It's one of the most attractive of the world's tortoises, and Hermann's Tortoise still finds its home in Sicily. More precisely, the subspecies found here is Testudo Hermanni Boettgeri, which is also present in Albania and Greece. It prefers coastal grasslands but also sandy areas, concealing itself with its distinctive black, green and yellow markings. It is a protected species to which the greatest danger is the destruction of a favorable habitat --a serious problem in Sicily, where illegal vacation houses are quite common along the coasts.
This tortoise is very active, if any tortoise can be described that way. It likes to hunt for insects and snails, but prefers plants. It likes to forage and sun bathe. It is a smaller tortoise, about a foot in length.
Hermann's Tortoise nests in soft soil or sand, and the eggs hatch in about three months. Among the features which distinguish it from similar tortoises (other subspecies) is the flatter shape of its carapace ("shell").
If you had to choose the most typically "Sicilian" tortoise, this one would be a good candidate. In Greek and Sicilian mythology and folklore, it is usually Hermann's Tortoise that is depicted or described as the typical "land turtle." A hardy creature, this reptile can survive some remarkably extreme temperatures, even torrid ones, but cannot tolerate snowy winters. Not surprisingly, it often prefers an anonymous existence in Sicily's few remaining forests.
As a protected species, it should be immune to hunting and captivity, and few Sicilians disturb these beautiful tortoises because the unassuming creatures are usually invisible, easily camouflaged in grass or fallen leaves. Their niche has ensured their survival, at least for now. Truth be told, turtle soup was never terribly popular in Sicily (a fact proven by the lack of many recipes for it).
About the Author: Vincenzo Mormino is active in wildlife preservation throughout Sicily. He has written about the purple swamp hen, wild cat and other animals for previous issues.