The speckled tortoise (Homopus signatus), known locally as the speckled padloper, and also known internationally as the speckled cape tortoise, is the world's smallest tortoise. A member of the genus Homopus, it is endemic to South Africa and Southern Namibia.
Distribution and subspecies
Homopus signatus is naturally restricted to a small area in Little Namaqualand, an arid region in the west of South Africa. Here it normally lives on rocky outcrops, where it forages among the rocks for the tiny succulent plants it eats.
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 males measure 6–8 centimetres (2.4–3.1 in), while the larger 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).
Threats and conservation
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.
Many are taken from their natural habitat each year, and nearly all subsequently die as a result, as they do not readily adapt to typical captive diets and climatic change. Unlike most other Homopus species however, their diet (while very varied) is not highly specialized. Therefore the species can adapt well to captivity, provided that proper attention is paid to temperature, dryness and a sufficiently varied diet. They can in fact be very hardy in captivity, and most problems with captive care are caused by faulty nutrition, high humidity, dampness or bad husbandry.
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