Karl feeding – he really likes tomato, next favourite, lettuce. (Jan 2013)
We find Karl looking very lost in the courtyard on 13 September 2011. He is clearly very young, and quite how he managed to get into such extremely hostile territory we don’t know. The courtyard is without serious vegetation at baby tortoise-height (just the occasional weed), and also where the cats spend a lot of time. It would have been all too easy for Karl to be ‘played’ with by a cat. So we take him into the house, put him into as large a box as we could find into which we also put a saucer of water and some clover. We place him into the water to soak on the assumption that he could well be dehydrated, and indeed he spends about half-an-hour there before crawling out. We are glad to see that he is completely mobile.
The next morning we discover another baby tortoise on the path between us and the neighbour – obviously from the same hatching as Karl, but very sadly dead.
The next few days and indeed weeks are a voyage of discovery, as there is little information around – that we could find anyway – on feeding baby tortoises. We follow what we feel is common sense in providing vegetation from the garden, mainly clover, and we also try lettuce – which is devoured. We also put a layer of earth into the box and create a feeding/ watering area in one corner, to give consistency of location. We bring in dry leaves to create cover, as tortoises from our earlier observation like to be in the shade. The box is on the only window sill which faces out to the sun, and whenever possible we have the window open, as tortoises need UV light to help strengthen their shells – so we read. Karl sunbathes in direct sunlight for a time and then retreats under leaves, or else exposes part of himself to the sun, the rest remaining under cover.
He retires to hibernation in late October, to re-emerge at the end of April. From an initial weight of 10g, and length x width of 3.5 x 3.0 cm, he is now 18g, 4.0 x 3.5, and 2.3cm high.
Karl being weighed and measured, 01 May 2012
He absolutely adores tomatoes; leaving the skin lying around, so daily replenishment is vital! By this time we change the initial cardboard box, which has got water-logged and grubby, to a larger plastic one, which can hold more earth and has translucent sides as well. Anke plants clover in the fresh earth, and renews it about once a month, as Karl tramples over his food. We also take him for ‘walks’, which consist of us putting him near a good clover patch in the garden and sitting down to watch him. retrieving him after about half-an-hour or so as he heads for deep cover to hunker down.
Out for a walk, Sep 2011
On the anniversary of our finding him, we measure him again. Amazing increase in size. He is now 46g, and 5.7cm long, 5cm wide and 3.2cm high. He stays relatively active up to November, with longer spells under cover. Even in January though, he emerges to sunbathe, so we have to keep looking to see if he is around; if so, we make sure the water is fresh, and he has tomato and lettuce to nibble.
Some of the tortoises we have seen on the plot:
Alex – whom we thought to be male, actually female, once we had worked out how to sex tortoises (see below).
Little Bertie – a baby
June 2009 We thought this was Alex again, but not, though she is female. Jun 2009; about 25cm long.
May 2010; out of focus
January 2011; We found him trapped in the hole where the water main comes into the other part of the plot.
January 2011. Another one, out very early. Glasses case gives an indication of size (about 8cm wide)
July 2011. A baby small enough to fit on the heel of a flip-flop.
George – note the damage to the carapace
Michael, found in Oct 2012. He crawled out from where our neighbour had been movind old concrete balustrades, and had clearly had one fall on him. As we couldn’t take him anywhere to patch him up and he seemed to be mobile enough, we had to leave him.
(These comments are geared to people in Britain keeping tortoises as pets. In Montenegro, tortoises are wild animals and are protected species, so keeping them in captivity is illegal.)
The tortoise is a living fossil having survived since the dawn of the age of reptiles, 200 million years ago. Collection for exportation and habitat destruction have dramatically reduced populations in their native countries around the Mediterranean like France, Spain, Italy, the former Yugoslavia, Turkey, Greece and northern Africa.
The species of Mediterranean tortoise most commonly imported into Britain have been the Spur-thighed Tortoise (Testudo graeca) and the Hermann’s Tortoise (Testudo hermanni). The Spur-thighed Tortoise is further divided into sub-species with a main division between Europe and northern Africa. They are in an active state of evolution and not fully understood. The Hermann’s tortoise, with two recognised sub-species, exists in the south of France, on the coastlines of Italy and the former Yugoslavia and on islands in the Mediterranean. The Spur-thighed Tortoise has a spur on either side of the tail, whereas the Hermann’s Tortoise has a single horny claw at the tip of the tail (see diagram). In both species. the male can be recognised by the longer, narrower and more pointed tail (see diagram): some males have a concave plastron.
A tortoise’s body is surrounded by a protective shell with an upper part (the carapace) and a lower part (the plastron), both of which are made up of individual bony plates and horny scutes. The upper and lower parts of the shell are joined by bridges between the fore- and hindlimbs.
Tortoises, like most reptiles, are ectothermic and rely on an external heat source (the sun) to raise their body temperature sufficiently for them to be alert, feed and digest their food. They are inactive in cold weather.
Contrary to belief tortoises do drink, especially on waking from hiberation, when a warm bath is usually appreciated . A shallow dish about 10 cm (4 ins) deep, should be sunk into the ground to allow the animals to submerge their heads Into the water. Allow for easy access into and out of the dish.
Tortoises need a diet which is high in dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals, but low in fat and proteins and feed mainly on green leaves. If your tortoise has the run of a garden it will forage quite successfully for itself on charlock, chickweed, clover, dandelion, groundsel, plantains, sow thistle and vetches and the leaves of plants and bushes like buddleja, ice plant, lilac, rose and bramble. Beware of weedkillers and slug pellets.
In the wild, tortoises are opportunistic feeders and they will on occasion tackle carrion and dung. Their digestive systems are, however, geared towards the digestion of leaves, including cellulose, so a wide variety of greens must be offered and the diet should be as varied as possible with leaves, vegetables and fruits as well as proprietary vitamin and mineral supplements such as Vionate or the Vetark range (Arkvits, Nutrobal AceHigh) obtainable via most veterinary surgeons or via the British Chelonia Group.
The following foods can be tried: beans (leaves and pods), broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumber, endive, lettuce, kale, spring greens, watercress. Beetroot, carrots, cauliflower and parsnips may be grated or offered cooked. Sprouts of the pulses are excellent.
Of the fruits, try apples, apricots, blackberries, currants, gooseberries, grapes, mandarins, melons, peaches, pears, plums, oranges, raspberries, strawberries and tomatoes. Tinned or defrosted fruit can be offered as an alterative. After feeding on sticky fruit, wipe the mouth with damp tissue.
A varied diet is recommended and one guided by the wild situation. Avoid excess of one food type. High protein items like dog and cat food and peas are not natural and can be harmful in excess, especially in juveniles.