Welcome to Animal Magic – a series of fortnightly columns where we take an in-depth look at some of Tilgate Nature Centre’s popular, and less well-known animal residents.
This week we take a closer look at one of our slower residents – Hermann’s Tortoise.
The recent heatwave has been enjoyed by the centre’s Hermann’s tortoises, which are from southern Europe so well adapted to hot summers.
They inhabit meadows, spending the night in scrapes under bushes and emerging in the morning to feed on grasses and other plants.
Males are generally smaller than the females but have a longer tail and the underside (plastron) of their shell is concave whilst the female’s is flat.
As with most tortoises courtship isn’t very romantic with the male biting and butting the female until she allows him to mate.
The eggs are buried and are incubated by the warmth of the soil and after 90 days the 50p-sized babies emerge.
Despite the warm summers across much of their range they face cold winters.
To survive this the tortoise will bury itself and hibernate until the spring, some four or five months later.
Probably the most commonly kept pet tortoise, in the past they were imported in their thousands from the wild and unfortunately many didn’t live for long.
Now the trade is regulated with tortoises being individually micro-chipped and certificated.
We currently have two male tortoises that will shortly be joined by some females.
Our boys are 15 and 50 years old, still quite young for a species that can live for over 80 years.
They are fed a range of greens and have access to grass on which they graze, but their favourite foods are ‘weeds’ such as clovers and dandelions.
Before hibernation they are given a thorough health check and are weighed to ensure they are strong enough to sleep through the winter.
The tortoises are then placed in a secure box within a building that we maintain at a constant 5C, this ensures they emerge in the spring in the best possible condition.