The prize for the smallest turtle species in the world goes to the speckled padloper tortoise (Homopus signatus). This tiny terrestrial turtle, also known as the speckled cape tortoise, travels along narrow trails and pathways in Namaqualand, South Africa. In fact, the term “padloper” means trail walker. Full-sized, male speckled padloper tortoises weigh a mere 3 ounces and grow to only 3 inches long.
The honeycomb-designed shell of the speckled padloper is slightly rounded. Female shells are wider with a higher dome than male shells, believed to provide extra room for egg growth. The top of the male’s shell is light brown with dark brown speckles, while the female’s shell is darker with fewer speckles. Both male and female of the species have deep, fine grooves between the scutes, which are the honeycomb-shaped plates on the turtle’s back. Like most padlopers, the speckled tortoise has four claws on its back feet.
The speckled padloper tortoise makes its home in the arid region of western Cape Province, Republic of South Africa. The terrain consists of rocky crevices where the speckled tortoise forages for food and protects itself from rain and cold temperatures. Mating and most of the speckled turtle’s activities take place in the spring, which runs from August to the middle of October. During the spring, the flowers and plants that the turtle’s depend upon for food, cover the area. Flowering wireweed, wood sorrel and Crassula thunbergiana are among the speckled tortoise’s favorite foods. Spring also has frequent rain showers that provide the water the speckled padloper needs for healthy growth and development.
Both male and female speckled padloper tortoises begin the mating ritual by swinging their heads back and forth, from left to right. The female lays one large egg, sometimes two in the summer. The female chooses crevices in the rocks or digs under rock ledges for depositing her eggs. The turtle eggs hatch from 16 to 18 weeks later.
Although the IUCN lists the speckled padloper tortoise as “near threatened,” a study conducted by Assessments of Impacts and Adaptations to Climate Change states that climate changes in South Africa do not have an impact on the survival of this small turtle Not much is known about this tortoise’s distribution or population, so it’s long-term survival cannot be determined, according to the Homopus Research Foundation.
Potential threats to the speckled tortoise are poachers who capture the turtles to sell as pets, turtle casualties from traffic and mining the turtle’s natural habitat.
- University of Georgia: Savannah River Ecology Laboratory: How Big Do Turtles Get?
- ReptileChannel.com: South Africa Tortoises
- EMY System : Homopus Signatus
- Homopus Research Foundation: Speckled Padloper – Homopus Signatus
- SouthAfrica.info: South Africa’s Weather and Climate
- The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Homopus Signatus
- Columbia University: AIACC Final Reports: Impacts and Adaptations to Climate Change in the Biodiversity Sector in Southern Africa
- Turtles of the World: Homopus Signatus
Karen Curley has more than 18 years experience in health and nutrition, specializing in healthy food choices for families. She received USDA certification in food components, nutrient sources, food groups and infant/child nutrition, and holds a B.A. in English from the University of Massachusetts. Curley is also an avid gardener, home renovator, Collie breeder, dog groomer and dog trainer.