Basic Information Sheet: Egyptian Tortoise

Egyptian Tortoise (Testudo kleinmanni)

Egyptian tortise

Testudo kleinmanni. Photo credit: Roy Winkelman via Clippix ETC

Natural history

The Egyptian tortoise (Testudo kleinmanni) is also know as Kleinmann’s tortoise or Leith’s tortoise. The native habitat of the Egyptian tortoise consists of desert and semi-desert scrub, although this species is also found in salt marsh margins, sandy gravel plains, as well as the rocky escarpments of the “wadis”, a stream bed that is usually dry except during the rainy season. The Egyptian tortoise is currently found in coastal Libya and Egypt as well as Israel, however its range was once much larger, extending across Egypt and down into southern Palestine. Reports suggest that the Egyptian tortoise diet in the wild consists primarily of saltwort (genus Salsola) and sea lavender (Limonium latifolium).

Conservation status

The International Union on Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the Egyptian tortoise as critically endangered. Human development, overgrazing, and collection of specimens for the pet trade have decimated this species’ range. Removal of animals from the wild took its most devastating toll on population numbers in the 1980s and early 1990s.


Class: Reptilia

Order: Chelonia/Testudines

Family: Testudinidae

Genus: Testudo

Testudo kleinmanni

Physical description

Testudo kleinmanni is the smallest species in Genus Testudo. Straight carapace length of the adult male is typically 8-10 cm (3-4 in); adult females are somewhat larger at 10-12 cm (4 – 5 in) in length. Carapace length can reach a maximum 14.4 cm (5.7 in).

Egyptian tortoises resemble Testudo negev, which also inhabit similar terrain but is almost extinct.

Shell color can range from near gray to ivory to a rich golden color, however the Egyptian tortoise is generally a pale, dull, yellow. The carapace as dark brown or black marks on the front and sides of each scute. This dark keratin often fades with age to a lighter shade.

Egyptian tortoise plastron

Photo credit: Abrahami via Wikimedia Commons. Click image to enlarge.

The plastron is pale yellow with two dark, clearly marked triangular notches or chevrons on the abdominal scutes (shown left). These unique markings are present even on hatchlings, and the chevrons lengthen as the plastron grows.

Egyptian tortoise carapce

Photo credit: Stefano Alcini. Click image to enlarge.

The carapace of the Egyptian tortoise is high-domed. Only the supracaudal scute is flared (shown left, arrow).The caudal third of the plastron forms a moveable hinge that is retained into adulthood. This plastral kinesis allows the tortoise to withdraw and protect its hindquarters. The four posterior scutes, femoral scutes and anal scutes, overly this hinge.

Egyptian tortoises have no tubercle on the thigh. There are usually only three longitudinal rows of enlarged scales on the anterior surface of the foreleg.

Sexual dimorphism

In addition to all of the general characteristics that distinguish male and female Mediterranean tortoises, the vent is longer and more slit-like in the Egyptian tortoise male; the vent is puckered and closer to the shell in females


The Egyptian tortoise eats a wide variety of vegetation ranging from grasses to broadleaf plants and their blooms. Two plants found in its native habit that also grow in North America are saltwort and sea lavender. This species also occasionally eats insect and carrion in the wild, although captive specimens are best offered a strictly herbivorous diet.

As a desert species, it is easy to provide the captive Egyptian tortoise with a diet that is excessively rich. Erwin 2004 recommends feeding adult and sub-adult tortoises a ration of mixed greens and weeds with grass hay four times weekly. On alternate days, tortoises are provided with high fiber treats such as mallow or hibiscus leaves or flowers, sea lavender leaves, or they are allowed to graze for several hours on a chemical-free Bermuda grass lawn.

See the Mediterranean Tortoise Basic Information Sheet for additional information.



Egyptian tortoises appear to be fairly cold tolerant. From October to April, ambient daytime temperatures are maintained from 17ºC-24ºC (62.6ºF-75.2ºF) with a basking spot around 29ºC-32.2ºC (85ºF-90ºF). When exposed to higher temperatures, activity decreases and under natural conditions the tortoise will aestivate (see aestivation below).


The Egyptian tortoise is native to an arid climate and cannot tolerate damp conditions. Strive for an ambient relative humidity between 20% and 30%. A shallow water bowl should be offered and changed regularly.


Artificial UVB lighting is recommended for captive specimens. See the Mediterranean Tortoise Basic Information Sheet for additional information.

Cage size and design

An outdoor pen is an excellent option but only during warm weather months in a low humidity climate. This small tortoise requires a great deal of space. A breeding pair should have a minimum of 0.7 square meter (8 square feet). Provide an additional 0.2-0.4 square meter (2-4 square feet) minimum for each additional animal. Enclosure walls should be opaque and at least 20 cm (8 in) high. Provide at least 5-8 cm (2-3 in) of substrate material in the pen so that Egyptian tortoises can indulge their natural desire to dig small “scrapes”: excavations that allow the tortoise to bury the plastron, the most vulnerable portion of its body, as it settles down at the end of the day.


Egyptian tortoises do not hibernate, but when exposed to temperatures exceeding 32.2°C (90°F), activity decreases and under natural conditions the tortoise will aestivate. In fact Testudo kleinmanni is the only temperate terrestrial tortoise that rests during the summer heat and is more active during the winter.To simulate the “dry season” and assist in stimulation of aestivation in the captive animal, the basking area is maintained at a constant 35°C (95°F) during May to September. Of course it is difficult to replicate conditions for safe aestivation in captivity, and for this reason some herpetologists elect to maintain tortoises at moderate temperatures that allow normal activity year round.

Physiologic values

Reproductive season

Mate during the fall, eggs laid in early spring

Eggs per clutch

1 (very large), rarely up to 4

Incubation period

4-5 months


Tortoises are known for their longevity, with proper care Egyptian tortoises may live 70-100 years.

Anatomy/ physiology

See the Mediterranean Tortoise Basic Information Sheet


See the Mediterranean Tortoise Basic Information Sheet


See the Mediterranean Tortoise Basic Information Sheet

Preventive medicine

See the Mediterranean Tortoise Basic Information Sheet

Important medical conditions

  • As in other Testudo species, herpesvirus has been found in Egyptian tortoises.
  • Do not confuse the presence of the caudal hinge with bone abnormality associated with nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism or metabolic bone disease.
  • See the Mediterranean Tortoise Basic Information Sheet for additional information.


Click here to access LafeberVet’s Testudo Tortoise Fast 5 Quiz.

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References and further reading


Attum O, Baha El Din M, Baha El Din S, Habinan S. Egyptian tortoise conservation: A community-based, field research program developed from a study on a captive population. Zoo Biol 26 (5):397-406, 2007.

Chitty J, Raftery A. Essentials of Tortoise Medicine and Surgery. Wiley-Blackwell. 2013.

Erwin FL, Jr. The Egyptian Tortoise: its natural history, its captive care, its beauty, its lore. The Cairo American College Testudo kleinmanni project education website. Available at Jan 10, 2004. Accessed on July 25, 2014.

Highfield AC, Martin J. Captive breeding of the Egyptian tortoise Testudo kleinmanni. Tortoise Trust. Available at Accessed on July 25, 2014.

Mader DR. Reptile Medicine and Surgery, 2nd ed. Saunders. 2005.

Mader DR, Divers SJ. Current Therapy in Reptile Medicine and Surgery. Saunders. 2013.

Marshang RE, Papp T, Ferretti L, et al. Detection and partial characterization of herpesvirus from Egyptian tortoises (Testudo kleinmanni) imported into Italy from Libya. J Zoo Wildl Med 40 (1):211-213, 2009.

McArthur S, Wilkinson R, Meyer J. Medicine and Surgery of Tortoises and Turtles. Blackwell Publishing. 2004.

Parham JF, Macey JR, Papenfuss TJ, et al. The phylogeny of Mediterranean tortoises and their close relatives based on complete mitochondrial genome sequences from museum specimens. Mol Phylogenet Evol 2006;38:50-64.

Perälä J. Testudo kleinmanni. The IUCN red list of threatened species. Available at Accessed on July 25, 2014.

Tabaka C, Senneke D. Egyptian tortoise – Testudo kleinmanni. World Chelonian Trust, Available at Accessed on July 25, 2014.

Turtle Taxonomy Working Group [Van Dijk PP, Iverson JB, Shaffer HB, et al]. 2012. Turtles of the world, 2012 update: annotated checklist of taxonomy, synonymy, distribution, and conservation status. In: Rhodin AGJ, Pritchard PCH, van Dijk PP, et al (eds). Conservation Biology of Freshwater Turtles and Tortoises: A Compilation Project of the IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group. Chelonian Research Monographs No. 5, pp. 000.243-000.328, doi:10.3854/crm.5.000.checklist.v5.2012,

Wildscreen Arkive. Egyptian tortoise (Testudo kleinmanni) fact sheet. Available at Accessed June 22, 2014.

To cite this page:

Pollock C, Kanis C. Basic information sheet: Egyptian tortoise. March 11, 2015. LafeberVet Web site. Available at