How to Tell If a Russian Tortoise Is Male or Female?

Updated February 21, 2017

Russian tortoises are relatively small tortoises, commonly found as pets. The tortoises grow to between 6 and 10 inches long. They tend to be hardy when well cared for, and can live for a long time--up to 50 years. Determining the gender of these tortoises can often be difficult. Most male and female tortoises, including Russian tortoises, look alike at first glance, with little to tell you which is which. There are, however, a few ways you can tell whether your Russian tortoise is a male or female.

Note the size of your Russian tortoise. The gender of tortoises can sometimes be determined by size. Mature female Russian tortoises often are larger than mature male Russian tortoises, growing to between 8 and 10 inches long, whereas the male Russian tortoise only grows to between 6 and 8 inches. The size of the turtle is determined by measuring the length of the shell, from the tail area to the start of the head.

Turn your tortoise over and look at its tail. Female Russian tortoises have a somewhat stubby, short tail. Male tortoises have a longer tail. Males often carry their tails far to the side, so that it looks like the tail is actually bent to one side.

Look at the cloaca on the tortoise's tail. All turtles and tortoises, including the Russian tortoise, have a cloaca, which is a vent on the underside of the tail. On Russian tortoises, the male's cloaca looks like a long slit on the underside of the tail. The female Russian tortoise's cloaca is a more puckered, starlike shape.

Examine the end of the tortoise's tail. Male Russian tortoises have a hard point, which is slightly curved, at the end of the tail called a spur. Most Russian tortoise females do not have this spur. Some female tortoises, however, do have this spur, so be careful to look for other gender markers as well.

Look at the Russian tortoise's shell. Male Russian tortoises have shells that reach to the ground or almost to the ground over the tail area. Female Russian tortoise shells are shorter over the tail area, and do not reach as near to the ground.


Compare your Russian tortoise to other Russian tortoises, or to pictures of other Russian tortoises, in order to see the differences in size, tails and shells more easily. Remember that not all Russian tortoises will display the same characteristics, so it can be useful to use more than one or two gender markers to correctly determine the gender of the tortoise.

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Ann LaPan travels exuberantly in body and mind via planes, trains, automobiles and superb literature. A webmaster, website designer, graphic artist, accountant and musician (Jill of all trades, master of a few), she writes Today’s Horoscope for Shooting Star