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As many turtle species live for 50 years or more, their ownership requires serious commitment. Two popular choices are Russian (Testudo horsfieldii) and red-footed tortoises (Geochelone carbonaria), and making an informed choice between the two requires understanding their differences. In general, Russian tortoises are smaller and require drier accommodations, while red-footed tortoises enjoy a wider variety of food and display bolder coloration.
Home Is Where the Habitat Is
Russian tortoises, aka Asian steppe tortoises, hail from the arid interior of southwestern Asia. Because of the harsh climate, which features brutally cold winters and hot, dry summers, Russian tortoises spend most of the year -- up to 9 months -- sequestered in deep, self-dug burrows. Red-footed tortoise habitat could not be more different from the inhospitable home of the Russian tortoise; red-footed tortoises live in the rain forests and agricultural areas of South America and are usually active year-round.
Definite Dietary Differences
Russian tortoises consume grasses and weeds almost exclusively; their harsh, arid homeland produces few alternatives for the chelonians. By contrast, red-footed tortoises hail from lush, tropical lands and have a wider variety of food available; they eat fruit, leaves, grasses and flowers. In captivity, Russian tortoises require food such as grass, dandelions, hay, collard greens and endive. Feed red-footed tortoises a diet rich in foods like collard greens, endive, squash, papaya and pumpkin.
Small Discrepancies Make Big Differences
Russian tortoises are among the smaller turtle species commonly available in the pet trade. Most reach only 6 to 7 inches in length. Red-footed tortoises, on the other hand, achieve much larger sizes. Considered medium-size turtles, red-footed tortoises usually reach 11 to 14 inches, making them a handful for casual keepers. Though 6 inches does not seem to be a big difference, it increases the necessary cage size drastically -- a 6-inch turtle requires a cage with about 600 square inches of space, while a 12-inch turtle requires almost 2,200 square inches of space. Both species have highly domed carapaces, but their shape differs when viewed from above; Russian tortoises are more rounded than the red-footed tortoises' elongated shells.
Both red-footed and Russian tortoises exhibit sexual dimorphism. Some traits, such as the enlarged tails of males, occur in both species; however, other differences between genders are particular to each species. Male Russian tortoises are slightly lighter than females of similar length and have larger shell openings for their legs than females do. The shells of both male and female red-footed tortoises feature pinched waists that give them hourglass figures when viewed from above. Males exhibit a more pronounced hourglass shape.
Beauty Is Only Shell Deep
Red-footed tortoises have black to dark-brown shells covered in tan or yellow blotches. Their legs and heads feature yellow, orange or red markings. Some breeders have selectively bred red-footed tortoises for increased red markings, and animals hailing from some populations have brighter markings than others do. Contrasting with the striking looks of red-footed tortoises, Russian tortoises are brown or tan, with black markings on their shells.
- Arkive: Afghan Tortoise (Testudo Horsefieldii)
- Kingsnake.com: The Red-Footed Tortoise (Geochelone Carbonaria), a South American Treasure
- The Russian Tortoise: Russian Tortoise Diet
- California Turtle and Tortoise Club: Red-Footed Tortoise, Geochelone Carbonaria
- Melissa Kaplan's Herp Care Collection: Reptile Housing: Size, Dimension and Lifestyle
- Biological Journal of the Linnean Society: Sexual Dimorphism in Steppe Tortoises (Testudo Horsfieldii): Influence of the Environment and Sexual Selection on Body Shape and Mobility
- Hemera Technologies/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images