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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
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).
They are herbivores and feed on weeds and wild flowers.
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.
In captivity, diet typically consists of mustard greens, turnip greens, collards, and kale. Occasionally they will eat many fruits, romaine lettuce, and cabbage. Though many of these things should only be given to them on occasion because they have very low nutritional value.
Water is important for all species, but the tortoise being an arid species typically get water from their food, but they also need a constant supply. Tortoises should be soaked in warm water up to the mid shell. Tortoises typically empty their bowels in water as to hide their scent, this is an instinct, and it also helps keep their enclosure cleaner.
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.
- Fritz, Uwe; Havaš, Peter (2007). "Checklist of Chelonians of the World". Vertebrate Zoology. 57 (2): 301–302. ISSN 1864-5755. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-12-17. Retrieved 29 May 2012.
- Beolens B, Watkins M, Grayson M. 2011. The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. xiii + 296 pp. ISBN 978-1-4214-0135-5. (Agrionemys horsfieldii, p. 126).
- Khozatsky & Mlynarski (1966)
- e.g. Fritz et al. (2005)
- "Testudo horsfieldii". Reptile Database. Retrieved 22 February 2017.
- "Breeding Russian Tortoises". The Russian Tortoise. Retrieved 22 February 2017.
- "Russian Tortoise Diet". russiantortoise.org. Joe Heinen. 2002. Retrieved 2017-01-07.
- "Tortoise & the Law". Retrieved 18 May 2016.
- Madrigal, Alexis C. (27 December 2012). "Who Was First in the Race to the Moon? The Tortoise". The Atlantic. Retrieved 22 February 2017.
- 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, L.I. & 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.
- Tortoise & Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group (TFTSG) (1996). "Testudo horsfieldii". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2006. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 11 May 2006. Listed as Vulnerable (VU A2d v2.3)
- Alderton, D.: Turtles and Tortoises of the World. New York, New York: Facts on File, 1988.
- Ernst, C. H. and Barbour, R. W.: Turtles of the World. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989.
- Highfield, A. C.: Keeping and Breeding Tortoises in Captivity. Avon, England: R & A Publishing, 1990.
- Obst, F. J.: Turtles, Tortoises and Terrapins. St. Martin's Press, New York, 1988.
- Pritchard, P. C. H.: Encyclopedia of Turtles. Neptune City, New Jersey: T.F.H. Publications. 1979.
- Pursall, B.: Mediterranean Tortoises. Neptune City, New Jersey: T.F.H. Publications, 1994.
- Wahlquist, H.: Horsfield's tortoise, Agrionemys horsfieldii. Tortuga Gazette 27(6): 1-3, June 1991.
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