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Speckled Cape Tortoise Facts

The speckled cape tortoise, also known as the speckled tortoise or the speckled padloper, is the smallest tortoise species in the world. In the wild, members of this species can be found in areas of Little Namaqualand, Namibia, and western South Africa. These species are endangered and uncommon in captivity.

Speckled Cape Tortoise Facts and information

  • Family: Testudinidae
  • Genus: Chersoibius
  • Size: 2.4 to 3.9 in (6-10 cm)
  • Color: Goldish Beige with black spots and outlines on shell
  • Binomial Name: Chersobius signatus / Homopus signatus
  • Other Names: Speckled Padloper, Speckled Cape

The binomial name of the speckled cape tortoise is Chersobius signatus. However, it is also alternatively referred to as the Homopus signatus. This is because the speckled cape tortoise used to belong to the genus Homopus but has since been moved to the genus Chersobius. The speckled cape tortoise belongs to the family Testudinidae, which include all tortoises.

The species also belongs to the genus Chersobius, which contains 3 tortoises. The tortoises in this genus are called padlopers which is Afrikaans for ‘path walkers’ as they are known to create pathways.

The other two are the Boulenger’s cape tortoise and the Berger’s cape tortoise.

As already mentioned, the Chersobius s. is a tiny tortoise. This tortoise has a straight carapace length of just 2.4 to 3.9 inches. The females are bigger and can reach carapace lengths of almost 3.9 inches, while the smaller males reach carapace lengths of just 2.4 to 3.1 inches.

The males have a more concave plastron as compared to the females. These tortoises have brown carapace with is dotted with many black spots thus their name – speckled tortoise. The carapace of this species is flattened and has serrated edges.

The populations of the Chersobius s. are limited to 3 areas – one within Namibia, one within South Africa and one in the border region between these two countries.

Speckled Tortoise Diet

Speckled Cape Tortoise

The species are herbivores and feed exclusively on plant material such as chicory, endive, fleaworts (also known as plantains), dandelions and other plants from the genus Taraxacum.

You can complement their diet with soaked heucobs, agrobs, chopped hay, and other fiber-rich components. Their diet can be supplemented with nitrogen-rich plant material such as beans once every week. This is important especially during spring and winter.

Adult speckled tortoises need to be fed every other day, while juveniles need to be fed daily.

Because they are hardly active during the warmer parts of summer and the colder parts of winter, they tend to eat less (usually nothing). However, it is important to still provide them with food, as they may still eat every now and then.

Also, it is important to you feed them using a feeding dish, or a surface without soil. This ensures they don’t ingest soil with can be fatal and even lead to death.

The diet also needs to be supplemented with vitamins and calcium additive designed for tortoises.

T-Rex Tortoise Supplement - Salad Topper
Zoo Med Repti Calcium with D3 Reptile Supplement

Lastly, make sure to provide them with drinkable water.

Speckled Tortoise Habitat

These tiny tortoises don’t require a lot of room to be comfortable. A single adult of this species can comfortably live in a 5.5 sq. foot (0.5 sq. meter) terrarium. An 11 sq. foot (1 sq. meter) terrarium should be large enough for three adults.

Compacted sandy loam makes the best substrate for an enclosure. Since it is important that the enclosure imitates their natural habitat, you can use rocks, plants, and wood stumps to decorate the enclosure. To create a stress-free and comfortable environment, the terrarium must have several retreats.

If you want to breed these tortoises, the substrate of the female’s enclosure should be about 4 to 8 inches (10 cm) deep. This will allow them to dig a shallow nest for their eggs.

Young speckled cape tortoises require less space. Three hatchlings can live comfortable in a 1.6 sq foot (0.15 sq. meter) enclosure. As with the adult terrariums, juvenile terrariums must have a compact sandy loam substrate as well as places to hide.

Juveniles should be sprayed with water three times a week. The enclosures also need to be sprayed every now and then to keep humidity levels high.

It is important that you provide the terrariums with adequate lighting. The lights need to mimic the intense sunlight of their natural habitat.

Therefore, high-intensity lighting is the best. UVB lights also needs to be present. This ensures that the tortoises effectively synthesize vitamin D.

Since these tortoises need to bask, basking light must be provided. The temperature of the basking spots needs to be 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius).

The day temperature for the rest of the enclosure must be around 88 degrees fahrenheit (31 degrees Celsius) in the summer and 71 degrees fahrenheit (22 degrees Celsius) in the winter. Night temperatures can be lower but not below 32 degrees fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius).

Speckled Tortoise Breeding

Speckled Cape Tortoises mating (Chersobius Signatus)

Very little is known of the mating habits of the Chersobius s. However, it is likely that mating occurs in spring (August through October) when females are gravid. More research is necessary to properly identify the mating seasons of this species.

Females usually lay 1 clutch during nesting season. While the sex of hatchlings is most likely determined by incubation temperatures, these temperatures are not known. Incubation takes 100 to 200 days.

Speckled Tortoise Predation

Little is known about the predators of the Chersobius s. The main predators of this species includes dogs, pigs, birds and humans. These dogs and pigs are not endemic to the speckled cape tortoises’ habitat but were introduced by humans.

Speckled Tortoise Endangerment

These tortoises are classified as endangered on the IUCN red list and their populations in the wild are rapidly decreasing. As such, this species is protected by South African and Namibian laws and are included in the CITES Appendix II.

The trade of wild speckled cape tortoises is illegal, and the sale of captive specimens has to be registered in studbooks. Except for extreme exception, the trade and ownership of this tortoise is prohibited.

Speckled Cape Tortoise in Action (Video)


The speckled cape tortoise is a difficult animal to care for. In fact, nearly no captive tortoises survive, as they are unable to adapt to the change in environment and diets.

However, when properly care for, the speckled cape tortoises are known to thrive in captivity better than other species of the genus Chersobius.

Let us know what you think about the smallest tortoise in the world in the comments below! Check out our page on the smallest tortoises to see other small tortoise species, and if you’re looking for an aquatic turtle you’ll want to see our list of small pet turtles.

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George Larski

Saturday 16th of January 2021

I disagree that this species is hard to keep and that most die in captivity. They are rare in captivity to begin with and now not available due to legal restrictions. I had a trio throughout the late 80's and early 90's and they did very well in captivity.

Jason scott

Saturday 18th of July 2020

Are speckled tortoises for sale anywhere. I have have tortoises over 23 years


Friday 13th of September 2019

Hi there,

I recently recently rescued a 3 legged tortoises. Found it in a cows footprint running in circles. But the other night something got stuck in her throat and shw could not reach it with the off legg. When i got her she was on her last breath, I am terribly saddened by what had happened. We live on such a big farm and she would of loved the grass camp and you should of seen its home, duel climate and everything. It is possible to buy a male and female. I would love for them to roam free everywhere.



Friday 6th of September 2019

I would like to buy a Female ana a Male speckled padloper tortoise please let me know how And where I can buy the 2 tortoise.