Walking in the Italian Countryside (Testudo hermanni)

Walking in the Italian Countryside (Testudo hermanni)

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A countryside is an interesting place. During short or longer walks chances are to have some interesting meetings even if one is only walking a few hundred meters away from home. Provided, that is, a person is willing to observe nature around them.

On a wonderful warm morning of this Italian autumn (early October 2009) I was having a walk with my son Leonardo when, all of a sudden, we spotted something slowly moving half hidden in the grass: its pace was slow and a bit, so to speak, “wavy”…

After a bit of hesitation (this kind of encounter is not that common in the surroundings of Rome) we identified our companion during this walk; it was a tortoise.


We took a number of photos of it, which we both thoroughly enjoyed. When we arrived back home we checked the photos and tried to identify the tortoise.  Here is what we came up with:

  • ORDER:    Testudines
  • SUBORDER:    Cryptodira
  • FAMILY:    Testudinae
  • GENUS:    Testudo
  • SPECIES:    T. hermanni
  • BINOMIAL NOMENCLATURE: Testudo hermanni (Gmelin, 1789)

Distribution: Southern Europe from Spain to Romania (including the main Mediterranean islands). It is, along with Emys orbicularis, a swamp turtle, the only endemic European tortoise with both T. graeca and T. marginata introduced in different moments in wild.

Etymology: it is named in honour of the French physician and naturalist Jean Hermann (1738-1800). The species holotype comes from his collections.


Description: this tortoise attains a T.L. of 22 cm. Some populations (e.g. the one in Puglia, Italy) remain consistently smaller. Larger females of  the more developed subspecies can reach a weigh of up to 2 kg. The carapace has a yellowish/orange overall colour (deeper or lighter on occasions) with lots of black spots. This pattern extends also to the plastron.  Lots of sub-species are known, among them T. hermanni boettgeri  which is mainly found in Italy, France and Spain. The actual existence of a Greek subspecies (Testudo hermanni ssp. Peloponnesiaca) is at the moment under investigation. There are currently serious concerns about the actual status of this subspecies in the wild due to the extended fires which affected its habitat (Peloponese) in the summer of 2007


Testudo hermanni  is getting rarer over the years in Italy (and not only)  but all the same it can be found in a lot of regions in central and south Italy (Calabria, Campania, Puglia, Lazio, Toscana, Umbria) and almost all the Italian islands (Sicilia and Sardegna as well as some of the smaller ones such as Capraia, Elba, Montecristo, Giglio, Pantelleria and more).

After having taken some pictures and measurements (the specimen we found was about 14 cm in TL, and proved to be a male) we released our new acquaintance to get on with his walk. While putting him back on his path we made sure he made his way to the darkest part of the vegetation and it is only then we went on our way. These creatures can easily be threatened by otherwise 'innocent' looking encounters, such as a walking dog that decides to play with them and turns them upside down in doing so. Have a nice walk mate  …


Photos by the author.