sexing the Russian tortoise - conversation thread

biochemnerd808

Well-Known Member
5 Year Member
Joined
Nov 3, 2012
Messages
1,249
Location (City and/or State)
SW WA
I've seen a lot of questions lately from new RT owners about whether they have a male or a female. I thought the following information might be useful, and possibly even pin-able (*hint hint*).

For those of you who don't want to read the whole article and click on multiple pictures, here is a diagram that sums it all up (click to enlarge):
DSC_4757 - Copy - Copy.JPG

Now for the more detailed stuff:
New Russian tortoise owners often, wonder if they have a boy or a girl. If you bought it at a pet store, there is a good chance the sales clerk told you some nonsense about the tortoise being a baby and whatever sex they happen to think it is based on who knows what. You most likely have a male - the pet trade prefers to sell males because they stay smaller, they are easier to hatch (since they require a lower incubation temperature), and they won't produce eggs. However, some females do show up at pet stores, and many show up second-hand on Craigslist or other online marketplaces. Determining the sex (male or female) of Russian tortoises is fairly straightforward, based on the shape of their tail.

Unlike other tortoise species, Russian tortoise males do not have a concave plastron. The body shape of males and females is roughly the same, with small non-gender-specific differences from one animal to the next that are due to the different subspecies and environmental factors. Both can have a little 'claw' at the end of their tail (all males do, not all females do, but some females do).

Size at maturity can be one clue: mature males are significantly smaller than mature females: males are usually about 5" and rarely grow larger than 6 inches (exceptions do occur), while females as large as 12 inches have been reported. Most mature females end up about 8-10 inches large. Most RTs sold in pet stores are around 4" - 5" long, which means some are still too young to sex.

The very simplified description is that males have a long, skinny, pointy tail in which the cloaca (vent) is shaped like a slit, and is close to the tip of the tail. This makes sense, since the male needs to be able to bring his reproductive organs close to the female, and the length of the tail needs to be able to accomodate his penis. Males often carry their tail tucked to the side.

Females have a short, fat, wedge-shaped tail, in which the cloaca (vent) is shaped like an asterisk (*) or pucker, and is closer to the body. This is important for easier passing of eggs, which are surprisingly large!

The vent gets stretched out during egg laying, so a mature female's tail will look different after she has laid eggs.

Please keep in mind that a small tortoise (4.5 inches or smaller) will usually look female. My male had a small stubby tail until he was almost 5" long (SCL) and then his tail suddenly sprouted and got more pointy.

Below is a picture of my male when he was still very young. His tail was not very long, but I was pretty sure he was a male, because his cloaca (vent) was slit-shaped, and the tip was pointy.
CIMG9635.JPG

A male Russian's plastron (flat belly shell) is NOT concave as it is in e.g. Greek tortoises. This is my young male. I know for a fact that he is a male, because he has "flashed" repeatedly (meaning he showed his penis).
DSC_8988.JPG

His tail wasn't very long yet, but he carried it tucked to the side, and the point was much skinnier than it would be in a female.
DSC_4777 - Copy.JPG

This is his tail now. It still isn't super long, but it is definitely longer, he carries it to the side, and his cloaca is slit-shaped:
DSC_4780 - Copy.JPG

Here is a picture of a mature Russian tortoise male:
DSC_9050 - Copy.JPG

Next up, some pictures of female Russian tortoise's tails. First, some young, immature females. Mila was about 5" when I took this pic, but since our male showed no interest in her, I assume she was not mature yet.
DSC_8987.JPG

When I first got Jill, she was only 4.5" long, so although her tail looked female, I wasn't 100% sure she was indeed going to keep a small, stubby tail. Now at 5.5" long, her tail remains small and stubby, so I am certain that she is indeed a girl.
Jill.JPG

Next, the fat and wedge-shaped tail of a mature female who had not yet laid eggs yet. This is a 6.5" female's fat, stubby tail. This one has some shell damage, so please disregard the shape of the pygal scute above the tail.
CIMG9636.JPG

The next picture shows the asterisk (*) shaped vent of a female. Note how the vent is fairly close to the body, and even though the tortoise is close to 8" long, the tail is TINY. This female has never laid eggs.
DSC_4788 - Copy.JPG

And finally, here is a very wedge-shaped tale of a very large female:
DSC_4770 - Copy.JPG
Mature female tortoises actually have fat deposits in their tails.
This gives them their unique shape.

This female has laid eggs, so her vent is no longer a little asterisk-shape, but rather, a pucker. The skin of her cloaca had to stretch significantly to let the eggs out, and while the muscles contract later to close everything up again, the skin will never look the same as a 'virgin' tortoise's tail.
DSC_4773 - Copy.JPG

The shape of the anal scutes of the plastron, right above the tail, can vary widely in young Russian tortoises, and is not a reliable method to sex a tortoise, unless it is fully grown.

I hope this helps you determine whether you have a male or a female Russian tortoise. If you just keep one, then in the grand scheme of things, it really doesn't matter... one of our female's name is 'Timmy' - named by my oldest son when we first got her.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

Team Gomberg

IXOYE
5 Year Member
Joined
Oct 1, 2012
Messages
7,678
Location (City and/or State)
Southern Oregon
Re: How to determine the sex of your Russian tortoise - with pics!

Fantastic thread! The pictures are great and the description is easy to understand.

Well done!
 

kaleandpeppers

New Member
Joined
Jan 29, 2014
Messages
6
How to determine the sex of your Russian tortoise - with pics!

When you say "mature" what age range is that? From the pictures, mine is definitely a mature male, I'm just wondering what the youngest he could be is.

Thanks!
 

capedthespian

Member
Joined
Jan 18, 2014
Messages
58
How to determine the sex of your Russian tortoise - with pics!

This thread is very helpful, and it has lead me to question my large "male's" gender. This would be a female, right? ImageUploadedByTortForum1391739442.668946.jpg ImageUploadedByTortForum1391739458.488175.jpg
 
Last edited by a moderator:

tortoisetime565

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 22, 2014
Messages
1,703
Location (City and/or State)
Oklahoma
How to determine the sex of your Russian tortoise - with pics!

So is Shelly my female mature? ImageUploadedByTortForum1391740268.325839.jpg ImageUploadedByTortForum1391740282.259317.jpg ImageUploadedByTortForum1391740291.225555.jpg
 
Last edited by a moderator:

biochemnerd808

Well-Known Member
5 Year Member
Joined
Nov 3, 2012
Messages
1,249
Location (City and/or State)
SW WA
RE: How to determine the sex of your Russian tortoise - with pics!

Judging by the fat tail in the second pic, @capedthespian, yes, I would say female. Not terribly young either, look at the fat deposits on the tail.

capedthespian said:
This thread is very helpful, and it has lead me to question my large "male's" gender. This would be a female, right?


Well, that really depends on if your tortoise is an early bloomer or a late bloomer, what kind of environment he grew up in, if he was wild-caught or captive bred. There really is no way of knowing. My male is between 9 and 15 years, based on the fact that he started being interested in the ladies 3 years ago, but still has a fairly small tail (but he has flashed).

kaleandpeppers said:
When you say "mature" what age range is that? From the pictures, mine is definitely a mature male, I'm just wondering what the youngest he could be is.

Thanks!


tortoisetime565 said:
So is Shelly my female mature?

How long is she, @tortoisetime565? Females usually end up 7" or longer. My heaviest female is almost 8" and is still growing. My smallest female is 5.5" SCL (measured by placing her on a ruler), and my male shows no interest in her yet, so i assume she is either still immature, or my male is broken. ;)


Team Gomberg said:
Fantastic thread! The pictures are great and the description is easy to understand.

Well done!

Thank you, @Team Gomberg!
 

tortoisetime565

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 22, 2014
Messages
1,703
Location (City and/or State)
Oklahoma
How to determine the sex of your Russian tortoise - with pics!

biochemnerd808 said:
Judging by the fat tail in the second pic, @capedthespian, yes, I would say female. Not terribly young either, look at the fat deposits on the tail.

capedthespian said:
This thread is very helpful, and it has lead me to question my large "male's" gender. This would be a female, right?


Well, that really depends on if your tortoise is an early bloomer or a late bloomer, what kind of environment he grew up in, if he was wild-caught or captive bred. There really is no way of knowing. My male is between 9 and 15 years, based on the fact that he started being interested in the ladies 3 years ago, but still has a fairly small tail (but he has flashed).

kaleandpeppers said:
When you say "mature" what age range is that? From the pictures, mine is definitely a mature male, I'm just wondering what the youngest he could be is.

Thanks!


tortoisetime565 said:
So is Shelly my female mature?

How long is she, @tortoisetime565? Females usually end up 7" or longer. My heaviest female is almost 8" and is still growing. My smallest female is 5.5" SCL (measured by placing her on a ruler), and my male shows no interest in her yet, so i assume she is either still immature, or my male is broken. ;)


Team Gomberg said:
Fantastic thread! The pictures are great and the description is easy to understand.

Well done!

Thank you, @Team Gomberg!






She is about 5.5." I have no clue her age. I got her from petsmart about a 2-3 years ago. Shortly after my sulcata. I think she has grows so maybe like 5-10 years? I've caught my male mounting a few times last season. But never any signs of pregnancy.
 

biochemnerd808

Well-Known Member
5 Year Member
Joined
Nov 3, 2012
Messages
1,249
Location (City and/or State)
SW WA
RE: How to determine the sex of your Russian tortoise - with pics!

She might have reached reproductive age, but she still has a lot of growing to do. :)

tortoisetime565 said:
biochemnerd808 said:
Judging by the fat tail in the second pic, @capedthespian, yes, I would say female. Not terribly young either, look at the fat deposits on the tail.

capedthespian said:
This thread is very helpful, and it has lead me to question my large "male's" gender. This would be a female, right?


Well, that really depends on if your tortoise is an early bloomer or a late bloomer, what kind of environment he grew up in, if he was wild-caught or captive bred. There really is no way of knowing. My male is between 9 and 15 years, based on the fact that he started being interested in the ladies 3 years ago, but still has a fairly small tail (but he has flashed).

kaleandpeppers said:
When you say "mature" what age range is that? From the pictures, mine is definitely a mature male, I'm just wondering what the youngest he could be is.

Thanks!


tortoisetime565 said:
So is Shelly my female mature?

How long is she, @tortoisetime565? Females usually end up 7" or longer. My heaviest female is almost 8" and is still growing. My smallest female is 5.5" SCL (measured by placing her on a ruler), and my male shows no interest in her yet, so i assume she is either still immature, or my male is broken. ;)


Team Gomberg said:
Fantastic thread! The pictures are great and the description is easy to understand.

Well done!

Thank you, @Team Gomberg!






She is about 5.5." I have no clue her age. I got her from petsmart about a 2-3 years ago. Shortly after my sulcata. I think she has grows so maybe like 5-10 years? I've caught my male mounting a few times last season. But never any signs of pregnancy.



 

capedthespian

Member
Joined
Jan 18, 2014
Messages
58
How to determine the sex of your Russian tortoise - with pics!

biochemnerd808 said:
Judging by the fat tail in the second pic, @capedthespian, yes, I would say female. Not terribly young either, look at the fat deposits on the tail.

Thank you. Now I've got to come up with a new name for "Fred!"
 

mestacey

New Member
5 Year Member
Joined
Feb 21, 2014
Messages
22
I think spike might be a girl. But he/she is still tiny...maybe too young to tell? ImageUploadedByTortForum1393510847.321745.jpg
 
Last edited by a moderator:

dimitri

New Member
5 Year Member
Joined
Sep 29, 2013
Messages
22
On that chart where it says too young to mature reliably, how young would that be? Do you have any pictures of this?
 

biochemnerd808

Well-Known Member
5 Year Member
Joined
Nov 3, 2012
Messages
1,249
Location (City and/or State)
SW WA
I think spike might be a girl. But he/she is still tiny...maybe too young to tell? View attachment 71882
- mestacey, it is still WAY too early to tell. RTs all look like little females at this size. Until a size of 4-5" (10-13cm) has been reached, it is almost impossible to tell, unless a big long tail already sprouted.

On that chart where it says too young to mature reliably, how young would that be? Do you have any pictures of this?
dimitri, the post right above yours (from mestacey) has a nice pic of a baby tortoise that is still too young to sex reliably. In general, a Russian tortoise must be 4-5" (10-13cm) to be able to tell. That said, a few males grow a long tail at just barely 4" and a few males keep a stubby tail until they are 5" and then grow a long one. :)
 

Milinda

Member
Joined
Aug 30, 2014
Messages
40
Location (City and/or State)
Los Angeles, California
Thank you for the great post! The pictures were really helpful and clear. I bought my tortoise about two years ago from a back yard breeder, and I picked it out. At the time, he said it was a girl, so I named it Frida, but from what I see now, I think it is a Freddy! Would you mind taking a look to see if I am right? He should be about four years old now. Thank you so much!
 

Attachments

  • IMG_3634.jpg
    IMG_3634.jpg
    1.7 MB · Views: 51

Digger&Blinky

Member
Joined
Jan 14, 2017
Messages
102
I got told she was a girl she has a scrunched butt hole but a long tail \*/
 

Attachments

  • 1484693687373.jpg
    1484693687373.jpg
    55.4 KB · Views: 37
  • 1484693717822.jpg
    1484693717822.jpg
    51.2 KB · Views: 39
Joined
May 24, 2017
Messages
47
Location (City and/or State)
South Carolina
I've seen a lot of questions lately from new RT owners about whether they have a male or a female. I thought the following information might be useful, and possibly even pin-able (*hint hint*).

For those of you who don't want to read the whole article and click on multiple pictures, here is a diagram that sums it all up (click to enlarge):
View attachment 69632

Now for the more detailed stuff:
New Russian tortoise owners often, wonder if they have a boy or a girl. If you bought it at a pet store, there is a good chance the sales clerk told you some nonsense about the tortoise being a baby and whatever sex they happen to think it is based on who knows what. You most likely have a male - the pet trade prefers to sell males because they stay smaller, they are easier to hatch (since they require a lower incubation temperature), and they won't produce eggs. However, some females do show up at pet stores, and many show up second-hand on Craigslist or other online marketplaces. Determining the sex (male or female) of Russian tortoises is fairly straightforward, based on the shape of their tail.

Unlike other tortoise species, Russian tortoise males do not have a concave plastron. The body shape of males and females is roughly the same, with small non-gender-specific differences from one animal to the next that are due to the different subspecies and environmental factors. Both can have a little 'claw' at the end of their tail (all males do, not all females do, but some females do).

Size at maturity can be one clue: mature males are significantly smaller than mature females: males are usually about 5" and rarely grow larger than 6 inches (exceptions do occur), while females as large as 12 inches have been reported. Most mature females end up about 8-10 inches large. Most RTs sold in pet stores are around 4" - 5" long, which means some are still too young to sex.

The very simplified description is that males have a long, skinny, pointy tail in which the cloaca (vent) is shaped like a slit, and is close to the tip of the tail. This makes sense, since the male needs to be able to bring his reproductive organs close to the female, and the length of the tail needs to be able to accomodate his penis. Males often carry their tail tucked to the side.

Females have a short, fat, wedge-shaped tail, in which the cloaca (vent) is shaped like an asterisk (*) or pucker, and is closer to the body. This is important for easier passing of eggs, which are surprisingly large!

The vent gets stretched out during egg laying, so a mature female's tail will look different after she has laid eggs.

Please keep in mind that a small tortoise (4.5 inches or smaller) will usually look female. My male had a small stubby tail until he was almost 5" long (SCL) and then his tail suddenly sprouted and got more pointy.

Below is a picture of my male when he was still very young. His tail was not very long, but I was pretty sure he was a male, because his cloaca (vent) was slit-shaped, and the tip was pointy.
View attachment 69633

A male Russian's plastron (flat belly shell) is NOT concave as it is in e.g. Greek tortoises. This is my young male. I know for a fact that he is a male, because he has "flashed" repeatedly (meaning he showed his penis).
View attachment 69638

His tail wasn't very long yet, but he carried it tucked to the side, and the point was much skinnier than it would be in a female.
View attachment 69634

This is his tail now. It still isn't super long, but it is definitely longer, he carries it to the side, and his cloaca is slit-shaped:
View attachment 69635

Here is a picture of a mature Russian tortoise male:
View attachment 69636

Next up, some pictures of female Russian tortoise's tails. First, some young, immature females. Mila was about 5" when I took this pic, but since our male showed no interest in her, I assume she was not mature yet.
View attachment 69637

When I first got Jill, she was only 4.5" long, so although her tail looked female, I wasn't 100% sure she was indeed going to keep a small, stubby tail. Now at 5.5" long, her tail remains small and stubby, so I am certain that she is indeed a girl.
View attachment 69639

Next, the fat and wedge-shaped tail of a mature female who had not yet laid eggs yet. This is a 6.5" female's fat, stubby tail. This one has some shell damage, so please disregard the shape of the pygal scute above the tail.
View attachment 69640

The next picture shows the asterisk (*) shaped vent of a female. Note how the vent is fairly close to the body, and even though the tortoise is close to 8" long, the tail is TINY. This female has never laid eggs.
View attachment 69641

And finally, here is a very wedge-shaped tale of a very large female:
View attachment 69642
Mature female tortoises actually have fat deposits in their tails.
This gives them their unique shape.

This female has laid eggs, so her vent is no longer a little asterisk-shape, but rather, a pucker. The skin of her cloaca had to stretch significantly to let the eggs out, and while the muscles contract later to close everything up again, the skin will never look the same as a 'virgin' tortoise's tail.
View attachment 69643

The shape of the anal scutes of the plastron, right above the tail, can vary widely in young Russian tortoises, and is not a reliable method to sex a tortoise, unless it is fully grown.

I hope this helps you determine whether you have a male or a female Russian tortoise. If you just keep one, then in the grand scheme of things, it really doesn't matter... one of our female's name is 'Timmy' - named by my oldest son when we first got her.
I love learning more about my baby:)
 

nmfalconi

New Member
Joined
Jul 8, 2017
Messages
1
IMG_9175.JPG
IMG_9174.JPG My Russian's SCL is 4cm. Do you think they're a boy, girl or too young to tell?
 
Top