One of the planet's most unique and intriguing tortoise species, the Marginated tortoise (Testudo marginata), reins over Europe as the largest of the Testudo species group. A rugged tortoise, the Marginated exhibits thick scales covering its powerful legs with well-equipped claws for digging and nesting. It has a peculiar look about it with an elongated carapace marked by a conspicuous bell or skirt at the back. The shell is black by nature and features a cream to orange or yellow areola on each scute. Testudo marginata occupies an expansive range across the Balkans, Greece, Albania and into Italy including the island of Sardinia where it is said to have been introduced. It's one of our absolute favorites here at Garden State Tortoise and never disappoints as a personable and incredibly hardy species. They are rather prolific too laying multiple clutches of eggs in a single season. Although they are not considered endangered or threatened by the IUCN to date, they are not as abundant in American collections as other European tortoises are such as Testudo graeca ibera, Testudo hermanni boettgeri and Testudo horsfieldii.
AN INTERESTING LOOK
Testudo marginata is effortlessly recognizable by its skirted appearance when viewed from above. The rear marginal scutes beautifully flare outward creating a distinct bell shape on both sexes. This comes out with age and neonates are not born with it. As adults, Marginated tortoises feature gorgeously blackened carapaces. On specimens from the Balkans and Greece, the skirt may look serrated while those from Sardinia sport a skirt that is smooth.The cream to yellowish-orange centers of each scute may or may not always be present and some animals are entirely black.
Testudo marginata is often the victim of improper care in captivity which leads to severe deformation. In fact, this is one species which really tends to look nothing like it's supposed to when adequate care is not met. Washed out, light or cream colored individuals with less flaring of the rear marginal scutes are commonplace in the pet trade. Some enthusiasts will even attempt to promote the light coloration when in fact it is entirely unnatural and not associated with this species' actual adult phenotype. Sometimes, subjecting a light colored specimen to natural sunlight will help it to darken over time. As Testudo marginata ages, the carapace may become a uniform black with little to no light centers on each scute. This older look contrasts the hatchling coloration which is usually quite light.
The Marginated tortoise's plastron helps to add to its remarkable appearance. It's light colored background is definitively marked by dark chevrons. These triangular shapes run in two rows on either side of the mid suture of the plastron and are easily visible even in extremely old animals. No other species features such markings except for the tiny Egyptian tortoise in which case they are fewer and less conspicuous.
Baby Testudo marginata are easily confused with other baby Mediterranean tortoises by having a light ground color with each carapace scute having dark borders. To differentiate them from others, you'll notice the ground color is more of a cream or almost white as opposed to yellow, brown or orange. In addition to this, each carapace scute does not exhibit a central marking like in many other Testudo. When all else fails, baby Marginated tortoises can be singled out by looking at the plastron. Even as newborns, they bear the unmistakable dark triangular shapes or chevrons that no other Testudo has except the Egyptian tortoise which will only feature two of these.
Female Marginated tortoises are typically smaller than males. This, along with a flat or level plastron and a small, short and plump tail help to set them apart from the deeply concave plastroned males with long tails. Females may begin laying fertile clutches of eggs at as small as 8". Most females seem to top out at between 9.5 and 12" but again, larger ones are not unheard of. Still, it seems the males are the ones that really top the charts in size. Females are not all that different from larger sized Testudo graeca ibera. Males may tip the scales at weighing more than 6 kg while females may not even reach 3,000 grams in some cases.