Paternity Tests For Baby Hermann’s Tortoises?

Italian researchers have been giving paternity tests to baby Hermann’s tortoises.

In case you’re wondering, this is not about suing for child support!

Female Hermann’s are promiscuous: throughout their life, they have sex numerous times with different partners, and they can store sperm inside their bodies for three to four years. Now researchers in Italy want to find out whether this sperm storage affects fertilization.

You may be familiar with Hermann’s tortoises, since they are one of the most popular reptile pets in the U.S. That’s because they are small: females are typically larger than males, but even the largest female is usually only about 8 inches long; they are easy to care for, and they can live for many decades.

So how to determine who’s the father when there are multiple partners?

From the BBC:

Previous studies into similar species have found that a higher proportion of eggs are fertilised by the last mate.

“[This] ‘last in first out’ hypothesis was our main hypothesis,” said research team member Dr Sara Fratini from the University of Florence.

You have to love the terminology: “Last in, first out”!

That used to be the theory, but in a new study, “Influence of mating order on courtship displays and stored sperm utilization in Hermann’s tortoises,” Dr. Fratini and her colleagues were unable to find proof of this logic.

Instead, the team’s findings seem to indicate that the sperm are mixed up randomly inside the female’s storage tube, in a way that doesn’t relate to the time of their entrance.

What was their method? The team of experts gave paternity tests to offspring coming from 16 egg clutches, and found that how the sperm mixes inside the female’s storage tube was unrelated to the time of their arrival. They also determined that the greater the amount of a male’s sperm inside the female, the bigger his contribution to fertilization.

But there are still questions.

From the BBC:

But Dr Fratini said the findings could also suggest that females may actively optimise the use of stored sperm to use old sperm first – before it becomes unviable – and newly aquired sperm afterwards.

“At the present time, we cannot say which hypothesis is the real one,” Dr. Fratini told BBC Nature.

As for the debate about promiscuity in female Hermann’s tortoises, one obvious reason could be that the population of Hermann’s tortoises in the wild is dwindling, so the females have developed the ability to mate with several males and to store their sperm for a few years in order to ensure that their species will survive.

What do you think?

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Photo Credit: thinkstock

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Manel Dias
Manel Dias2 years ago

As long as no harm is done to the animal then it is OK.

Sheri D.
Sheri D.2 years ago


Carrie Anne Brown

thanks for sharing

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill2 years ago

stupid waste of money

Gale Thomasson
Gale T.2 years ago

Love turtles!

Betty Schueler
Betty Schueler2 years ago

This is actually an important study because we have recently learned that anything, with genes, can modify its genetic expression, on a temporary basis, in response to changes in the environment. If the new environment remains stable, over generations, the gene change may become permanent. If we understand how these changes occur we might be able to use them to our advantage such as turning genes off or on to prevent cancer.

Heidi Aubrey
Heidi Aubrey2 years ago

I can't imagine have a pet reptile. Somehow it doesn't quite fit my, I guess limited, definition of what a pet is. To me there has to be some kind of intelligence involved that is more than food.

Christine C.
Christine C.2 years ago


Karin Jaeger
Karin J.2 years ago

thanks for sharing.

Melania Padilla
Melania Padilla2 years ago

Thank you