Testudo hermanni hermanni:

Western Hermann's tortoise


Varoise (Var), a department in the south of France, harbors a remarkable natural park known as the Plaine Des Maures. This highly protected natural area is home to a very distinct and highly endangered form of Testudo hermanni hermanni. Their numbers have plummeted drastically over the years and they face possible extinction just like their nearby cousins in Albera, Spain. Conservation concerns suggest exploring their distinct genetic makeup in order to asses their very uncertain future as they appear to be (dangerously) homogenous. This form rarely strays from its typically described phenotype but still, some variation absolutely can be found on these beautiful examples of T. h. hermanni and we see this slightly with our own specimens right here. Regardless, they are quite different from any Italian form and tend to resemble those from continental Spain and some Balearic Island locales morphologically. They are a very rare and unique tortoise.


  • Elliptical shape, minimal rear marginal scute flaring
  • Second vertebral scute 

    always straight edged
  • 50% or more of black on carapace

  • Golden-yellow (sometimes orangish) ground color 

  • Top of head dark

  • Subocular faded, or small and triangular in older animals, brighter in young

  • Reptilian-like head with regular contours 

  • Females may weigh 700-930 grams, males may weigh 500-650 grams

  • 5 claws on each front foot sometimes dark in elderly

  • Suture between humeral and pectoral scutes is "U" shaped

  • Gular scutes free of black except in some 10%

  • Produce 1-3 clutches of 2-3 eggs

  • Hatchlings attain color as they grow

  • Keyhole on fifth vertebral scute very well defined and wider at the center than Italian forms

  • Plastral bands thick with spikes pointing at the midline in certain areas

Plastron Points

The plastron of Var Testudo hermanni hermanni is rather strict in form. The black stripes are always unbroken and only feature faded areas from wear or previous shell rot. They extend from the humeral scutes to the anal scutes and stretch right to the sutures of the gular scutes. The undersides of the gular scutes usually do not feature any black pigment but a small percentage of animals will have one, maybe two small spots of black. In fact, the original Testudo hermanni hermanni holotype in the Strasbourg Zoological Museum is a specimen from Var with black spots on the undersides of both gular scutes.The characteristic black plastral stripes also usually feature spikes in areas like the sutures where the pectoral scutes meet the humeral scutes, the abdominal scutes meet the pectoral scutes and again where the femoral scutes meet the abdominal scutes. These noticeable spikes are revealed in sub-adult to adult animals and point at each other (circled in blue) similar to what we see on T. h. hermanni from Mallorca. This trait appears to be seen less in Italian forms. The suture of the pectoral scutes is always

recognizably shorter than that of the femoral scutes in Var specimens, being particularly exaggerated in males.

Keyhole Specs

Like any continental form of Testudo hermanni hermanni, Var specimens exhibit a clear and easily noticeable keyhole symbol on the fifth vertebral scute. This indicative trait is found on all, even young. It can be very difficult to attempt to find something about the keyhole symbol on Var hermanni that helps separate them from Italian forms. In general, continental examples of the western subspecies tend to have much tighter or "disciplined" looking keyholes when compared to insular populations. The only slight difference worth mentioning here is that on Var specimens the central area of the keyhole is sometimes wider than what is seen on Italian ones. Italian tortoises are often subjected to a little more variation in any department concerning traits. This means they too can have a wide central area of the symbol but many times it is noticeably skinnier. 

A Distinctive Head

The head of Varoise tortoises is very distinct. Like Albera, Spain specimens, the head is primarily dark and reptilian-like. The top of it is always dark except in juvenile examples which often display a few drab green to yellow scales at the back. On adults, faint, dark green scales may be present but really are only visible when sunlight shines on the animal or it is wetted down. Pure Var adults will not feature the bright yellow-green head scales found on many Italian T. h. hermanni. The snout is blunter than insular forms but not as rounded as Balearic Island forms. 

The subocular spot or cheek spot found on either side of the head is usually faded or lacking on Var tortoises. Babies and juveniles of course feature a brighter spot but as adults it becomes faded or lacking entirely. Some adults exhibit a small triangular remnant of it. This is usually rather noticeable against the dark head.

Gulars & Claws

As mentioned earlier, the original holotype of Testudo hermanni hermanni which was collected in Varoise does exhibit spots of black pigment on the undersides of the gular scutes. This is still less common than gular scutes that are free of any black on the undersides but it can and does occur for this form despite what some sources may claim. On the inner sides of the gulars there is usually nothing at all on Var specimens. Occasionally, one or both gulars may have a slight spot or strip of black but this is a trait more normally associated with insular Testudo hermanni hermanni forms such as Corsica, Mount Etna, Sardinia, Nebrodi or Madonie. Very few Var tortoises (maybe around 10% or so) will have a bit of black in this region. The point is that it does occur.

The number of claws on each front foot of Testudo hermanni hermanni forms has been the subject of great debate. In the case of Varoise tortoises, each front foot will some 80% of the time feature 5 claws. Occasionally an animal with 4 claws on one front foot and 5 on the other, or even 4 claws on each, will turn up.These animals are born with clear or light colored claws but as adults they can turn to grayish or even black. This trait helps set them part from Italian tortoises which seem to always feature light to yellow colored claws on the front feet. 

Shape, Size & Stats

Varoise western Hermann's tortoises are typically elliptical (oval or oblong) shaped. Rarely do we see much flaring in the rear except on some males. The carapace is covered in 50% or more of black content which contrasts their golden yellow to sometimes orangish background color. Some animals are very dark. The second vertebral scute is always classically straight edged and does not dip forward in an exaggerated "U" or "V" shape. It is only slightly rounded if at all. They are not the largest example of T. h. hermanni by any means but females can surpass 6" and weigh over 900 grams. More typical weight ranges for this form are 400-550 grams for males and 700 to 850 grams for females.