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The tortoises in northeast Italy

Typisches Dünengelände.

Although the entire region is a well-visited holiday destination, little or nothing is known about the turtle population there. The reason for this is that tourists hardly ever enter dense macchia and the turtles live very hidden in the holiday months of July and August.

There were repeated reports of sightings of individual turtles. However, these were considered abandoned animals. In Italy in particular, after the tortoises were placed under protection, many garden animals were “released” regardless of their species and origin.

It was assumed that there could possibly also have been natural populations on the northern Adriatic. However, evidence has not yet been provided. Individual animals found by chance were not classified in more detail, but generally only referred to as Greek tortoises.

Since there are no longer any natural occurrences of European tortoises north of the 45th north latitude, it was a challenge to provide the present evidence.

Before the departure to the Adriatic Sea on April 28th, 2017, there was heavy snowdrift in Kressbronn, the turtle enclosure as well as the many potted plants were under a blanket of snow. The lemons and oranges had high snow hoods.

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The journey over the mountains to the Adriatic through snowy landscapes.             Snow-covered Dolomites.


Our new excursion vehicle, a Wochner Mujaro 470 ABG. Not quite as agile as the prototype I designed and built, but just as off-road. Basically the same vehicle only 26 years younger, a little longer, taller and wider, but with 190 hp, 7-speed automatic and cruise control essential  more suitable for long distances.

The Adriatic Sea itself had beautiful summer weather, ideal conditions for looking for tortoises in the coastal areas of Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia in the north-east of Italy.



The purpose of the trip was to examine as many areas as possible for the occurrence of turtles. For this reason, the stay in the individual areas considered suitable was limited to only a short period of time and was soon canceled if no evidence of the presence of turtles was found. In turtle habitats one always finds the typical beaten track, in sandy terrain running tracks, typical feeding marks on leafy plants, eggshells from robbed nests, excrement and urine marks and parts of the tanks of dead turtles.

Ultimately, we found what we were looking for in three areas. We then literally combed these three island habitats for a whole day for turtles from morning to evening.

In the most beautiful sunshine we were able to find a total of 42 adults, 14 adolescents and 4 hatchlings from the previous year.


We didn't find the first animals, all of them males, until 9:15 a.m. It was only at this point in time that the dew that had formed in the early morning hours had dried off. The sand in the area was partly still damp.

The females did not come out until 10:00 a.m. and sunbathe in front of their hiding places.

We visited the largest of the three areas on another day. The night before it had rained extensively and there were still clouds in the sky during the day.

In contrast to the sunny days, the area warmed up very late and only sparsely. We couldn't find a single turtle all morning.

Around noon we saw a female sitting slightly hidden under a bush.

It was not until 2 p.m., still overcast, that we met an older female who was crossing a clearing at a fast pace.

Shortly afterwards, with the sun shining through again and again, we found another adult female closing her egg pit. We could see at least two eggs. However, we did not disturb the animal further, because in such island populations every egg counts. In other habitats, especially in Tuscany, Sardinia and Albania, we have repeatedly observed females laying eggs after a previous spring rain.

After we found turtles of all ages and also very old animals in all three habitats, it can be assumed that the population development is still functioning well.

This is also supported by the countless broken eggs, which are dug up by various egg robbers due to the fresh smell traces and which lie around for a long time in the egg-laying areas.

In order not to unnecessarily stress the animals of these remaining populations, only a few adult older animals were measured and weighed.

Although the Upper Adriatic is already counted as part of the temperate zone, Mediterranean temperatures can develop in the heat-storing, sandy, sun-drenched and wind-protected biotopes.

We discovered hatchlings and young animals up to the age of 5 years in classic laying areas, i.e. lower-lying areas with low grass cover and high water table.

Already with the first animals it is clear that it is not the western subspecies of the Greek tortoise, which is otherwise resident in Italy, but the local form of the eastern subspecies Testudo hermanni hercegovinensis.


In all three habitats we found very differently colored animals. The same dark colored animals as we knew them from Istria.

The classic, lighter colored animals as they predominantly occur in northern and central Dalmatia and on the islands of Pag, Krk, Cres and Losinj.

However, we mainly found mixed colors of the two variants, with the limbs and heads being predominantly dark in color.

I have already described the systematic status and the habitat of the Dalmatian tortoise in great detail under "Excursion to Croatia".

The males in northeast Italy are relatively large with 15 to 17 cm and a weight of up to 1000 g. With up to 18 cm and a weight of 1200 g, the females are also larger and heavier than the southern Dalmatian tortoises and the  western subspecies bordering southwest. However, the greater mass is common in turtles in climatically more moderate and northern zones.

The inguinal shields of the 60 tortoises examined were missing on both sides in 60% of the animals. They were unilateral in 18.4% and bilateral in 21.7%. 65% of the turtles had a more or less pronounced keyhole mark on the 5th vertebral shield.

The belly shields of the animals have an extraordinary characteristic. Here there is regularly an additional shield in the form of a diamond towards the leg shields. The diamond pods are rarely present on one side or only superficially pronounced.

With the Dalmatian tortoises in Croatia, these diamonds and one-sided diamond seams are rather rare. So far I have therefore assumed that it is a matter of individual malformations.

With Testuto hermanni böttgeri these deviations hardly occur and with Testudo hermanni hermanni only very rarely.



The habitats are largely natural and isolated between fields and are unsuitable for agriculture due to the nature of the soil and the structure of the terrain.

Based on geological development, it can be assumed that turtles on the upper and central Adriatic only settled from the southern Balkans after the end of the last glacial period 12,500 to 10,000 years ago.

It is gratifying that obviously in these habitats the wild boars have not yet become so prevalent that they pose a direct threat to these remaining populations.

For understandable reasons, I do not provide any details on the location of the habitats.

Enjoy the pictures and the fact that there are still functioning turtle populations in habitats north of the 45th parallel north that are unsuitable for agriculture and for this reason will hopefully be preserved for a long time.


The northern Adriatic coast is extremely sandy and criss-crossed with many lagoons, bodies of water, rivers and streams. Again and again you come across European pond turtles. In May, the females sometimes cross roads on their way to lay eggs. Young animals are relatively easy to spot.

Exposed eared turtles are a serious problem here too.

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