The Testudo species complex is full of surprises and size spectrum is one topic that certainly reveals variation to its fullest extent. The Egyptian or Kleinmann's tortoise (Testudo kleinmanni) is the smallest and most petite of the Meditteranean crowd and in fact, they are the northern hemisphere's smallest tortoise species. These tiny tanks are colored a light sand, tan or brown color with slight dark highlights to each carapace scute. This color scheme allows them to reflect the intense sun in their desert-like habitat. Now considered possibly extinct in Egypt, they still occur in coastal Libya and are listed as critically endangered under the IUCN red list. Their small size and ability to be successfully housed indoors has made them an extremely popular species in herpetoculture with serious keepers attaining breeding success often. They are no longer legally exported but captive bred stock is now commonplace in various countries including the United States.
Testudo kleinmanni is appropriately designed to thrive in arid environments. In these locations, the sun is unforgiving causing temperatures to soar. A darkly colored tortoise would not stand much of a chance at surviving unless it spent the majority of its time in hiding. The Egyptian is capable of survival in these harsh landscapes thanks to its light coloration. While they still do spend a portion of their daily lives seeking refuge in vegetation and their root systems to obtain some humidity, they can move from one spot to the next without worrying about cooking as would a tortoise that exhibits heavy black pigmentation. Ground color is typically sand to tan or light brown but some specimens bear a beautiful yellow to orangish hue. The amount of dark borders on each scute varies between individuals and some lack dark pigment entirely. There's no mistaking the Egyptian tortoise as a member of the Testudo clan and one can easily see how its markings and colors fit this species group.
The Egyptian tortoise's plastron is unique in that it only somewhat resembles one other species in the Testudo grouping. Like the Marginated tortoise, its plastron is marked by dark triangular shapes known as chevrons. No other Testudo features these markings. Unlike the Marginated, the Egyptian tortoise only exhibits one chevron on each abdominal scute. These triangular notches are effortlessly visible on the light ground color of the plastron and even freshly hatched neonates feature them. In elderly specimens the chevrons may be faded or missing from wear over the years. In addition to the unmistakable markings, a slightly moveable hinge separates the femoral scutes from the abdominals in the caudal third of the plastron.
It doesn't take long for one to take notice of the high degree of pyramided (lumpy carapace) Testudo kleinmanni under captive conditions. Because this species comes from desert-like habitats, it's long been assumed that they must be kept extremely dry in captivity. We now know that improper hydration is directly linked to the raising of the shell's scutes in any tortoise species and it's crucial to mention that this is no different for the Egyptian tortoise. While they cannot withstand moist or wet conditions for prolonged periods, they absolutely do benefit from occasional rains (misting via spray bottle) and humid hides. In nature they are said to inhabit the root systems of various grasses and other vegetation where humidity is high. In these microclimates they make scrapes or forms to sit in and subject themselves to the beneficial humidity. During a rain or morning coastal mist, they eagerly drink from puddles or from leaves collecting water. Shortly after emerging from their nests, newly hatched neonates seek out cover in humid places. This enables them to grow perfectly smooth over time. In truth, Testudo kleinmanni does not have to be pyramided, they just need to be provided with ways to obtain air humidity and drinking water. They just simply cannot be kept on damp ground or be overly exposed to moist and excessively humid situations.
There's no hiding the fact that the Egyptian tortoise is small. Everything about them seems miniature and easy to accommodate, that is of course if you can provide them with appropriate conditions. Males may not even make it to 4" and most of ours are just barely over 3.5" while our females on occasional might surpass 4.5", but not by much. They are a wonderful addition to the Testudo genus and truly showcase this species group of tortoises' degree of variation. Almost no other Mediterranean tortoise comes close to the Egyptian's size except for Testudo graeca nabeulensis and some Testudo hermanni hermanni. While those two mentioned tortoises may be more colorful and slightly rarer than T. kleinmanni in captive collections, without a doubt, kleinmanni holds its own uniqueness in the chelonian world.
TEENY, TINY BABIES
We've already covered the point that Testudo kleinmanni is a small tortoise but that means its offspring are exceptionally small. Barely any bigger than a penny, baby Egyptian tortoises can rest comfortably on the tip of a finger. They are a tan to brown color with varying degrees of dark mottling on the carapace scutes and the chevrons on the plastron are recognizable right out of the egg.
The eggs deposited by adult females are surprisingly large for their body size. Brittle shelled like all Testudo eggs, they incubate for 85 to 110 days. Babies are fragile and sensitive taking their time to exit their eggs. They spend up to 8 days in the incubator after emerging to soak up the precious yolk sac and straighten out after being folded nearly in half inside the egg.