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The Horsfield Tortoise

The Russian tortoise is in fact an Asiatic species, not Mediterranean, with a reported natural range including Pakistan, Baluchistan, Afghanistan, Eastern Iran, and from Western China to the Caspian Sea in the former USSR.

There are currently three generally accepted sub species;

  • Testudo Horsfieldi Horsfieldi
  • Testudo Horsfieldi Kazachtanica
  • Testudo Horsfieldi Rustmovi

However due to their wide spread distribution, there may be several other sub species of this tortoise yet to be classified.

Originally described and names as Testudo Horsfieldi (sometimes spelt with an extra “i” – Horsfieldii) by Gray in 1844, it now boasts more common aliases than any other tortoise, namely Horsfield’s tortoise, Afghan tortoise, Four Toed tortoise, Russian tortoise, Central Asian tortoise and the Steppe tortoise. It is in fact one of these names that points to a key identifying characteristic of this species – a tortoise which only has four claws on each foot, hence the name “four toed tortoise”. (All other species have five claws on their forelimbs, except for a Bulgarian race of T.H.Boettgeri)

In addition to having four claws, it is only one of two Testudo species which has a completely rigid plastron (the other being T.Hermanni). It also possesses a horny tip to the tail, similar to the T.Hermanni, only not a prominent. This species has a uniquely shaped carapace, being very low, rather flat and almost round. This gives the tortoise a very strong, robust and stocky appearance.

The carapace background colour is an olive green-brown, with irregular black blotches on most of the scutes. In some cases this pigmentation can make the animal very dark. The plastron is of a similar colouration to the carapace with large dark patches on each scute. Skin colouration is lighter, normally an olive colour. This species has large, thick forelegs which are used for extensive digging and burrowing. Although they don’t possess thigh spurs like T.Graeca, they do however feature a cluster of small scaly tubercles on their upper rear thighs. Adulthood sizes vary from 16 to 20cm, although some females can surpass 22cm.

Gender Diversity

There are no obvious differences in body shape between males and females, but females are considerably larger in overall size. As usual the male has a much larger and thicker tail. Males also possess a slightly larger horny tip to the tail. The male plastron is slightly concave whereas the female’s is completely flat.

Identification in Brief

  • Small tubercles on the rear thighs are present
  • A small horny tip is present on the end of the tail
  • No flexible plastral hinge or suture
  • Four claws on each foot
  • Very round and flat carapace

Requirements

Housing

Both Outdoor and Indoor/Greenhouse accommodation

Substrate

Sand, Soil and Gravel of a considerable depth

Diet

Herbivorous

Planting

Cacti, Shrubs, Grasses & Weeds

Hibernation

Yes

Other

-Cannot tolerate damp or high humidity levels

-Considerable diggers and climbers, so pens need to be extra secure to prevent escape