Intraspecific variation in digit reduction in Testudo: the case of the Hermann’s tortoise

Àngel H. Luján, Mariona Ferrandiz-Rovira, Cristina Torres, Albert Bertolero

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearch


© 2019, Gesellschaft für Biologische Systematik. Phalangeal reduction is a common and widespread phenomenon among tortoises that has been associated with the adaptation to terrestrial life. While reduced manual digit 1 appears characteristic in almost all Testudo species, it is uncertain why the metacarpal I and distal carpal of the same digit are completely missing in some individuals of Hermann’s tortoise (Testudo hermanni hermanni). To clarify this issue, we investigated the number of manual claws in six populations of Hermann’s tortoise (one from the Ebro Delta in the Iberian Peninsula and five from Minorca Island), their age, sex, genetic lineage, and the substrate type that they inhabit. The number of claws was ascertained based on direct counts (n > 1500 individuals) and by X-rays (n = 32 individuals), obtaining three different phalangeal formulae: (1-2-2-2-1, D-2-2-2-1, 0-2-2-2-1). Thus, claw counts through both methodologies (direct count and X-ray) further confirm that the observed claws serve as a good proxy to assess the actual number of digits. Our results show no loss of phalanges, metacarpal and carpal bones in digit 1 associated with age, sex, or substrate, contrary to some previous authors who hypothesized a relationship between this loss and sexual dimorphism. Therefore, variations in the number of manual digits and the loss of metacarpal I and distal carpal in digit 1 in Hermann’s tortoise are related to population and genetic lineage. More detailed comparisons with other Testudo hermanni populations from elsewhere in Europe would be required to understand the evolutionary significance concerning the intrapopulation variability in the number of digits remaining.
Original languageEnglish
JournalOrganisms, Diversity & Evolution
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019


  • Ebro Delta
  • Minorca Island
  • Phalange reduction
  • Phalangeal formula
  • Testudo hermanni


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