Speckled Tortoise

(Homopus signatus)


Speckled Tortoise IUCN LEAST CONCERN (LC)


Facts about this animal

The Namaqualand padloper is the World´s smallest tortoise reaching a maximum carapace length of 11 cm. Females generally grow larger than males. The shell is dorso-ventrally compressed and buttock tubercles are present.

Two subspecies are described. The northern form, the Namaqualand speckled padloper (Homopus signatus signatus), occurs from the Orange River (bordering Namibia) to the Olifant River in the south and from the Atlantic Coast as far inland as Gamoep on the western fringe of the Bushmanland. The Southern speckled padloper (Homopus signatus cafer) is found south of the Olifants River to Piketberg and Citrusdal in the south and Cedarberg in the east. The northern subspecies can be distinguished by a more serrated posterior margin and a slightly different colouration. Whereas the northern subspecies has a light brown coloured carapace with black speckles, splashes and rays, the southern subspecies is not always light brown , but can be orange-red or salmon-pink. The pattern in this subspecies consists of many much finer stipples and only short rays.

The species lives in the rocky and relatively arid succulent and bushveld regions of Little Namaqualand and the western Great Karoo from sea level to 1000 m NN. In the south it occurs also in the northern fringe of the fynbos area. Usually it uses crevices in the rocks as refuge, but is not as bound to specific crevices as the pancake tortoise is. The natural range receives winter rainfall and has dry and hot summers. Whereas the biology and ecology of the southern subspecies is not really known, the main activity season for the northern subspecies is the spring, in which they show an unimodal activity pattern, which changes to a bimodal activity pattern in summer, rsp. reduced activity in summer, which increases in autumn again. During the winter at least the northern subspecies remains inactive.

Egg laying takes place in the spring months. The clutches consist of a single large egg, but at least under human care a female can produce up to four clutches in one season.

Homopus signatus is a herbivorous species that feeds on leaves and flowers of many different plant species. For the northern subspecies at least 11 different feeding plant species have been identified, with Oxalis sp. and Leysera tenella being the most popular ones.

Did you know?
that the speckled tortoise is it the smallest of the world's tortoises? Adults reach a lngth of 9.5 cm oand a body-weight of 140 grams only.


Name (Scientific) Homopus signatus
Name (English) Speckled Tortoise
Name (French) Homopode marqué
Name (German) Gesägte Flachschildkröte
Name (Spanish) Tortuga manchada
Local names Afrikaans: Padloper
CITES Status Appendix II
CMS Status Not listed



Photo Copyright by
Victor Loehr



Range South Africa
Habitat Dry and rocky area
Wild population Unknown
Zoo population 12 reported to ISIS

In the Zoo

Speckled Tortoise


How this animal should be transported

For air transport, Container Note 43 of the IATA Live Animals Regulations should be followed.


Find this animal on ZooLex


Photo Copyright by
Victor Loehr

Why do zoos keep this animal

The Speckled Padloper is not kept by many zoos. Although the species is listed as LR only in the IUCN Red List , the small range makes it very vulnerable. Studies have also shown that aridification of the habitat has tremendous impact to the survival of the species. The southern subspecies has been listed by the Turtle Conservation Fund (TCF) among the 25 most endangered chelonian species.

Also for educational purposes the species can be recommended as it represents the world´s smallest tortoise species. Prague Zoo for example exhibits this species next to the huge Galapagos tortoises.

As a small quite active tortoise, this species is also very attractive to visitors and in contrast to the large species of the genus Geochelone the terraria can be smaller and can be nicely decorated as this species is less destructive than larger chelonians. Also a combination with South African lizards (Agamids, Cordylids, Scincids) is possible.

For this species a very active ESF studbook is kept by the Homopus Research Foundation in the Netherlands (Chairman: Victor Loehr). The studbook programme is closely linked with extensive research activities in captivity as well as in the wild. Data resulting from these research projects regarding the ecology of this species are used for improving the conservation activities for this species. More Information can be found on www.homopus.org.