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What is the Marginated Tortoise?

By Rebecca Cartwright
Updated May 21, 2024
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The marginated tortoise, or Testudo marginata, is a type of tortoise native to the Mediterranean region. Its species name refers to the enlarged and flaring scutes — sections of the shell — found on the edges, or margins, of the males’ shells. At 12 to 14 inches (30 to 35 cm) and 8 to 12 pounds (3.5 to 5.5 kg) when full-grown, the marginated tortoise is one of the largest found in the Mediterranean area.

Marginated tortoises prefer a vegetation based diet and eat both soft herbaceous plants and parts of shrubs. They generally hibernate during the coldest part of the winter. During the breeding season, males can be aggressive and sometimes even kill the females by battering them. A female marginated tortoise usually lays four to seven eggs per clutch and sometimes as many as 15. It takes eight to 14 years for a marginated tortoise to reach maturity and begin breeding.

Found in the southern, central and northwestern parts of Greece and the southern part of Albania as well as Sardinia and some smaller islands, and the Anatolian region of Turkey, the tortoises typically inhabit hilly country with rocky soil and dry scrub vegetation. In some areas, however, marginated tortoises are found in agricultural fields, olive groves and stretches of dunes near the ocean. The type of land the tortoises usually live in is not easily used by humans so the species is not much threatened by development or habitat loss; the number living in the wild appears to be stable.

The marginated tortoise is on the International Union of Concerned Nations (IUCN) Red List of threatened species, at the level of “least concern.” The reason for this listing is that the area in which the tortoises are found in the wild is small enough that a natural catastrophe could kill a large percentage of the wild population. Their IUCN status means that marginated tortoises are now protected against capture in all the countries in which they are found and are no longer collected from the wild for the pet trade.

Sufficient numbers of marginated tortoises exist in captivity to provide a supply of captive-bred specimens for sale. In captivity they require access to both a high temperature basking area and a cooling spot. The best diet for a pet marginated tortoise is a wide variety of flowers, stems and leaves. Even in captivity, they will hibernate and must have access to a suitable place for hibernation.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Marginated Tortoise?

The Marginated Tortoise is a distinctive species of tortoise from the Mediterranean, known for its elongated, high-domed shell with a characteristic flared, serrated edge at the rear. It's scientifically named Testudo marginata and is the largest European tortoise, with a diet primarily consisting of leafy greens and flowers.

Where can Marginated Tortoises be found in the wild?

Marginated Tortoises are native to Greece, Italy, and the Balkans, thriving in scrubby, Mediterranean climates. They prefer meadows, scrublands, and forest edges where they can forage for food and bask in the sun. Their habitat is often characterized by dry summers and mild, wet winters.

What do Marginated Tortoises eat?

Marginated Tortoises are herbivores, feeding mainly on a variety of leafy greens, flowers, and some fruits. In the wild, their diet includes dandelions, clover, and other broadleaf plants. It's crucial to provide a calcium-rich diet to captive tortoises to prevent shell deformities and ensure overall health.

How long do Marginated Tortoises live?

Marginated Tortoises are known for their longevity, often living for 100 years or more with proper care. Their lifespan in the wild can be shorter due to predation and environmental factors, but in captivity, with optimal conditions, they can reach these impressive ages.

How can you tell the age of a Marginated Tortoise?

Determining the exact age of a Marginated Tortoise can be challenging. While counting the growth rings on the scutes of the shell can provide a rough estimate, it's not always accurate due to variable growth rates influenced by diet, climate, and overall health. For precise aging, knowledge of the tortoise's history is required.

Are Marginated Tortoises endangered?

Marginated Tortoises are currently listed as "Least Concern" by the IUCN Red List, indicating they are not immediately threatened with extinction. However, they face pressures from habitat loss, collection for the pet trade, and predation. Conservation efforts are important to ensure their populations remain stable.

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