Greek tortoise (Testudo graeca)

Also known as: common tortoise, Moorish tortoise, spur-thighed tortoise
French: Tortue Mauresque
Spanish: Tortuga Mora
GenusTestudo (1)
SizeCarapace length: 20 cm (2)

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List 2006 (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3). There are several recognised subspecies, although taxonomic classification continues to be hotly debated. The IUCN only lists one subspecies, T. g. nikolskii, which is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) (1).

The Greek tortoise is also known as the spur-thighed tortoise for the large conical tubercle it has on each thigh. Several subspecies are recognised, which vary greatly in colour and size. The high, domed upper shell (carapace) is around 20 cm in length in T. g. graeca, but almost twice as large in T. g. ibera. The carapace varies from yellow or tan with black or dark-brown blotching to totally grey or black, while the lower shell (plastron) may be yellow to greenish-yellow, brown, or grey, with some dark-brown or black markings. Neck, limbs, and tail are yellowish brown to grey, while the head ranges from yellow to brown, grey, or black, with or without dark spotting. Large, overlapping scales cover the front of the forelimbs and there are five claws on each foot (2).

Native to southern Spain, northern Africa, Eastern Europe and the Middle East (3).

North African populations occupy semi-arid scrub, grassland and brush areas in the Atlas Mountains to approximately 1,900 m above sea level, but can also be found among coastal dunes, marshland borders, rocky, brushy hillsides, and pine woods (2) (5). Eurasian and Middle-Eastern populations are found on plateaus and mountains to about 2,700 m above sea level, most often on dry open steppes, barren hillsides, and wastelands where vegetation varies from sea dune grasses to scrub thorn or dry woodlands (2).

North African populations mate from April to May, and again in autumn, but this varies greatly according to locality and altitude. Nesting occurs in May and June and more than one clutch may be produced each season. Eurasian and Middle Eastern tortoises generally nest in May or June, but nesting has been observed from April to July. Clutches typically contain between one and seven eggs (average three to four), but large Algerian tortoises (T. g. whitei) lay clutches of as many as 12 to 14 eggs. Depending on their location, this species may hibernate during winter, and aestivate throughout summer (2).

The Greek tortoise is herbivorous, feeding on a variety of herbaceous plants and grasses across its range (2).

The Greek tortoise is threatened by illegal harvesting for the pet trade, as well as habitat loss and degradation, mostly due to overgrazing by livestock (6).

Various studies have been conducted into the population status, ecology and biology of the Greek tortoise, but these have largely been restricted to the northern part of its range, notably in Spain and Greece (6).

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  1. IUCN Red List (July, 2014)