Russian tortoise

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Russian tortoise
A Russian tortoise in Kazakhstan
A Russian tortoise in Kazakhstan
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Testudines
Suborder: Cryptodira
Superfamily: Testudinoidea
Family: Testudinidae
Genus: Agrionemys
A. horsfieldii
Binomial name
Agrionemys horsfieldii
(Gray, 1844)
A. h. horsfieldii
  • Testudo horsfieldii Gray, 1844
  • Homopus burnesii Blyth, 1854
  • Testudinella horsfieldii — Gray, 1870
  • Testudinella horsfieldi Gray, 1873 (ex errore)
  • Homopus horsfieldii Theobald, 1876
  • Testudo baluchiorum Annandale, 1906
  • Medaestia horsfieldi — Wussow, 1916
  • Testudo horsfieldi — Wussow, 1916
  • Agrionemys horsfieldi — Khozatsky & Młynarski, 1966
  • Agrionemys horsfieldii — Młynarski, 1966
  • Testudo horsfieldii horsfieldii— Iverson, 1992
  • Agrionemys horsfieldii horsfieldii — Welch, 1994
  • Agrionemys horsfildii Rogner, 1996 (ex errore)
  • Testudo horsfieldi horsfieldi — Highfield, 1996
  • Agrionemys baluchiorum — Vetter, 2002
  • Agrionemys horsfieldii baluchiorum — Artner, 2003
T. h. kazachstanica
  • Agrionemys horsfieldi kazachstanica Chkhikvadze, 1988
  • Testudo horsfieldii kazachstanica — Iverson, 1992
  • Agrionemys horsfieldii kazachstanica — Welch, 1994
  • Testudo horsfieldi kazachtanica Highfield, 1996 (ex errore)
  • Agrionemys horsfieldii kazakhstanica Borkin, 1998 (ex errore)
  • Agrionemys kazachstanica — Perälä, 2002
  • Testudo horsfieldi kazachstanica — Ferri, 2002
T. h. rustamovi
  • Agrionemys horsfieldi rustamovi Chkhikvadze, 1989 (nomen nudum)
  • Agrionemys horsfieldi rustamovi Chkhikvadze, Amiranashvili & Ataev, 1990
  • Agrionemys horsfieldi rustamowi Chkhikvadze, Amiranashvili & Ataev, 1990 (ex errore)
  • Testudo horsfieldii rustamovi — Iverson, 1992
  • Agrionemys horsfieldii rustamovi — Welch, 1994
  • Testudo horsfieldii rustomovi Das, 1995 (ex errore)
  • Testudo horsfieldi rustmovi Highfield, 1996 (ex errore)
  • Testudo horsfieldii rustamov Paull, 1997 (ex errore)
  • Agrionemys rustamovi — Perälä, 2002
  • Testudo horsfieldi rustamovi — Ferri, 2002

The Russian tortoise (Agrionemys horsfieldii), also commonly known as the Afghan tortoise, the Central Asian tortoise, Horsfield's tortoise, four-clawed tortoise, and the (Russian) steppe tortoise,[3][4] is a threatened species of tortoise in the family Testudinidae. The species is endemic to Central Asia. Human activities in its native habitat contribute to its threatened status.


Both the specific name, horsfieldii, and the common name "Horsfield's tortoise" are in honor of the American naturalist Thomas Horsfield.[5]


This species is traditionally placed in Testudo. Due to distinctly different morphological characteristics, the monotypic genus Agrionemys was proposed for it in 1966. Today, Agrionemys horsfieldii is currently being accepted.[6] DNA sequence analysis generally concurs, but not too robustly so.[7] Some sources also list three separate subspecies of Russian tortoise, but they are not widely accepted by taxonomists:[8]

  • A. h. horsfieldii (Gray, 1844) – Afghanistan/Pakistan and southern Central Asia
  • A. h. kazachstanica Chkhikvadze, 1988 – Kazakhstan/Karakalpakhstan
  • A. h. rustamovi Chkhikvadze, Amiranschwili & Atajew, 1990 – southwestern Turkmenistan


The Russian tortoise is a small tortoise species, with a size range of 13–25 cm (5–10 in). Females grow slightly larger (15–25 cm [6–10 in]) to accommodate more eggs. Males average 13–20 cm (5–8 in).

Russian tortoises are sexually dimorphic. Males tend to have longer tails generally tucked to the side, and longer claws; females have a short, fat tail, with shorter claws than the males. The male has a slit-shaped vent (cloaca) near the tip of its tail; the female has an asterisk-shaped vent (cloaca). Russian tortoises have four toes. Coloration varies, but the shell is usually a ruddy brown or black, fading to yellow between the scutes, and the body is straw-yellow and brown depending on the subspecies.

The male Russian tortoise courts a female through head bobbing, circling, and biting her forelegs. When she submits, he mounts her from behind, making high-pitched squeaking noises during mating.[9]

The species can spend as much as 9 months of the year in dormancy.[10] Russian tortoises can live up to 50 years.

In captivity[edit]

In captivity, Russian tortoises’ diet typically consists of lamb's lettuce, plantains and various other dark leafy greens. The diet should be varied and may include juvenile dandelions and different species of lettuce, though like many plants, they should be fed rarely due to potentially harmful side effects (for the former) or a lack of nutritional value (for the latter).[citation needed] Water is important for all species; the tortoise, being an arid species, will typically get water from their food, but they still need a constant supply. Tortoises should be soaked in warm water up to the mid shell. Tortoises typically empty their bowels in water to hide their scent; this is an instinct, and it also helps keep their enclosure cleaner.[11]

Russian tortoises do not require a CITES Article X certificate.

1968 Moon flight[edit]

In September 1968 two Russian tortoises flew to the Moon, circled it, and returned safely to Earth on the Russian Zond 5 mission. Accompanied by mealworms, plants, and other lifeforms, they were the first Earth creatures to travel to the Moon.[12]


  1. ^ Tortoise & Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group (TFTSG) (1996). "Testudo horsfieldii ". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 1996: e.T21651A9306759. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.1996.RLTS.T21651A9306759.en.
  2. ^ Fritz, Uwe; Havaš, Peter (2007). "Checklist of Chelonians of the World" (PDF). Vertebrate Zoology. 57 (2): 301–302. ISSN 1864-5755. Archived from the original (PDF) on 1 May 2011. Retrieved 29 May 2012.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Rhodin, Anders G.J.; Inverson, John B.; Roger, Bour; Fritz, Uwe; Georges, Arthur; Shaffer, H. Bradley; van Dijk, Peter Paul (3 August 2017). "Turtles of the world, 2017 update: Annotated checklist and atlas of taxonomy, synonymy, distribution, and conservation status(8th Ed.)" (PDF). Chelonian Research Monographs. 7. ISBN 978-1-5323-5026-9. Retrieved 4 October 2019.
  5. ^ Beolens, Bo; Watkins, Michael; Grayson, Michael (2011). The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. xiii + 296 pp. ISBN 978-1-4214-0135-5. (Agrionemys horsfieldii, p. 126).
  6. ^ Khozatsky & Mlynarski (1966)
  7. ^ e.g. Fritz et al. (2005)
  8. ^ "Testudo horsfieldii ". Reptile Database. Retrieved 22 February 2017.
  9. ^ "Breeding Russian Tortoises". The Russian Tortoise. Retrieved 22 February 2017.
  10. ^ "Russian Tortoise - Description, Habitat, Image, Diet, and Interesting Facts. Russian tortoises can live for up to 100 years". Animals Network. Retrieved 5 November 2018.
  11. ^ "Russian Tortoise Diet". Joe Heinen. 2002. Retrieved 7 January 2017.
  12. ^ Madrigal, Alexis C. (27 December 2012). "Who Was First in the Race to the Moon? The Tortoise". The Atlantic. Retrieved 22 February 2017.

Further reading[edit]

  • da Nóbrega Alves, Rômulo Romeu; da Silva Vieira, Washington Luiz; Gomes Santana, Gindomar (2008). "Reptiles used in traditional folk medicine: conservation implications". Biodiversity and Conservation 17(8): 2037–2049. doi:10.1007/s10531-007-9305-0 (HTML abstract, PDF first page).
  • Fritz, Uwe; Kiroký, Pavel; Kami, Hajigholi; Wink, Michael (2005). "Environmentally caused dwarfism or a valid species – Is Testudo weissingeri Bour, 1996 a distinct evolutionary lineage? New evidence from mitochondrial and nuclear genomic markers". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 37: 389–401. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2005.03.007.
  • Khozatsky LI, Mlynarski M (1966). "Agrionemys – nouveau genre de tortues terrestres (Testudinidae) ". Bulletin de l'Académie Polonaise des Sciences II – Série des Sciences Biologiques 2: 123-125. (Agrionemys, new genus). (in French).
  • Alderton D (1988). Turtles and Tortoises of the World. New York: Facts on File.
  • Ernst CH, Barbour RW (1989). Turtles of the World. Washington, District of Columbia: Smithsonian Institution Press.
  • Highfield AC (1990). Keeping and Breeding Tortoises in Captivity. Avon, England: R & A Publishing.
  • Obst FJ (1988). Turtles, Tortoises and Terrapins. New York: St. Martin's Press.
  • Pritchard PCH (1979). Encyclopedia of Turtles. Neptune City, New Jersey: T.F.H. Publications.
  • Pursall B (1994). Mediterranean Tortoises. Neptune City, New Jersey: T.F.H. Publications.
  • Wahlquist H (1991). "Horsfield's tortoise, Agrionemys horsfieldii ". Tortuga Gazette 27 (6): 1-3.

External links[edit]