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Tortuga mora, the Moorish turtle in Spain

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Scholars argue about whether the turtles in the south of the Iberian Peninsula are of allochthonous or autochthonous origin. A number of fossil finds with an age between 35,000 and 150,000 years are known from the area of distribution, which would confirm the autochthonous nature of the turtles in the region. However, these finds could not be assigned with certainty to today's Testudo graeca graeca.
Based on DNA studies, it is now clear that the Tggraeca found in Spain do not show any genetic differences from the Tggraeca found in eastern Morocco.

The arched armor is extremely variable in color. The basic color ranges from a golden yellow to a light yellow beige to yellow olive. The black markings range from very high-contrast to a torn, sometimes speckled pattern to very light or dark animals.

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The head  basically has yellow markings on the cheeks, nose and forehead and gives the animals a funny harlequin-like expression on their faces. But here, too, there are exceptions from completely black to pure yellow. The limbs are also variably colored.


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The plastron is also extremely variable in color with the same yellow colorations and a more or less pronounced stain pattern.

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The males are relatively small and hardly get larger than 14 cm with a weight of 600 g, the females usually only reach a size up to 18 cm with a weight of 1200 g.

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There are still three separate occurrences in Spain today:

- A relatively small population in the west of the island of Mallorca.

- In the dunes of the Donana National Park on the southwest Atlantic coast. Another population lives here in the adjacent pine forests with abundant vegetation and in the undergrowth of Mediterranean trees.

- The largest distribution area is in the southeast between Almeria and Murcia. About a dozen isolated populations can be found here over a distance of almost 200 km as the crow flies. Here Tortuga Mora only occurs in very dry, stony, rocky habitats with little rainfall and strong sunlight. The vegetation consists of a loose vegetation of smaller, maximally man-high Mediterranean bushes or the omnipresent, 60 to 150 cm high clumps of the half grass ( Macrochloa tenacissima ).

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The southeast is the warmest region in Spain. The temperatures in the habitats are around 20 degrees and more even in the winter months when the weather is full. Temperatures rarely drop to 16 ° C during the day. At night, with a few exceptions, the temperature is regularly above 8 ° C. The animals can therefore not fall into a prolonged paralysis. The turtles only hide during the few overcast and colder rainy days. As soon as the sun shines, the turtles are active again.

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January 27, 2020.                                 February 09, 2020

The animals find plenty of food even in winter.

The temperatures in the habitats directly at turtle height have nothing to do with the values given in the climate tables. I have already dealt with this in detail in my books "Natural keeping and breeding of the Greek tortoise" and "European tortoises - habitat and way of life".

In the winter months, the ground vegetation is extremely green, so that the turtles there, like elsewhere in spring, are literally in the food. In the summer, due to excessive heat, the turtles reduce their activity to the early hours of the morning and late afternoon. If the shade temperatures rise to 30 ° C, the turtles crawl into the undergrowth. After the first autumn rains, the turtles are again active all day in Spain.

It is gratifying that we found many young animals and also hatchlings from the previous year in all habitats.


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I discovered the highest population density at the edge of an inhabited area less than 2 km as the crow flies from the sea. Here, in 2004, the development of a 350 hectare building area began and corresponding access roads were built. In 2008 about 100 hectares were built on with holiday settlements. The rest has been lying fallow since then. In the middle of this area, enclosed by a 30 m and an 18 m wide street with an avenue of palm trees and pedestrian / cycle lanes on both sides, there is an area of around 65 hectares, which has been able to maintain its originality until today and still with Mediterranean bushes and Grove of grass is overgrown. While the broad street is part of the road network, the narrower street is cordoned off and is already falling apart again. It is surely only a matter of time before excavators arrive here as well. 

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The private keeping of Tortuga mora has been strictly forbidden since March 30, 2015 and can even be punished with imprisonment. The turtles had to be handed in and some of them were released back into the wild. But that's worth a separate report.


Almeria and the Moorish turtles

Almeria is known for the agricultural production of millions of tons of fruits and vegetables in vast fields and especially in plastic greenhouses. ...


A detailed report and pictures on the topic are in preparation.

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