Central Asian Tortoise

(Agrionemys horsfieldii)

Common Name: Central Asian Tortoise (aka Russian Tortoise)

Scientific Name: Agrionemys horsfieldii

Reptiles Alive Name: Russiano

Hisssstory: Unwanted pet

RA Diet: A robust herbivorous diet of greens, fruits, veggies, and seeds. Many of the plants come right from the RA vegetable garden. In the warm summer months, Russiano grazes freely in the tortoise yard. Nom nom!

Natural Diet: High fiber and low protein. Since the Russian tortoise hibernates during much of the year, they eat “almost anything” they come across when they are active. Grasses are the most common edible plant in their harsh habitat.

Range: Russian tortoises are found throughout much of central Asia. They are especially common in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and parts of Iran.

Habitat: The climate of this region is harsh and drastically changes season to season. The summers are extremely hot and dry and winters are bitterly cold. Due to the harsh weather, the Russian Tortoise have adopted adapted to safely burrow underground for up to 9 months of the year. They only emerge in the spring to breed and eat when there is plenty of food available.

Size: Female Russian tortoises are typically larger than males once mature. However, even the largest females rarely exceed 8 inches in length.

Lifespan: 50 or more years

Reproduction: Males fight each other for the attention of the females. The fight generally involves males running at each other and the ramming their shells. The goal is to flip the other male over onto his back. If this happens, the upside-down male better be quick to right himself since he can die in the sun if he doesn’t manage to turn back over. Depending on where in the range the tortoise lives, the female Russian tortoises lay their eggs between March and June. A typical clutch consists of two to four oval eggs, two or three clutches per season not being uncommon. The eggs incubate 61-75 days and hatch out tiny self sufficient little tortoises.

Conservation: Unlike the plight of many animals who become victims of habitat destruction and pollution, the largest problem for Russian tortoise populations is collection of wild tortoises for the pet trade.

Cool Facts: Russian tortoises are very good diggers! They happily dig in any kind of soil conditions, including very hard-packed substrates. What enables them to do this is their stubborn attitude and extremely powerful front legs!
The cool fact Reptiles Alive “digs” the most is that the Russian tortoise was the first in space! They orbited the Earth and moon with a bunch of other animals and astronauts in the Soviet interplanetary probe number five in October 1986!

“Rachel was great. She kept 13 nine year old boys’ attention for the whole time. You could see kids follow her every word.” – David Chesnick, Dad, Falls Church, VA