The Dalmatian tortoise (Testudo hermanni hercegovinensis) may also be dubbed the "Dalmatian variant of Testudo hermanni boettgeri". Simply put, scientists have demoted this once accepted subspecies of Hermann's tortoise to just a geographical variant (or locale) of the eastern subspecies, Testudo hermanni boettgeri based off various similarities. We unfortunately see these kinds of demotions concerning chelonians as certain taxonomists move closer to doing away with subspecies entirely. Rather than going in depth about why the Dalmatian is no longer accepted in current taxonomy, I will go on to describe this tortoise in detail as a separate type of Hermann's tortoise. Regardless of what has surfaced regarding their genetic make up, this tortoise is treated as its own subspecies here and absolutely exhibits traits which set it apart from both the western and eastern Hermann's tortoises.
The Dalmatian tortoise has been considered to be sort of a middle ground between the eastern and western Hermann's tortoise. It's morphology and colors overall resemble the eastern more so while its markings point more towards the western. The carapace is often rounded or oblong with less of an arch than T. h. hermanni but the contrast and design of the black markings on each scute do bear a similarity. On the fifth vertebral scute, a marking somewhat reminiscent of the distinct key hole symbol seen on the western subspecies may or may not be present. When present, it is not nearly as defined and is much wider. Usually, a dark central spot marks the areola of each carapace scute and is bordered laterally and anteriorly even on the fourth vertebral as is the case with Testudo hermanni hermanni. In elderly animals, markings are way less conspicuous giving way to a lighter shell generally. The supracaudal shield is more than often divided but not always. The ground color of the Dalmatian's shell is highly resemblant of T. h. boettgeri being ochre, horn colored, brownish or yellow-olive. They do not feature the vibrant golden yellow usually associated with many belonging to the western subspecies. In Istria, Testudo hermanni hercegovinensis may have orange hues to its ground color.
Testudo hermanni hercegovinensis bears a unique plastron. Black stripes running along the plastron's midline resemble that of the western Hermann's tortoise but are not nearly as conspicuous or solid. They also tend to touch the under sides of the gular scutes more so than the western. In old specimens, the black stripes may be lacking almost entirely as is the case with countless eastern conspecifics. The suture of the pectoral scutes may be wider than that of the femorals or both may be almost equal in length. The suture of the humeral scutes meeting the pectorals is commonly shaped like a "U". On many Dalmatians this is rather noticeable as is the case on various T. h. hermanni. These plastral traits are not always recognizable on neonates but one trait, the lack of inguinal scutes, is.
Perhaps the most distinguishing trait associated with the Dalmatian tortoise is the lack of inguinal scutes on one or both sides where the carapace joins the plastron at the bridge. In more than 60% of individuals studied in the wild by Wolfgang Wegehaupt, these inguinal scutes were lacking entirely. When present, they are often smaller and wider than the larger, longer ones seen on both the western and eastern subspecies. Of course, variation trips us up by not being consistent with this characteristic either, so one must always consider this when trying to identify these tortoises. In parts of the Italian islandS of Sicily and Sardinia, some Testudo hermanni hermanni may be lacking one or both of the inguinal scutes, however, they are pure to the western subspecies and not a hybrid. Inconsistencies like this one make it easier for taxonomists to do away with subspecies so it's always excellent to know exactly where a group of tortoises actually originate from. In the case of our stock, we know this so it makes it possible for more clarity in understanding their phenotype.
BLUNT BUT CUTE
The head and snout of the Dalmatian tortoise are definitely a trait worth relying on for differentiation. The snout is rounded or blunt and overall the head is rather pudgy. It is not sleek and narrow like T. h. hermanni and it is also not robust and bulky like that of T. h. boettgeri. In my opinion, the head is the best way to recognize a true T. h. hercegovinensis. The head's coloration is typically dark with greenish colored scales at the very back of the head often depicting the shape of a heart-like image. Both the western and eastern subspecies can exhibit similar markings but with the Dalmatian, it seems to always be present especially in the Coastal Croatian animals we work with. Overall the head of the Dalmatian is "cute" for lack of a better term appearing short and stout. Neonates are born with a noticeable yellow to greenish sub ocular spot and it may remain visible on younger adults. Although similar, it is not as conspicuous or yellow as found on Testudo hermanni hermanni.
Testudo hermanni hercegovinensis is a small tortoise. Males may barely surpass 4.5" and females may not make it above 6. Weights vary from 350-500 grams for males and 550-1,000 grams for females. While larger examples exist and locality plays a part in this as is the case with any Mediterranean tortoise, most stay at a smaller size. Some have even gone on to consider the Dalmatian quite possibly the smallest of the Hermann's tortoises. They come very close but, Testudo hermanni hermanni are the smallest on average, depending on form or locale.
Testudo hermanni hercegovinensis resemble T. h. boettgeri very closely as babies. Little sets them apart at such a young age but we do not notice differences in the carapace markings. Often the Dalmatian bears intricate center markings on the scutes of the carapace sometimes in the form of a concentric circle or smudge. If the animals are lacking inguinal scutes, this can be seen immediately upon them leaving the egg. For a comparison between all three Hermann's tortoise types including babies, click HERE.