Geographical Range South Africa (Western Cape and adjacent areas)
Habitat Rocky outcrops in dry woodlands and scrublands
Scientific Name Homopus signatus signatus
Conservation Status Near threatened

This is quite possibly the smallest tortoise in the world, with a maximum carapace (shell) length of about four inches. Like its name suggests, this little tortoise has a speckled appearance: one type, or subspecies (Homopus signatus signatus), has a light brown carapace with large black splotches, while the other subspecies (H. s. cafer) has an orange or pink carapace with small black spots. The mottled appearance provides excellent camouflage in the tortoise's rocky habitat.

The rocky terrain provides the perfect year-round shelter for Cape speckled tortoises. In the summer, when temperatures can soar above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the tiny tortoises find cool cover in rock crevices. There they may aestivate, passing the summer in a torpid state. During the winter, when temperatures can dip below freezing, the rocks provide shelter from the cold. Now the tortoises may brumate, or enter a state that is similar to hibernation, but with periods of wakefulness.

When the weather isn't too hot or too cold, the tortoises forage for food among the rocky outcrops. Their favorite foods are succulent (water-filled) plants.

Today, Cape speckled tortoises are forced to compete with livestock (sheep and goats) for favored plant foods. And they face other problems in the wild. Their habitat is being destroyed by mining activity. And they are captured in large numbers for the commercial pet trade. You can help speckled Cape tortoises by not keeping them as pets.

Did You Know?

Because Cape speckled tortoises spend so much time hiding in rocky areas, scientists don't know a lot about some of their habits. For instance, little is known about their rituals of courtship, mating, and nesting. We do know that females lay a single egg in summer. This means the tortoises can't reproduce quickly -- yet another reason they're in trouble in the wild.