The Hermann’s tortoise (Testudo hermanni) is a 4-14” long tortoise native to the northern half of the Mediterranean. Their preferred habitat is arid to submesic scrub, rocky hillsides, and open countryside.
Hermann’s tortoises have a highly domed shell, blunt snout, large eyes, and a distinctive horn on the tip of their tail. Patterning is usually beige to yellow with black-brown blotches on both the carapace and plastron. Young individuals have a yellow spot on each cheek.
Hermann’s tortoises are fairly hardy as pets, but they have long lifespans, so it’s important to know what you’re getting into before bringing one home. With good care, they are capable of living well past 50 years!
Minimum enclosure size for Hermann’s tortoises
The minimum acceptable enclosure size for a Hermann’s tortoise is 22 sq feet of floor space. Since tortoises are relatively poor climbers, floor space is the most important dimension to pay attention to. Adult Hermann’s tortoises can do well in an open “tortoise table” style of indoor enclosure as long as they have humid retreats, but hatchlings should be kept in a terrarium until they are 3” long or so.
If your local climate allows, it’s best to house your Hermann’s tortoise outdoors. The pen should be as large as possible, dug at least 12” into the ground and at least 24” tall with capped corners to prevent escape. In most parts of the US, the tortoise can be kept outdoors from April to October. During the winter, the tortoise will need to be temporarily housed in an indoor enclosure.
Cohabitation (housing multiple animals in one enclosure) can work with Hermann’s tortoises if they’re more or less raised together, but they can be housed singly as well.
Do Hermann’s tortoises need UVB?
Yes, a moderate level of UVB lighting is required for Hermann’s tortoises to maintain good health. The best UVB bulbs for Hermann’s tortoises are:
- Arcadia T5 HO 12%
- Zoo Med T5 HO Reptisun 10.0
When the bulb is mounted in an Arcadia ProT5 or Vivarium Electronics fixture, it should be mounted 17-18” above the tortoise’s shell so the tortoise gets exposed to the right strength of UVB.
Your UVB bulb and fixture should be roughly half the length of the tortoise’s enclosure, and left on for 14 hours/day during summer, and 10 hours/day during winter. However, if your tortoise is housed outdoors and has access to sunlight, you will not need a UVB lamp.
Since Hermann’s tortoises need such large enclosures, indoor enclosures require more illumination than just a UVB bulb can provide. Use a 6500K LED or T5 HO fluorescent grow light for this purpose.
Best temperature for Hermann’s tortoises
Like other reptiles, Hermann’s tortoises are cold-blooded, which means that they rely on external temperatures to manage their own body temperature and metabolism. A reptile’s enclosure should offer a range of temperatures to allow them to thermoregulate effectively.
Specifically speaking, Hermann’s tortoises should have a basking temperature between 95-105°F. Ambient temperatures should be between 75-85°F. Nighttime temperatures should be below 72°F. These temperatures should be measured with a digital probe thermometer.
Provide heat for your tortoise with at least two halogen flood heat bulbs, placed close together over the basking area to evenly heat the tortoise’s entire body. Heat lamps should be at least 8” away from the top of your tortoise’s shell.
If you are housing your Hermann’s tortoise outdoors, supplementary heating is unnecessary unless night temperatures fall below 50°F. Nighttime heat sources should not produce light, and should only warm the area up to 55-60°F.
Best humidity levels for Hermann’s tortoises
Adult Hermann’s tortoises don’t need much in the way of humidity except for a designated humid area on the cool side. A hide box lined with moistened sphagnum moss works well for this purpose.
Hatchlings (up to 3” long) are more sensitive to dehydration, and should be maintained in a terrarium with ambient humidity levels between 60-80% on average. One of the best ways to increase humidity is to mix water directly into the substrate, but the substrate should only become damp, never soaking.
Humidity should be monitored via digital probe hygrometer, with the probe placed in the middle of the enclosure.
Best substrate for Hermann’s tortoises
Providing a thick layer of naturalistic substrate (“bedding”) will help maintain correct humidity levels and also provide something for your tortoise to dig in as desired. We recommend the a 50/50 mix of play sand and topsoil as substrate for Hermann’s tortoises:
Substrate should be at least 6” deep and completely replaced every 3-4 months. Remove poop and urates daily, along with contaminated substrate.
How to decorate a Hermann’s tortoise enclosure
An empty enclosure makes for a bored tortoise, reducing its quality of life. Keep your pet entertained and engaged with its environment with the strategic use of décor items that encourage it to exercise natural behaviors!
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- additional hiding places/burrows
- large hollow logs
- live, edible plants
- large, flat stones
The more stuff you add, the more functional your enclosure is likely to become! As an additional feature, you can shape the substrate into hills to create more environmental variety for your pet.
What to feed to a Hermann’s tortoise
Hermann’s tortoises are herbivores, which means that they need a high-fiber, plant-based diet to stay healthy. Offer a variety of chopped greens daily. Variety is key to good nutrition, but most of your Hermann’s tortoise’s diet should be an assortment of leaves and grasses, with occasional flowers. Fruits and vegetables can be offered as treats no more than 1x/week.
Safe greens for Hermann’s tortoises: cactus pads, kale, turnip greens, mustard greens, dandelion greens + flowers, hibiscus leaves + flowers, nasturtium, alfalfa, clover, coreopsis (tickseed), geranium, grape leaves, green cabbage, kale, radicchio, chicory, watercress, fennel, sprouts, endive, radish greens
Fruit treats: berries, currants, pineapple, banana, kiwi, fig, prickly pear, melon, plum, orange
Vegetable treats: squash, cucumber, mushrooms, peas, beans, thinly sliced carrot
You will also need calcium and vitamin supplements to prevent your tortoise from developing a potential deficiency. We recommend Repashy Superveggie, lightly dusted on each meal. A little bit of Mazuri tortoise diet or Zoo Med Natural Grassland Tortoise Food also makes a nutritious addition.
For additional calcium, place a cuttlebone in the enclosure. Your tortoise will nibble on it as needed, getting dietary calcium as well as filing down its beak!
Of course, don’t forget a water bowl! Hermann’s tortoises like to soak, so you will need a shallow “puddle” of water for them to soak and defecate in. Use a flower pot saucer or a reptile water bowl with a ramp. Keep the water clean and scrub the dishes weekly with a reptile-safe disinfectant, or whenever it becomes soiled.
How to handle your Hermann’s tortoise
Reptiles generally don’t appreciate petting and handling in the same way that dogs and cats do. That being said, Hermann’s tortoises generally tolerate human interaction pretty well! They tend to appreciate gentle scratches and hand-feeding rather than being held.
If you have to pick up your tortoise, be gentle and try to pick it up from the side or below rather than from above. Keep handling time to a minimum.
*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please further your research with high-quality sources. The more you know, the better you will be able to care for your pet!
"Testudo hermanni" by AlexandreRoux01 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0