Testudo graeca ibera Pallas 1814
Common names: Spur-thighed Tortoise, Asia Minor Tortoise, Turkish Spur-thighed Tortoise [En], Tortue grecque, Tortue turque, Tortue levantine de Turquie [Fr], Γραικοχελώνα [Gr], Adi Tosbağa [Tu]
IUCN Status : VU (Vulnerable)
Küçükbahçe, İZMİR ● Turkey
Taxonomy: The taxon Testudo graeca is clearly a complex of several species, but its taxonomy remains very confused without resolution, and so it is treated here as a single species. Ten subspecies of Testudo graeca are now (2011) recorded by the IUCN experts of the Turtle Taxonomy Working Group:
• T. graeca graeca Linnaeus 1758 – Mediterranean Spur-thighed Tortoise –Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia
• T. graeca armeniaca Chkhikvadze and Bakradze 1991 – Araxes Tortoise –Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Russia (Chechnya[?], Dagestan), Turkey
• T. graeca buxtoni Boulenger 1921 – Buxton’s Tortoise – Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, Turkey
• T. graeca cyrenaica Pieh and Perälä 2002 – Cyrenaican Spur-thighed Tortoise – Libya
• T. graeca ibera Pallas 1814 – Asia Minor Tortoise – Albania (?), Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Russia (Krasnodars-kiy), Serbia (Kosovo), Turkey
• T. graeca marokkensis Pieh and Perälä 2004 – Morocco Tortoise – Morocco
• T. graeca nabeulensis Highfeld 1990 – Nabeul Tortoise – Libya, Tunisia
• T. graeca soussensis Pieh 2001 - Souss Valley Tortoise – Morocco
• T. graeca terrestris Forskål 1775 – Mesopotamian Tortoise – Egypt (?) (Sinai), Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey
• T. graeca zarudnyi Nikolsky 1896 - Iranian Tortoise, Persian Tortoise – Iran, Turkmenistan (?)
The name “ibera” refers to the Caucasian Iberia, a designation used 3,000 years ago for the region that is now eastern and southern Georgia.
The taxonomy of Testudo graeca ibera is characterized by great controversy among scientists.
Description: T. graeca ibera is the second largest species of the genus. The most spectacular record is from Bulgaria, where a specimen measuring 389 mm and weighing 5,860 grams was documented.
T. graeca ibera has quite variable coloration. Some specimens are almost entirely black, whereas ogthers are much lighter with brown or ochre tones. The coloration of neonates and juveniles is much lighter.
The spurs of T. graeca ibera are especially large, and even somewhat curved at the tip because of their long growth.
Males differ from females in 6 main points. Firstly, they are generally smaller. Their tails are longer and taper to a point evenly, and the cloacal opening is farther from the base of the tail. The underside is somewhat curved, while females have a flat shell on the underside. The rear portion of a male's carapace is wider than it is long. Finally, the posterior plates of the carapace often flange outward.
Biology: Testudo graeca is a generalist vegetarian, feeding on a wide variety of leaves, buds, flowers, seeds and fruits of grasses, herbs and shrubs, as well as small invertebrates such as snails, arthropods, and carrion. It has been recorded as dispersing plant seeds.
Immediately after waking from hibernation, the mating instinct starts up. The males follow the females with great interest, encircling them, biting them in the limbs, ramming them, and trying to mount them. During copulation, the male opens his mouth, showing his red tongue and making squeaking sounds.
During mating, the female stands still, bracing herself with her front legs, moving the front part of the body to the left and right in the same rhythm as the male's cries. One successful mating will allow the female to lay eggs multiple times. When breeding in captivity, the pairs of females and males must be kept separate. If there are multiple males in a pen, one takes on a dominant role and will try to mate with the other males in the pen. If there are more males than females, the males might kill each other in order to mate with the female.
One or two weeks before egg-laying, the animals become notably agitated, moving around to smell and dig in the dirt, even tasting it, before choosing the ideal spot to lay the eggs. One or two days before egg laying, the female takes on an aggressive, dominant behavior, mounting another animal as for copulation and making the same squeaking sound the male produces during copulation. The purpose for this behavior is to produce respect in the tortoise community, so that the female will not be disturbed by the others during egg laying.
Habitat: This species inhabits a variety of dry, open scrubby habitats, meadows and pastures, sand dunes, forest, heathlands, and open habitats through its wide range, generally on a sandy-calcareous substrate. Up to 1,700-2,000 m above sea level in eastern Turkey near Lake Van.
Distribution: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Russia (Krasnodars-kiy), Serbia (Kosovo), Turkey. Maybe in Albania. From the south-eastern Balkan Peninsula through Asia Minor and into the Caucasus. The northern limit is the Danube River.
Protection: The species is included in CITES Appendix II and EU regulation EEC No.338/97 prohibits import into the EU unless captive-bred.
Turtle Taxonomy Working Group, 2011. Turtles of the World, 2011 Update: Annotated Checklist of Taxonomy, Synonymy, Distribution, and Conservation Status, IUCN.
Budak A. & Göçmen B., 2005. Herpetology. Ege Üniversitesi Fen Fakültesi Kitaplar Serisi, No. 194, Ege Üniversitesi Basimevi, Bornova-Izmir, 226 pp [2nd Edition, 2008].
Türkozan O., Olgun K. Wilkinson J. Gillett L. Spence J., 2004, A Preliminary Survey of Testudo graeca Linnaeus 1758.
Soler J., Martinéz Silvestre A., Ferrández M., 2009. Testudo graeca ibera, The Eurasian Spur-Thighed Tortoise in Romania, Reptilia nr 64.
IUCN Red List