|A Russian tortoise in Kazakhstan|
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, 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.
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. DNA sequence analysis generally concurs, but not too robustly so. Some sources also list three separate subspecies of Russian tortoise, but they are not widely accepted by taxonomists:
- 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
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.
The species can spend as much as 9 months of the year in dormancy. Russian tortoises can live up to 50 years.
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). 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.
Russian tortoises do not require a CITES Article X certificate.
1968 Moon flight
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.
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