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Mediterranean Spur-Thighed Tortoise

Mediterranean Spur-Thighed Tortoise
Testudo graeca ibera

The Spur-Thighed tortoise or Greek Tortoise as it also known by, is one of five species of Mediterranean tortoise. It is commonly confused with the Hermans tortoise but there are distinct differences.

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What does the Mediterranean Spur-Thighed Tortoise look like?

The Mediterranean Spur-Thighed Tortoise, also known as the Greek Spur-Thighed Tortoise is a medium sized species, growing to an average shell length of 25cm. They are so called because of the distinctive Spur like projections they develop on the back of their hind legs, used during combat during the breeding season. They have a patterned carapace (top of the shell) with a variable colouration, from yellow to brown and black. 

A healthy animal should have a solid, smooth domed shell with no pyramiding. They have a strong beak similar to birds, in order to eat the tough vegetation in their diet; often using their claws to hold food in place while they eat. Males will generally have longer tails than females, and as they grow larger the plastron (underside of the shell) will begin to concave to facilitate breeding.

Where are Mediterranean Spur-Thighed Tortoises from?

The Spur-Thighed Tortoises geographic range includes North Africa, Southern Europe, and Southwest Asia. It is prevalent in the Black Sea coast of the Caucasus (from Anapa, Russia, to Sukhumi, Abkhazia, Georgia, to the south), as well as in other regions of Georgia, Armenia, Iran, and Azerbaijan.

There are currently at least 20 recognised subspecies of Spur-Thighed tortoises that come from different regions of Southern Europe.

  • T. g. graeca (North Africa and South Spain)
  • T. g. soussensis (South Morocco)
  • T. g. marokkensis (North Morocco)
  • T. g. nabeulensis - Tunisian tortoise (Tunisia)
  • T. g. cyrenaica (Libya)
  • T. g. ibera (Turkey)
  • T. g. armeniaca - Armenian tortoise (Armenia)
  • T. g. buxtoni (Caspian Sea)
  • T. g. terrestris (Israel/Lebanon)
  • T. g. zarudnyi (Iran/Azerbaijan)
  • T. g. whitei (Algeria)
  • T. g. floweri (Jordan)

The Mediterranean Spur-Thighed Tortoise will roam around the semi arid scrub and Mediterranean forests where they live, often searching for food and to bask in the early morning sun. They are often forced to retreat into the shade of shrubs and dense foliage at midday when the temperatures begin to soar. By late afternoon when the peak of the heat has passed, they will often venture back out and continue their search for food.

Interestingly, their natural habitat has marked fluctuations in vegetation, with the majority of edible plants being available in winter and early spring. For the tortoises living in southern areas, they are active during the warm winter months and then aestivates (summer equivalent to hibernation) through the hot summer. Northern areas of their range the plants are better during the spring and summer so the cycle is reversed. 

How do I keep a Mediterranean Spur-Thighed Tortoise?

Mediterranean tortoises do not do well housed in normal reptile type vivariums. The humidity levels can fluctuate dangerously (tortoises urinate profusely and love to tip water bowls over!) and it can be difficult to achieve the optimal temperature gradient. Housing your tortoise in a tortoise table (open top style enclosure) is the best option as it provides maximum air flow and allows the tortoise to thermoregulate more effectively.

We recommend using a combination of a dome fitting and a mercury vapor bulb to heat your tortoise table. These bulbs provide optimal levels of UVB, UVA, visual light and heat all in one bulb, something every tortoise needs! The other option is to use a separate Heat Bulb (controlled by a thermostat) and appropriate T5 UVB lighting strip. It is important that you check the basking temperature you will be providing with this equipment. The recommended basking spot temperature is around 28-34°C and down to 20°C on the cool end of the enclosure. They will generally require 12-14 hours daylight and at night, lights should be turned off. Most tortoises can be kept at room temperature, simulating the natural temperature drop they experience in the wild as the sun goes down. For particularly cold rooms, additional heating can be provided by adding a ceramic heat bulb connected to a thermostat set around 10 degrees cooler than the daytime basking temperatures. Ceramic bulbs do not emit any light, so the use of this will not interrupt the tortoises circadian rhythm in the same way as having bright basking bulbs on at night would.

For substrate we would recommend a soil based, tortoise specific bedding as it’s specifically designed to replicate the arid habitats where Mediterranean tortoises are from. Its texture and moisture retention replicates their environment perfectly, allowing the tortoise to dig and forage as they would in the wild. We recommend lightly misting the enclosure in the morning to simulate early morning dew, this will evaporate throughout the morning in a tortoise table.

Décor is important for this species. Not only does it make the environment look nice aesthetically, but it provides environmental enrichment for the tortoise, essential for its physical and mental wellbeing. Remember that tortoises need items such as shallow bark or rocks to climb over and plenty of plants to graze on as they would in the wild.

Tortoises require a spacious, but shallow pool to drink from and bathe in. Be prepared, they will readily defecate in this as tortoises are able to absorb a small amount of liquid via their cloaca; which in turn can stimulate a bowel movement! 

In the wild Mediterranean tortoises diet mainly consists of herbaceous and succulent vegetation including grasses, cacti and flowers. We strongly urge you to forage for a good variety of the available reptile safe edible plants for your tortoise. By doing so, you will be providing your pet with the best nutritional balance that nature has to offer!

A tortoises natural wild diet consists of thousands of different plant species, each containing unique vitamins and minerals which contribute to the overall health of the tortoise. It is very important that you supplement the diet of your tortoise with calcium and vitamins to ensure they are getting the perfect balance.  You can simply sprinkle the supplements over the top of the food you provide your tortoise- think of it as lightly seasoning the food! This is essential for all reptiles and helps to prevent a number of preventable conditions such as metabolic bone disease (soft, deformed bones and shells) Runny eyes, kidney and liver problems.

Many species of tortoise that are available today are subject to CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) article 10 paperwork. This in a nutshell provides proof that these tortoises have not been illegally taken from the wild. This paperwork is essential if you intend to keep, sell or even breed your tortoise. Tortoise species covered under this act are known as Annex A.

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