways but one distinct trait is the inconsistency of the markings on the plastron. Unlike T. h. hermanni, they feature frayed, broken or ill-defined pigment that may or may not extend from the gular scutes to the anal scutes. Some specimens may lack dark pigment entirely and some may feature a plastron that is covered by it. Having a nearly all-black plastron still differs greatly from the western subspecies. This is because Testudo hermanni hermanni exhibits well-defined, carefully structured black stripes always separated from each other along the midline of the plastron. The eastern Hermann's also features a pectoral scute suture that is typically wider than the femoral suture. This is reversed in the western.
The eastern Hermann's tortoise is classically the largest of the Hermann's tortoises. Even with some western Hermann's examples reaching impressive dimensions (certain insular forms), the eastern typically takes the cake. Most of our females top out at between 7.5-9 inches but we do have giants at a carapace length of nearly 12 inches. Bulgaria is commonly home to the largest specimens but beasts do turn up in other areas throughout their natural range. Very small individuals belonging to T. h. boettgeri are also observed and they derive from the south of Greece, particularly the Peloponnesus. Unofficially dubbed "Testudo hermanni peloponnesica" some do consider this to be a valid subspecies.
Male Testudo hermanni boettgeri are usually the smaller of the sexes. Most reach a carapace length of between 5.5 and 7.5" but again, much larger ones are not uncommon. Bull males surpassing 8 inches exist even in our collection and even larger ones have been encountered in nature. Males may display external characteristics at sizes as small as 3 inches with the first sign being the widening of the anal scutes.
Very large Testudo hermanni boettgeri are not normally encountered in captivity but they are a reminder of the dimensions they can reach. This particular female in our collection weighs in at 3.9kg and measures 11.2" (28.4cm). In earlier times, the largest examples of tortoises and turtles were often the first ones to be collected for both food or pet trade. Today the trend has shifted to smaller animals being the most sought after. Although this animal is quite a beast, she certainly is not the biggest one out there.
The same tortoise above is compared to a marginated tortoise (Testudo marginata) in the first photo and an Asia Minor tortoise (Testudo graeca ibera) in the second photo. These are both species that reach considerable size so it is impressive to see an eastern Hermann's tortoise rivaling them.
The head of Testudo hermanni boettgeri is robust with a blunt snout. Light areas may or may not exist at the top or sides of the head. A yellow subocular spot or "cheek patch" is not present in adults but may be in hatchlings and juveniles for a short time. Weight varies with adults reaching between 850 and 1,800 grams however, some will surpass 2,000 grams.
The markings of the eastern Hermann's tortoise are all over the place. Most have less defined black pigment on a background of ochre, tan, yellow or straw but some may feature a rather high degree of contrast. Very black specimens and very yellow ones are not uncommon. In some cases, the contrast and markings of the carapace can somewhat resemble the clarity or definition of Testudo hermanni hermanni. On the fourth vertebral scute of the carapace, a central black spot or marking is many times lacking. This marking is typically always present in the western subspecies.
Like the western subspecies, the eastern subspecies of Hermann's tortoise is subject to various local forms. One form is often coveted because of its light coloration. Testudo hermanni boettgeri from the republic of Macedonia tend to bear little black pigment anywhere on the shell and commonly have brighter skin coloration than other forms. Some examples are so yellow, they could rival the intensity of the yellow classically found on
T. hermanni hermanni. Macedonian boettgeri
are sometimes confused with the Mesopotamian tortoise (Testudo graeca terrestris) because of the overall "golden" appeal. These tortoises are not uncommon in collections, are not a manmade morph and each year hundreds of them are exported to countries like the USA. They are usually dubbed "farmed imports" but they are sadly collected in nature most of the time.
The eastern Hermann's tortoise's local forms are far less distinguishable than those belonging to the western Hermann's and these yellow Macedonians are not a constant occurrence in their nature home. More typical boettgeri are found alongside them and babies may or may not be as yellow as the parents that produce them. Still, they are a stunning example of boettgeri and worthy of recognition.
Hatchling Testudo hermanni boettgeri resemble the adults to some degree. The general look of the carapace with its colors and markings easily distinguishes them from Testudo hermanni hermanni neonates but they are often confused with young Testudo graeca ibera. Baby boettgeri usually exhibit dark colored skin with a subocular spot on each side of the head that will disappear with age. They are brawny youngsters right out of the egg and tend to put on their first growth rings relatively quickly.