How to Care for Your Hermann’s Tortoise
Hermann’s tortoises (Testudo hermanni) are medium-sized tortoises native to the Mediterranean coast of southern Europe. They prefer arid to submesic habitats such as scrub, rocky hillsides, and open countryside.
Hermann’s tortoises can be as small as 4” or as large as 14”, depending on the locality and sex. They have a highly domed shell, blunt snout, and a distinctive horn on the tip of their tail. Their coloring is yellow/beige with a brown/black pattern on the shell, and the plastron has two large brown-black splotches. Young individuals have a yellow spot on each cheek.
Hermann’s tortoises are popular pets, but they’re a BIG commitment — with proper care, they can live up to 90 years!
How much space do Hermann’s tortoises need?
A single Hermann’s tortoise should have no less than 22 square feet of floor space. If you can provide larger, do it! They will certainly make good use of it.
If you are raising a hatchling, avoid outdoor pens and tortoise tables at first. It’s best to use an enclosed terrarium for hatchlings so they don’t get dehydrated.
Individuals larger than 3” long can be housed in a “tortoise table” setup as long as they have access to areas of higher humidity, such as humid hides and burrows. It’s a common misconception that tortoises do well in dry conditions, but this kind of treatment will lead to a dehydrated tortoise!
It’s optimal to keep your tortoise in an outdoor pen, if your local climate is suitable. Aside from providing free heat and UVB, outdoor pens make it easy to provide a much larger enclosure for your pet. The walls of this pen should rise 24” above ground level, with capped corners, dug at least 12” underground, and with anti-predator measures in place. In most parts of the US, the tortoise can be kept outdoors from April to October, and longer if you don’t have cold winters in your area. If you do have cold winters, you will need to be able to provide an indoor enclosure for the winter months.
Hermann’s tortoises can be successfully housed together, but it doesn’t seem to be required for their wellbeing. If you want to have more than one, increase the minimum enclosure size recommendation for 20% for each additional individual and buy them all at the same time so they can “grow up” together.
Do Hermann’s tortoises need UVB?
Yes. Aside from helping provide a day/night cycle and an infinite supply of vitamin D, UVB is also essential to your tortoise’s overall health. The best UVB bulbs for Hermann’s tortoises are:
- Arcadia T5 HO 12%
- Zoo Med T5 HO Reptisun 10.0
The UVB bulb and fixture should be roughly half the total length of the enclosure. When the bulb is mounted in an Arcadia or Vivarium Electronics fixture without mesh obstruction, it should be 17-18” above the tortoise’s shell.
Because a large enclosure is required for Hermann’s tortoises, if you are housing yours indoors, a single UVB bulb and your room’s ambient lighting will likely not be enough to sufficiently illuminate the enclosure. Add a strong 6500K LED or T5 HO fluorescent grow light to energize your tortoise and better simulate daylight
All lighting should be on for 14 hours/day during summer and 10 hours/day during winter.
If your tortoise is being housed outside and has access to direct sunlight, artificial lighting of any kind is not required.
What basking temperatures do Hermann’s tortoises need?
Hermann’s tortoises should have a basking temperature of 95-105°F, with a cool/shaded area on the other side of the enclosure between 75-85°F. Heat should be turned off at night. Nighttime temps should not get higher than 72°F. Temperature should be measured with digital probe thermometers.
Because of their large, domed shells, it’s best to create a basking area for your Hermann’s tortoise with a cluster of at least two halogen heat lamps placed on one side of the enclosure, mounted at least 8” above the tortoise’s shell to provide even heating. Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), heat mats, red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective.
Supplementary heating is usually not required for outdoor tortoise enclosures. However, if your nighttime temperatures are routinely dipping down below 50°F, then it’s a good idea to provide a small tortoise shelter heated to 55-60°F.
What humidity levels do Hermann’s tortoises need?
Hermann’s tortoises can survive fairly low humidity levels, but they do best with moderate levels of ambient humidity. Strive for an average humidity of 40-60% for adults. One of the best ways to do this is by offering a humid hide lined with dampened substrate on the cool end of the enclosure.
Hatchlings require ambient humidity levels of 60-80% for proper hydration and shell development. However, your tortoise’s enclosure should never be consistently wet, as this can cause skin, shell, and respiratory problems! Performing soaks in shallow, lukewarm water 3-4x/week for 15 minutes each is a good way to help keep hatchlings well hydrated.
To increase ambient humidity levels, you can mist the enclosure with a spray bottle each evening, but it’s most effective to mix water directly into the substrate.
Humidity should be measured by a digital probe hygrometer with the probe in the middle of the terrarium.
What substrate is good for Hermann’s tortoises?
Substrate covers the floor of your enclosure and helps make the setup more attractive, but it also helps maintain higher humidity levels and provides something for your tortoise to dig in as desired.
It’s ideal to use a substrate that imitates what Hermann’s tortoises naturally live on in the wild. In other words, you’ll need something that resembles sandy soil. It should have small particles, not be too dusty, and pack well enough for burrowing.
The best substrate for a Hermann’s tortoise is a roughly 50/50 mix of topsoil and play sand, which you can mix yourself using ingredients sourced for cheap from your local landscaping supply store. For best results, layer some cypress mulch on top.
Substrate should be as deep as possible — no less than 6”. It must also be fully replaced every 3-4 months. Remove poop and urates daily, along with contaminated substrate.
What décor can you use in a Hermann’s tortoise enclosure?
It’s terribly boring for a tortoise to be stuck in an enclosure with nothing in it except substrate, a hide, and food/water bowls. It doesn’t matter how big the enclosure is if you don’t put things in it for your pet to use and interact with. A bored tortoise is a stressed tortoise, and stress can be lethal.
Here are some décor ideas that are appropriate for Hermann’s tortoises:
- additional hiding places/burrows
- large hollow logs
- cork flats
- live, edible plants
- large, flat stones
You can also shape the substrate into hills to provide an extra challenge.
What do Hermann’s tortoises eat?
Hermann’s tortoises are herbivorous, which means that they require a high-fiber diet. Food should be offered daily. If your tortoise is starting to look chubby (like it doesn’t fit in its own shell), reduce the amount of food that you offer per day.
Safe greens for Hermann’s tortoises: cactus pads, kale, turnip greens, mustard greens, dandelion greens + flowers, hibiscus leaves + flowers, nasturtium, alfalfa, clover, coreopsis, geranium, grape leaves, green cabbage, kale, radicchio, chicory, watercress, fennel, sprouts, endive, radish greens
Greens should make up the majority of your tortoise’s diet. Fruits and vegetables can be offered as well, but these should be used only as treats, offered 1x/week or less. Options include berries, currants, pineapple, banana, kiwi, fig, prickly pear, melon, plum, and orange for fruit. Vegetable options include squash, cucumber, mushrooms, peas, beans, and carrot.
You will also need calcium and vitamin supplements to prevent your tortoise from developing a potential deficiency. We recommend Repashy Superveggie dusted on each meal. A little bit of Mazuri grassland tortoise formula or Zoo Med Natural Grassland Tortoise Food mixed in with the greens is also a good way to make sure your tortoise is getting enough vitamins.
To help keep the beak trimmed and make sure your tortoise is getting enough calcium, keep a cuttlebone in the enclosure at all times. Your tortoise will gnaw on it whenever it feels like it needs more calcium.
Of course, don’t forget a water dish for your tortoise to drink from! Use a very shallow dish of water like a flower pot saucer or baking tray for this. The water should be no deeper than your tortoise’s elbows.
Change the water daily and scrub the bowl with a reptile-safe disinfectant weekly.
Do Hermann’s tortoises like to be handled?
Few reptiles actually “like” to be held, and as a general rule, it’s a bad idea to pick up a pet tortoise and carry them around. Hermann’s tortoises generally tolerate human interaction well, especially individuals that were bred in captivity. If you want to interact with your pet, try hand-feeding it or lightly brushing its shell.
If you need to handle your tortoise, never grab a tortoise from above, as that will scare it. Instead, approach from the side and scoop from below. Support as much of its body as possible and keep the handling period to a minimum.
*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please do further research with high-quality sources to obtain additional information on caring for this species.
"Testudo hermanni" by AlexandreRoux01 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0