Basic Information Sheet: Greek or Spur-Thighed Tortoise

Greek or Spur-Thighed Tortoise (Testudo graeca complex)

Greek or Spur-Thighed Tortoises

Juvenile Testudo graeca ibera (left); T. g. graeca (right). Photo credit: Massimo Lazzari via Wikimedia Commons

Natural history

Testudo (graeca) ibera shares many similarities with Testudo hermanni with respect to their natural environment, natural climate, natural diet, and hibernation period. The habitat for these species includes arid areas from sea level to greater than 3000 m altitude, however their environmental preferences are grassland, forest, and savannah.

  • Testudo graeca graeca are found from northern Morocco to Libya, in southern Spain, and in Sardinia or Sicily.
  • Testudo graeca terrestris are found in southern Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and from Israel to northern Egypt or Libya. In the pet trade it is often called the Golden Greek Tortoise because of its light-colored shell.
  • Testudo graeca zarudnyi are found in Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
  • Testudo (graeca) ibera are found in northeast Greece, parts of the Balkans, the northern Aegean islands, and parts of Turkey to Iran or Iraq.
  • As taxonomy is still in question, specimens in the pet trade can be various subspecies.

Conservation status

Wild populations are listed as “vulnerable” by the IUCN Red List and are included in CITES Appendix II.


Class: Reptilia

Order: Chelonia/Testudines

Family: Testudinidae

Genus: Testudo

Testudo graeca

Testudo graeca graeca

Testudo graeca terrestris

Testudo graeca zarudnyi

Taxonomy of spur-thighed tortoises has been in a state of flux for decades. Some sources use the names “spur-thighed tortoise” and “Greek tortoise” interchangeably, however Mader (2006) identified the spur-thighed tortoise as Testudo graeca ibera. Chitty (2013) indicates that Mediterranean spur-thighed tortoise (Testudo graeca) and Greek spur-thighed tortoise (Testudo ibera) are separate species altogether. A study published in Chelonian Conservation and Biology (2012) referred to Testudo graeca ibera as the Eurasian spur-thighed tortoise.

Physical description


Testudo (graeca) ibera is a medium-sized tortoise ranging from 18-21 cm (7-8 in) in length. Testudo graeca graeca is relatively small: 13-16 cm (5-6 in) (Hernández-Divers 2003). This species can measure up to 30 cm (12 in) in length (or more) with a maximum weight of approximately 6 kg (13 lb).


The carapace is brownish yellow with black patches. Testudo ibera is often paler in color than Testudo graeca, although darker populations do occur.

Testudo ibera has a flatter and broader carapace than Testudo graeca and the first vertebral scute is more angular in Testudo ibera compared to the more rounded shape in Testudo graeca.

spur thigh Mayer Richard FCC Testudo graeca can be distinguished from other members of genus Testudo by the presence of an enlarged tubercle (arrows left, click image to enlarge) on the medial thigh and an undivided supracaudal scute. Occasionally double or triple spurs are present, with one being obviously dominant. This species also lacks a horny terminal tip to the tail.


The natural diet of Testudo ibera consists of a wide variety of fibrous plants, especially their flowers (Divers 2003). Testudo ibera is more omnivorous than Testudo graeca and some free-ranging individuals may consume mollusks and insects. The bulk of the captive diet consists of greens, grasses, and flowers. Tortoises are also fed other vegetables as well as a small quantity of fruit. See the Mediterranean Tortoise Basic Information Sheet for additional information.


Temperature Day Basking spot Night Sources
20°C-27°C  (68°F – 81°F) Generally 5°C (9°F) higher than daytime range Drops by ~5°C (9°F) Gibbons 2012, Divers 2003
Humidity Testudo graeca prefers a relative humidity of 30%-50% (Gibbons 2012). Testudo graeca graeca is particularly sensitive to climatic variations and does better with high humidity ranging from 40%-75% (Hernández-Divers 2003).
Lighting Artificial UVB lighting is recommended for captive specimens. See the Mediterranean Tortoise Basic Information Sheet for additional information.
Cage size and design Testudo (graeca) ibera tortoises are relatively hardy and this species handles climatic variations reasonably well. Therefore tortoises are usually housed outdoors during the summer months. Visit the Mediterranean Tortoise Basic Information Sheet for additional information.
Social structure Testudo graeca graeca does not mix well with other species
Hibernation/ aestivation Hibernation for Testudo (graeca) ibera can last from November to April in free-ranging specimens. This high-altitude species is overwintered between 5°C-10°C (40°F-50°F) in a suitably prepared area (see guidelines for Testudo marginata). Never expose these tortoises to below-freezing temperatures. Smaller species found at sea level tend not to hibernate. Instead free-ranging Testudo graeca graeca may aestivate underground during hot weather (Hernández-Divers (2003).

Normal physiologic values

Longevity records: 127 years; at least 57 years in captivity
Incubation period 60 days

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

Tortoise herpesvirus 3 has been frequently described in genus Testudo. Urolithiasis is also a relatively common disorder  in Testudo graeca.
Other conditions reported in T. graeca include:

  • Post-hibernation blindness from retinal damage (hypovitaminosis A)
  • Picornaviruses are most frequently isolated from Testudo graeca
  • The Ferlavirus genus of paramyxoviruses has also been detected in Testudo graeca.

See the Mediterranean Tortoise Basic Information Sheet for additional information.


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References and further reading


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

Băncilă RI, Plăiasu R, Tudor M, et al. Fluctuating asymmetry in the Eurasian Spur-thighed Tortoise, Testudo graeca ibera Linneaus, 1758 (Testudines: Testudinidae). Chelonian Conserv Bi 2012;11:234-239.

Buică G, Cogălniceanu D. Using digital images in the study of fluctuating asymmetry in the spur-thighed tortoise Testudo graeca. Turk J Zool 2013;37:723-729.

Hernández-Divers SJ.  Clinician’s guide to tortoise identification. Exotic DVM 4(6):31-33, 2003.

Highfield AC. Practical Encyclopedia of Keeping and Breeding Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles. Carapace Press; 1996.

Hunt CJG. Herpesvirus outbreak in a group of Mediterranean tortoises (Testudo spp). Vet Clin North Am Exot Anim Pract 2006;9:569-574.

Kuzman SL. The Turtles of Russia and Other Ex-Soviet Republics. Frankfurt am Main; 2002.

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

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

Mashkaryan V, Vamberger M, Arakelyan M, et al. Gene flow among deeply divergent mtDNA lineages of Testudo graeca (Linnaeus, 1758) in Transcaucasia. Amphibia-Reptilia 2013;34:337-351.

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.

Ritz J, Clauss M, Streich WJ, et al. Variation in growth and potentially associated health status in Hermann’s and Spur-thighed Tortoise (Testudo hermanni and Testudo graeca). Zoo Biol 2012;31:705-717.

Tortoise & Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group 1996. Testudo graeca. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.3. Available at Accessed on January 7, 2015.

Turtle Taxonomy Working Group [Van Dijk PP, Iverson JB, Shaffer HB, Bour R, Rhodin AGJ]. 2012. Turtles of the world, 2012 update: annotated checklist of taxonomy, synonymy, distribution, and conservation status. In: Rhodin AGJ, Pritchard PCH, van Dijk PP, Saumure RA, Buhlmann KA, Iverson JB, Mittermeier RA (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,

Uetz P, Hallermann J. Testudo horsfieldii. Reptile Database website. Available at Accessed on March 8, 2015.

To cite this page:

Pollock C, Kanis C. Basic information sheet: Greek or spur-thighed tortoise. LafeberVet Web site. March 18, 2015. Available at