This article will provide the general care requirements for keeping a Greek tortoise as a pet.
We will go into detail about the origins of Greek tortoises, as well as a few of the different subspecies.
This Greek tortoise care sheet includes information about its size, average lifespan, habitat, diet, and temperament.
We will also discuss the breeding process and what to expect from keeping a Greek tortoise as a pet.
Table of Contents
The Origins of the Greek Tortoise
The Greek tortoise (Testudo graeca) is found in North Africa, southwest Asia, and southern Europe near the Mediterranean coast and the Black Sea.
These tortoises prefer arid climates, and they will live in a variety of different habitats, including rocky hillsides, lush meadows, and Mediterranean forests.
The Greek tortoise is named for the resemblance of its shell patterning to the patterns of Greek mosaics.
It is also known as the Mediterranean spur-thighed tortoise due to a small number of raised scales or spurs located on each thigh.
The Greek tortoise has a highly domed carapace, ranging in color from yellow, gold, dark brown, or black.
The scutes are patterned in streaks or rays, and their design mimics the patterns found in mosaics.
The head of a Greek tortoise is round and blunt, with large symmetrical markings.
Its head and legs are covered in thick scales, and the tortoise has long, sharp claws for digging in sand or soil.
There are notable differences between the male and female Greek tortoise.
In general, males are smaller, have a longer tail, and their shell is wider towards the rear when compared to the females.
The average length of an adult Greek tortoise is between 5-8″ inches (20 cm), but some subspecies are known to grow as much as 11″ inches (28 cm) long.
A Greek tortoise’s typical lifespan is around 50 years, but they may live up to 125 years with proper care.
There are even unverified claims of Greek tortoises living for more than 200 years, but this has not been proven.
Captive Greek tortoises tend to live much longer than those in the wild, most of whom do not survive beyond 20 years because of predators.
Greek Tortoise Subspecies
Due to different climates, the Greek tortoise has developed many different color patterns.
Tortoises from hot desert climates tend to be lighter in color to regulate their temperature and make it easier to blend into their sandy environment.
Greek tortoises from cooler areas or higher elevations usually have darker shells to help them absorb more heat from the sun.
Because of these differences in appearance, scientists have separated the Greek tortoise into different subspecies based on where they are located.
Here, we will give a brief overview of some of these subspecies, including their scientific name, color and pattern variations, average size, and where they originate.
Ibera Greek Tortoise (Testudo graeca ibera)
The Ibera Greek tortoise is native to northeastern Greece and parts of Turkey, Iran, and Iraq.
Greek tortoise subspecies is one of the most common, both in the wild and in captivity.
The Ibera Greek tortoise shell comes in many color variations, including solid black or yellow and yellow with black streaks or splotches on each scute.
They are larger than other Greek tortoise subspecies, with some growing to more than 11″ inches (28 cm) long.
The Ibera Greek tortoise is an aggressive and hardy subspecies and can tolerate colder weather more easily than others.
Golden Greek Tortoise (Testudo graeca terrestris)
The Golden Greek tortoise is found in southern Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and parts of Israel and northern Egypt.
These tortoises are in the small range, with males reaching lengths of 5″ inches (13 cm) and females growing to 7″ inches (18 cm) long.
The Golden Greek tortoise is named for the pale yellow of its shell, which is usually a solid color, but there are also variations similar to the Ibera Greek tortoise where there are black markings.
This subspecies of tortoise is also known to be solid gray or brown, particularly if it lives in a colder climate, although this is rare.
Unlike the Ibera Greek tortoise, the Golden Greek tortoise is a sensitive subspecies and is more susceptible to respiratory infections.
They cannot tolerate wet conditions for a long period, but they can withstand cooler temperatures as long as they stay dry.
Moroccan Greek Tortoise (Testudo graeca marokkensis)
The Moroccan Greek tortoise originates from North Africa and is a more recent discovery, only being bred in the United States in recent years.
They generally grow to a length between 7-12″ inches (30 cm), with females being larger than males.
The Moroccan Greek tortoise shell is usually a pale yellow color with black blotches and streaks on the scutes, with those in the northern part of their range having more dark coloring than those from southern areas.
Hatchlings are easily distinguished from other subspecies of Greek tortoises due to their solid brown color.
The Moroccan Greek tortoise is a robust subspecies preferring an arid environment, and they will tolerate cold weather as long as they are kept dry.
Tunisian Greek Tortoise (Testudo graeca nabeulensis)
The Tunisian Greek tortoise is found in areas of Tunisia and Algeria.
This tortoise was originally categorized as its species in 1990 but has since been grouped as a subspecies of Greek tortoise.
The Tunisian Greek tortoise is the smallest subspecies of Greek tortoise, with males only reaching a little over 4″ inches (10 cm) long and females growing to just over 5″ inches (13 cm) long.
The carapace is a bright yellow color with dark black markings on the scutes, and the plastron also features a similar bold pattern.
One distinguishing feature of the Tunisian tortoise is a yellow spot on the top of its head, between the eyes.
They require an arid habitat, and they will need a place to escape from persistent rain.
The Tunisian Greek tortoise is one of the rarest Greek tortoises due to strict import regulations and a lack of breeders in America.
Libyan Greek Tortoise (Testudo graeca cyrenaica)
The Libyan Greek tortoise originates in parts of Libya and Egypt and prefers a desert climate.
Males will grow to a length just over 6″ inches (15 cm), while females will grow to more than 7″ inches (17.5 cm).
Their carapace is bright yellow with black spots, and the oblong shell features flared scutes along the bottom.
The Libyan Greek tortoise is also a rare subspecies of Greek tortoise in America due to its sensitive nature and lack of breeders.
Much like the Tunisian tortoise, the Libyan tortoise also requires an arid environment, and special care should be taken to ensure its habitat is not too humid.
Anamurensis Greek Tortoise (Testudo graeca anamurensis)
The Anamurensis Greek tortoise is found along the coastal area and the surrounding mountains of Anamur, Turkey.
This tortoise subspecies has recently been classified among the Testudo graeca ibera due to its similarity in appearance to the Ibera Greek tortoise.
However, a closer inspection of the shell would reveal its differences.
The Anamurensis Greek tortoise is often confused with the Marginated tortoise (Testudo marginata) because of the rear scutes’ flaring in both males and females.
The shell may be solid black or pale yellow with black spots, and it is flatter compared to other Greek tortoises.
Hatchlings are usually a bright yellow color with black spots, but these colors will fade and mix as they age, with some shells becoming solid black.
Males will grow between 7-8″ inches (20 cm), with females growing longer at a range of 8-10″ inches (25 cm).
The Anamurensis Greek tortoise is very hardy and capable of surviving all weather conditions, including colder temperatures.
True Anamurensis tortoises are extremely rare in the United States because they are often confused with Ibera Greek and Marginated tortoises.
What You Should Know About Purchasing a Greek Tortoise
It is very important to purchase your Greek tortoise from a reputable breeder, especially if you are looking for one of the more rare subspecies.
Wild-caught Greek tortoises are often infested with parasites and other diseases, and they do not acclimate well to being placed in captivity.
Many more sensitive and rare subspecies become ill due to being kept in a habitat with improper humidity and temperature.
I would also advise against purchasing a Greek tortoise sight unseen and having it shipped to you.
Often, these tortoises do not handle the mailing process very well, and they become very ill or even die in transit.
You should always ask the breeder specific questions about the tortoise, and it is also important to thoroughly inspect a tortoise before you decide to purchase it.
A healthy tortoise will have clear eyes, no presence of excessive mucus, and a clean, smooth shell without any signs of damage or shell rot.
It is also advisable to ask for the tortoise to be fed while you are there, so you are able to observe its eating habits.
A healthy tortoise will happily eat, while a sick one may refuse any kind of food.
A Greek tortoise’s average initial cost will be around $200, but rarer subspecies may sell for $500 or more.
Hatchling and juvenile Greek tortoises are generally less expensive than adults because they are more readily available.
Once a Greek tortoise is older and any rare color patterns emerge, they become more expensive due to supply and demand.
When a tortoise is old enough to have its sex determined, it may also become more expensive as females cost more than males because of their ability to lay eggs.
Greek tortoises are generally readily available, except for certain subspecies, rare due to import restrictions and lack of breeders.
The Greek Tortoise Habitat
Providing your Greek tortoise with the proper habitat is vital to its health and well-being.
A tortoise is like other reptiles when relying on external temperatures to regulate their body heat.
If you live in a warm climate, housing a tortoise in an outdoor enclosure is ideal.
An outdoor enclosure will provide your tortoise with ample space and natural sunlight.
Edible vegetation should be planted within the enclosure to give your tortoise plenty of options for snacking.
Be sure to research safe vegetation options, as some plants such as daffodils, lilies, and philodendrons are very toxic to tortoises.
You should also place a mesh top over the enclosure to protect your tortoise from outdoor predators such as foxes, dogs, or large birds of prey.
Due to strict temperature and humidity requirements, some of the more sensitive subspecies, especially those preferring more arid habitats, should only be housed in an indoor enclosure.
This will allow you to keep their environment at a more constant and stable level.
An ideal and readily available indoor tortoise enclosure is a 3-by-6′ foot (.9×1.8m) tortoise table constructed of wood.
Be sure you have the floor space available to accommodate such a large enclosure.
Wood is preferred over plastic or glass, so the tortoise will more easily learn its space boundaries.
A plastic or glass enclosure the tortoise can see through will confuse it and may cause it to attempt an escape.
It is usually best to house only one tortoise in an enclosure, as males tend to be aggressive towards each other, and they will fight.
Male tortoises will also become aggressive to a female they want to mate with, and this should be kept in mind if you are planning to breed your Greek tortoise.
This section will go into more detail about how to properly house your Greek tortoise, including the best substrate, lighting, temperature, and humidity.
Types of Substrate
The best types of substrate for a Greek tortoise enclosure are cypress mulch, aspen shavings, or a 50/50 mixture of play sand and soil.
These types of substrates allow the tortoise to dig and burrow.
Ensure your tortoise is properly hydrated when using aspen shavings, as they tend to be very dry and cause dust in the air.
This may cause respiratory issues in your Greek tortoise if exposed to this dust for long periods.
Rabbit pellets are safe but not recommended due to their ability to quickly grow mold when soiled.
Never use cedar or pine wood shavings because these are very toxic to tortoises.
The substrate should be at least 2-3″ inches (7.5 cm) deep to give the tortoise plenty of room to dig.
You will need to completely change the old substrate for the new substrate every 3-4 months to maintain cleanliness in your Greek tortoise’s enclosure.
Types of Lighting
While natural sunlight outdoors gives your Greek tortoise the greatest benefit, proper lighting is vital for keeping a tortoise healthy indoors.
There are many different lighting options for tortoise enclosures, such as infrared heat bulbs, daylight spot bulbs, and fluorescent tube bulbs, emit UVB rays.
Mercury vapor bulbs are highly recommended since they provide both UVA and UVB rays.
A UVB lamp is necessary because the tortoise absorbs important nutrients for bone health through UVB rays.
The Greek tortoise will use the UVB rays to convert vitamin D into D3, which is essential for the proper absorption of calcium.
A Greek tortoise requires 12-14 hours of UVB light every day to stay healthy.
It is important to maintain a proper day and night cycle for your tortoise.
Timers make this task much easier by automatically turning the lights on and off at designated time frames.
A basking lamp should be placed at one end of the enclosure to raise the temperature and give your tortoise the perfect basking spot.
A hiding spot should also be provided in the habitat to give your tortoise a place to cool off or hide when it is scared.
Proper Temperature and Humidity
Providing the proper temperature and humidity in your Greek tortoise’s enclosure is important for its overall health and development.
High humidity and excess moisture lead to mold growth, respiratory issues, and shell rot.
Improper temperatures will also cause shell cracking and a slow metabolism if the temperature gets low enough for the tortoise to enter brumation.
Ambient temperatures within the enclosure should range between 75 and 90° degrees Fahrenheit (32° C).
The ideal temperature for the basking area should be between 95-100° degrees Fahrenheit (44° C).
The temperature in the enclosure should be carefully monitored, and it should never drop below 65° degrees Fahrenheit (18° C).
You will also need to invest in a hygrometer to check the humidity levels inside of the enclosure.
Optimal humidity levels should range between 40%-60%, with young hatchling tortoises needing a little more moisture at 65%-75% humidity.
Hatchlings may benefit from an occasional misting to keep their humidity levels high.
Be sure to do your research, as some subspecies of Greek tortoise require a drier environment than others and will prefer humidity at the lower end of the range.
Optimum conditions are key to the health and longevity of your tortoise.
The Diet of the Greek Tortoise
Greek tortoises are herbivores, meaning they receive all of their nutrition through plants.
Some plants do well in a tortoise enclosure, including dandelion greens, parsley, wild strawberries, and clover.
Leafy greens such as Romaine lettuce, mustard greens, turnip greens, collard greens, endive, and kale are excellent choices to include in a Greek tortoise diet.
Greek tortoises also enjoy vegetables such as carrots, squash, bell peppers, zucchini, and broccoli.
Chopped apples, strawberries, and raspberries may be fed sparingly as a snack, as fruits should make up no more than 10% of a tortoise’s diet.
Commercial tortoise pellet diets are also available, and you may decide to alternate these with fresh foods to keep your pet’s meals interesting.
Supplement powders may also be sprinkled onto your tortoise’s food to ensure it is receiving proper nutrients and avoid health issues.
The most important supplement for your tortoise is calcium powder, necessary for healthy bone and shell growth.
If your Greek tortoise does not get adequate UVB lighting, you will need to add a D3 supplement.
Vitamin D3 is necessary for a tortoise’s body to absorb calcium properly.
Calcium supplements may be formulated with or without D3.
Greek tortoises are able to metabolize D3 from vitamin D through UVB light.
Without enough D3, a tortoise would not be able to absorb calcium, and it would begin to leach calcium from its bones.
Calcium deficiency will ultimately lead to metabolic bone disease, which is incurable and often fatal to your tortoise.
Calcium is also important in preventing shell rot, as it is vital in keeping the shell strong.
Calcium and multivitamin supplements may be added to your tortoise’s diet 2-3 times per week for optimum health.
Besides a healthy diet and vitamin supplements, it is essential to provide your Greek tortoise with clean, fresh water every day.
The water should be in a shallow dish, allowing the tortoise to drink and soak.
You may need to change the water and clean the dish multiple times a day since a tortoise usually defecates when it soaks in water.
The Temperament of the Greek Tortoise
Like most tortoises, the Greek tortoise does not like to be handled.
This doesn’t mean your tortoise won’t bond with you; they just prefer to be admired from a distance.
Some tortoises have even been known to run to their owners when it is feeding time.
Too much handling will cause your tortoise stress, which may lead to illness.
Handle your tortoise as little as possible when cleaning its enclosure to avoid any stress for your pet.
Greek tortoises are generally peaceful and calm animals, and they only become aggressive when they feel threatened or are kept in too small of an enclosure.
As mentioned previously, it is best to house a single adult tortoise in an enclosure to avoid aggression and overcrowding.
The Greek tortoise is a very mellow reptile and will spend most of its day basking and snacking on plants.
Breeding a Greek Tortoise
Male Greek tortoises will display aggressive behavior towards a female during the mating process.
These behaviors include ramming into the female’s shell and biting at her legs and face.
The mating season for Greek tortoises lasts from April to May, and females lay their eggs in June.
The Greek tortoise female digs a nesting chamber with a length between 4-7″ inches (17.5 cm), where she then lays her eggs, covers the nest, and leaves the eggs on their own to hatch.
The number of eggs a female Greek tortoise lays averages between 3-6, but there may be more with certain subspecies.
If the eggs incubate in higher temperatures, the baby tortoises will be female.
Male tortoise hatchlings result when the eggs have been incubated in low temperatures.
Breeders who prefer to artificially incubate the eggs do so at temperatures between 84-88° degrees Fahrenheit (31° C).
Baby tortoises will hatch from the eggs after 55-70 days.
The hatchlings are usually kept together in special rearing enclosures for the first few years of their life before moving to the same enclosures as the adults.
Proper hydration is important for the survival of tortoise hatchlings and being necessary for smooth shell growth.
Be sure to monitor the temperature of the hatchling tortoise’s enclosure because too much heat at night may prove harmful or fatal to them.
You should also avoid handling the hatchling tortoise’s frequently to keep from stressing them out and causing health issues.
With a proper diet and enclosure maintenance from the very beginning, your Greek tortoise hatchlings will thrive and grow into healthy adults.