|Homopus signatus copulating|
The Speckled tortoise (Homopus signatus), also known as the Speckled Cape tortoise or Speckled padloper, is the world's smallest tortoise. A member of the genus Homopus, it is endemic to South Africa and Southern Namibia.
Homopus signatus is naturally restricted to a small area in Little Namaqualand, an arid region in the west of South Africa. Here it lives on granite outcrops, where it forages among the rocks for the tiny succulent plants it eats.
The males measure 6–8 centimetres (2.4–3.1 in), while females measure up to almost 10 centimetres (3.9 in); they weigh about 95–165 grams (3.4–5.8 oz). This species has a flattened shell with slightly serrated edges. The orange-brown shell is covered in hundreds of black spots. The males have a noticeably concave belly.
This tiny tortoise can be distinguished from the other Homopus species by its speckles, and by five toes on its forefeet (unlike many of its relatives, which have four toes, on all four feet).
Two main subspecies have been asserted to exist, although these were declared synonymous in 2007.
- The Namaqualand speckled padloper (Homopus signatus signatus) in the north part of South Africa near the Namibian border and in south Namibia.
- The southern speckled padloper (Homopus signatus cafer, previously H. s. peersi) in the south, closer to Cape Town.
The species is threatened by traffic on roads, habitat destruction and poaching for the pet trade. As the trade in collected Homopus species is strictly illegal and any captive specimens are systematically registered in non-commercial studbooks in South Africa and Namibia, any commercial sale of Homopus tortoises is almost without exception strictly illegal. Another threat comes from introduced species, such as domestic dogs and pigs.
The species can adapt well to captivity – as its diet is not highly specialized. Many are taken from their natural habitat each year, and subsequently die as a result, as they do not readily adapt to typical captive diets and climatic change. However, they can be very hardy in captivity, and most problems with captive care are caused by faulty nutrition, high humidity, dampness or bad husbandry.
- W. R. Branch (2012). "Homopus signatus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved June 30, 2013.
- Fritz Uwe; Peter Havaš (2007). "Checklist of Chelonians of the World". Vertebrate Zoology 57 (2): 283. ISSN 18640-5755. Archived from the original on 2010-12-17. Retrieved 29 May 2012.
- J. Obst, K. Richter, and U. Jacob, The Completely Illustrated Atlas of Reptiles and Amphibians for the Terrarium, T.F.H. press, 1988.
- The Herpetology Sourcebook, Reptile & Amphibian Magazine, 1996-1997.
- IUCN Appendix 1. Regional Species Lists
- Homopus Research Foundation web site (accessed August 24, 2013).
- Save Our Tortoises, CapeNature web site.
- Branch, B. (1998). Field Guide to Snakes and other Reptiles of Southern Africa. 3d edition. Struik Publishers. ISBN 1-86872-040-3
- Corton, M., Homopus (Padloper Tortoise) Care, World Chelonian Trust (retrieved August 20, 2013).
- Loehr, V., "Namaqualand Speckled Padloper (Homopus s. signatus)", World Chelonian Trust (retrieved August 20, 2013).
- Palmer, M., "The Speckled Tortoise, Homopus signatus, in Captivity", Tortuga Gazette 30(6): 1–5, June 1994.