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How to Identify Hermann's Tortoises

Discussion in 'Hermanns tortoises' started by HermanniChris, Jan 22, 2018.

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  1. HermanniChris

    HermanniChris Well-Known Member TFO Sponsor 10 Year Member!

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    HOW TO IDENTIFY HERMANN'S TORTOISES

    This is a newly updated (2018) thread explaining how to tell apart the subspecies or "types" of Hermann's tortoise (Testudo hermanni ssp). Before reading on, it's crucial for you to understand that telling the Hermann's tortoises apart is not always easy. In addition to this, the presence of hybrids (crosses between the different types of Hermann's) is a very real and unfortunate situation that not only concerns us as keepers but also threatens the future of these tortoises in nature, particularly the western Hermann's tortoise. The western is IUCN red listed as ENDANGERED and is actually considered to be one of the rarest reptiles in western Europe today.

    In current taxonomy, the Hermann's tortoise species complex is recognized by two (2) distinct subspecies. These two are separated by both morphological (external) traits such as color, markings and size and also by genetics. They derive from different evolutionary branches.

    The two recognized subspecies to date are:

    Western Hermann's tortoise (Testudo hermanni hermanni)
    Eastern Hermann's tortoise (Testudo hermanni boettgeri)


    A third, once recognized subspecies which has now been downgraded to a geographical variant of the eastern Hermann's tortoise is also present. Many still consider it to be valid as there are many difference that separate it (including reproduction stats) so it will be treated as a subspecies here:

    Dalmatian tortoise (Testudo hermanni hercegovinensis)

    Meet the Hermann's Tortoises

    First, let's get familiar with the Hermann's tortoise subspecies.

    Western Hermann's tortoise (Testudo hermanni hermanni)
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    IUCN Red List: Endangered B1+2abcde ver 2.3
    Adult Size: Highly dependent on form or locale but generally 3.6 to 8 inches (males smaller)
    Coloration & Markings: Carapace is bright yellow, gold, or slightly greenish ground color (again depending on form) accompanied by jet black markings. High degree of contrast. "Keyhole" or "mushroom cloud" symbol clearly indicated on fifth vertebral scute of the carapace. A central black spot, blotch or line is typically present on the fourth vertebral scute. The supracaudal shield (scute above the tail) is divided. The plastron features two longitudinal jet black stripes that run parallel along the mid line separated from each other. The stripes extend from the humeral scutes down to the anal scutes and are commonly unbroken. The undersides of the gular scutes are usually free of black pigment but may feature a few spots, usually in males more so than females. The suture between the pectoral scutes on the plastron is shorter than that of the suture between the femoral scutes. The head is narrow with regular contours and features a yellow spot or patch under and just behind each eye which is referred to as the "subocular spot". The spot is indicative of the western subspecies and varies in size and vibrance depending on age and form/locale. The skin is light or yellow in color with only some darker areas usually on the top of the head and sides of the legs.
    Range: Continental Italy, Italian islands Sicily & Sardinia, Southern France & the island Corisca, Continental Spain & the Balearic Islands of Mallorca & Minorca

    Read more here: https://www.hermannihaven.com/the-western-hermann-s-tortoise

    Eastern Hermann's tortoise (Testudo hermanni boettgeri)
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    IUCN Red List: Near Threatened ver 3.1
    Adult Size: 6 to 10" (males smaller)
    Coloration & Markings: Carapace is tan, yellowish, ochre or greenish with black borders on each scute varying in intensity. A central black spot, blotch or line is typically lacking on the fourth vertebral scute but this can vary heavily. The supracaudal shield (scute above the tail) may or may not be divided. The plastron features broken stripes which may appear as faded blotches on each scute. Some forms sport a plastron almost entirely black while others may lack black entirely. The undersides of the gular scutes may feature black or grayish pigment. The suture between the pectoral scutes on the plastron is longer than that of the suture between the femoral scutes. The head is robust and more rounded with a blunt snout. The subocular spot is only present in very young animals or never at all. The skin is primarily a dark gray to black with some light yellow-green areas.
    Range:
    Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania, Greece & the islands from Corfu to Zakynthos & European Turkey
    Read more here: https://www.hermannihaven.com/t-hermanni-boettgeri

    Dalmatian Tortoise (Testudo hermanni hercegovinensis)
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    IUCN Red List: Near Threatened ver 3.1
    Adult Size: 4 to 8" (males smaller)
    Coloration & Markings: Carapace is tan, yellowish, ochre or greenish with black borders on each scute varying in intensity. A central black spot, blotch or line is typically present on the fourth vertebral scute but this can vary. The supracaudal shield (scute above the tail) is usually divided. The plastron features stripes that are somewhat of a meeting ground between the other two Hermann's tortoise subspecies in that they are distinguishable but usually broken and with less intensity than the western. The undersides of the gular scutes may lack pigment. The sutures of the pectoral scutes compared to the femoral scutes vary greatly but are often close to being even in length. The head is rounded with a short snout and features noticeable greenish scales at the back on the top of the head sometimes in a heart shape of sorts. The skin is primarily a dark gray to black with some light yellow-green areas.
    Range:
    coastal Croatia, coastal Bosnia-Herzegovina & coastal Montenegro
    Read more here: https://www.hermannihaven.com/t-hermanni-hercegovinensis


    WESTERN vs EASTERN

    Comparing the western Hermann's tortoise to the eastern Hermann's first will allow the viewer to see the main differences between the two when we examine morphological characteristics typically assigned to each one. Always keep in mind that variation persists with any tortoise species so there are occasional exceptions to these general rules.

    In the following images the western Hermann's tortoise is shown on the left and the eastern Hermann's tortoise is shown on the right.

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    In the above photo, it's easy to see the size difference and coloration differences right off the bat.

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    Using the same photo but highlighting main characteristics in blue, the differences become clearer.

    Blue Arrows: Note the difference in the intensity of the markings and vibrance of the coloration. The western Hermann's tortoise features brighter colors and stronger contrast with markings almost symmetrical in appearance.

    Blue Circles: The "keyhole" or "mushroom cloud" symbol on the fifth vertebral scute of the carapace is easily seen on the western Hermann's tortoise while it is nearly lacking entirely in the eastern.

    Blue Pin: On the western Hermann's tortoise the blue pin points to the central black marking of the fourth vertebral scute while it is lacking in the eastern. Keep in mind it is not always lacking on the eastern and very, very occasionally it will actually be lacking on the western but this is rare.

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    In this last carapace photo the keyhole symbol is outlined in blue for even more clarity.

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    In this photo the plastron of each subspecies is shown. Again, the western is on the left and the eastern is on the right.

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    Using the same photo with blue highlights, we see the differences again.

    Blue Arrows: Note the solid, jet black stripes running parallel along the midline that are separated from each other on the western Hermann's tortoise. This is one of this animal's indicative traits. The stripes extend from the humeral scutes to the anal scutes. In the eastern, there is little to no definition of the stripes and they appear faded or patchy.

    Blue Lines: The length of the suture separating the pectoral scutes is shorter than that of the one separating the femoral scutes on the western Hermann's tortoise. This is reversed in the eastern. Keep in mind that this sometimes varies a bit on the eastern.

    Blue Dotted Lines: This trait is not always as reliable as the rest, however, it is worth mentioning. In the western Hermann's tortoise the suture of the humeral scutes usually dips downward in a drastic "U" shape particularly on continental (mainland) and Balearic Island forms. In the eastern, the same suture may be a wavy line, a "V" shape or even a zig zag.

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    In this above shot of the western Hermann's tortoise the subocular spot or "cheek spot" as well as the general lighter coloration of the skin is shown.

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    In this photo the subocular spot is pointed out by a blue arrow. The sleek or narrow shape of the head is apparent here.

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    Now in this photo we see the head of an adult eastern Hermann's tortoise. Note the overall dark color and no subocular spot.

    [​IMG]
    This photo is purposely here to show the variation we are sometimes faced with. This is a pure eastern Hermann's tortoise with overall lighter coloration as clearly shown in the photo. This animal hails from Macedonia where many times the tortoises are rather yellow. Although this animal's head shows vibrance, note the lack of a defined subocular spot and that it's more of the yellow head color bleeding down. Also take note of the robustness of the head and the blunt snout.


    WESTERN vs DALMATIAN vs EASTERN

    This time around we add in the Dalmatian tortoise (Testudo hermanni hercegovinensis) to the mix.
    The western is on the left, eastern on the right and the Dalmatian is right smack in the middle. This is an appropriate place for it as it is often looked at as a "middle ground" between the western and eastern. Its genetics point it at being more related to the eastern subspecies but it surely reveals some characteristics that resemble the western.

    Remember: The Dalmatian tortoise is featured in the CENTER of the following photos.

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    In the above carapace photo we can see a little more definition of the markings and contrast on the Dalmatian tortoise when compared to the eastern but it surely lacks the vibrance and intensity of contrast that the western is famous for.

    [​IMG]
    Now in this above image we can see a bit more. The Dalmatian tortoise features the same downward dip of the humeral scute suture that the western does yet it features a pectoral scute suture that is nearly equal in length to the femoral suture which is not typically found on the western and but sometimes on the eastern. Lastly, take note of the plastral stripes. Although they are more defined and fuller than the eastern's, they are nowhere near as well-defined and solid as the western's.

    [​IMG]

    Green Arrows: This photo reveals a trait which the Dalmatian tortoise is most known for. The lack of inguinal scutes on one or both sides. These small triangular scutes where the carapace meets the plastron in front of each rear limb are missing in the Dalmatian tortoise some 60% of the time. Occasionally we will see western Hermann's tortoises from islands such as Sicily missing one or both of these scutes as well but it is isolated here as a peculiar and unique trait and not a typical trait of continental forms.

    [​IMG]

    Green Arrow: A closer look at a missing inguinal scute in the Dalmatian tortoise.

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    The head of the Dalmatian tortoise is a clear indicator for differentiation more often than not. It has a distinct look. Blunt, short ad rounded with greenish scales at the top, especially in younger animals.

    [​IMG]
    Note the almost "heart shape" of the greenish scales on the top of the head of this sub adult Dalmatian tortoise. Again, it's imperative that you take note of variation. Both the eastern and western Hermann's tortoises may or may not have similar yellow to greens scales on the top of the head.

    [​IMG]
    Lastly, we see baby Hermann's tortoises being compared. Again, the western is on the left, eastern is on the right and Dalmatian is in the center. Note the vibrance and contrast of the western Hermann's tortoise and the presence of the keyhole symbol on the first vertebral scute already. The Dalmatian tortoise features a bit more contrast than the eastern to the right but both are more of a tan coloration rather than a bright yellow.

    [​IMG]
    As we can see in this plastron photo of the same babies above, the black stripes of the plastron are not as reliable of an indicator for subspecies differentiation on neonates. They are many times broken on all three. This can and does vary and the western can be distinguished by any other of the traits listed in this thread even as a baby.

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    In this final baby photo we can clearly see the differences in color between the western (left) and eastern (right).

    HYBRIDS

    Hybrids between the subspecies of Hermann's tortoise are extremely unfortunate and sadly they do turn up more than we'd like to admit. In the United States, hybrids have been reported fairly often but with 100% pure examples of the western subspecies already being a rarity, most hybrids are the result of the eastern Hermann's tortoise
    (Testudo hermanni boettgeri) crossing with the Dalmatian tortoise (Testudo hermanni hercegovinensis). This is partly due to the fact that many keepers did not even realize that they had two different types of Hermann's tortoise in their collections and the result was a significant flow of hybrids.
    Crosses between the western Hermann's and eastern Hermann's or western Hermann's and Dalmatian tortoise are much easier to detect than eastern X Dalmatian. In the following images, known crosses between the western and Dalmatian are shown. Upon genetic investigation, we found these animals to carry allele 73 for GAL136 which is only found in Dalmatian tortoises (specifically those in Croatia). They were the result of these two subspecies being crossed by a European breeder and then sent to the United States as pure western Hermann's tortoises.

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    Red Arrows: The arrows point out the separation of the black plastral stripes, gray areas, lack of definition and altogether "muddied" appearance which are indicators of a hybrid.

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    Red Cicles: These point out the messiness and gray infused with black along the plastron, outside of the plastral stripes.

    Red Lines: If this was a pure western Hermann's tortoise, the pectoral suture would not be longer than the femoral suture, especially with so much disturbance in the coloration and definition already hinting at this animal being impure.

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    Red Arrows: Pointed out in this photo is the heavy presence of brown areas in between the black and yellow of the carapace on this hybrid. This adult animal would be only two colors (yellow of sorts and black) if it were a pure animal. These brown areas are only acceptable in neonates and growing youngsters, not adults.

    No actual pure adult example of the western Hermann's tortoise would be found with brown bleeding through the yellow and black. In fact, none of the subspecies have such heavy brown bleeding through as adults. Below is an example of how crisp and clean the look of a pure western Hermann's is. This specimen is from Apulia, Italy.
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    In the final two images above, a pure western Hermann's tortoise is featured on the left and a hybrid Hermann's tortoise (western X Dalmatian) is shown on the right. Clear differences can be seen. The pure animal is vibrant and shows crisp definition in its markings top and bottom. The hybrid is washed out, "messy" and lacks proper definition in its traits. Again, these are genetically sampled animals. The western tested 100% pure while the hybrid absolutely did not. Therefore, we are able to use these animals as educational tools with high hopes that they will enable the viewer to be able to tell the difference themselves since DNA testing is not something available very often at all.



    These are only some examples of hybrids and they absolutely are not always easy to detect.



    The information concerning Hermann's tortoises and the entire genus of
    Testudo is growing and research continues both in situ and ex. There is much to learn and updates will come about as new details surface and time allows. For anything at all concerning Hermann's, Greek, Marginated and Egyptian tortoises, please visit my site dedicated to them and their understanding at:

    HermanniHaven.com

    Chris Leone
    owner, Garden State Tortoise & Hermanni Haven
    director of animal husbandry, theTurtleRoom

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    Last edited: Jan 22, 2018
    JENNY04 and Iochroma like this.
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