Desmana moschataRussian desman

Geographic Range

Currently sourthwest Russia in the drainages of the following rivers: Don, Ural, and Volga. The fossil record indicates that they once ranged as far as the British Isles.


The russian desman inhabits freshwater, slow moving streams, lakes, and ponds. They make their nests on the shoreline under vegetation and roots above the high water line. All entrances lead from the nest to below water.

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • lakes and ponds
  • rivers and streams

Physical Description

Head and body = 180-220 mm with a tail of 170-215mm. It is the largest of the Talpidae. The Russian desman has a long, grooved snout that is flexible. The tail is scaly, flattened laterally and wide at the base. Scent glands are located at the base of the tail and give off a musky smell. The waterproof brownish/red coat is bi-layered with a dense, short bottom later and a longer, stiff outer later. The forefeet are partially and the hind feet completely webbed. The pads of all feet are fringed with thick hairs for added boost in the water. Many parts of the Russian desman's body are covered with sensory hairs. The Russian desman has the general outward appearance similar to a muskrat (Ondatra).


Russian desmans have the ability to reproduce twice annually. Births are concentrated at the start of summer and fall. Litters of 3-5 young have been documented but little else is known of desman reproduction.

  • Key Reproductive Features
  • gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
  • sexual


The russian desman is a gregarious spcies with as many as eight individuals sharing a den. They are mainly nocturnal but have been sighted during the day. Desmans are thought to probe the bottom of their aquatic habitats with their long sensitive snout in search of food. Populations of desmans tend to move around a lot due to local changes of water levels.

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Russian desmans eat aquatic organisms including fish, mollusks, amphibians, crustaceans, and insects.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The Russian desman was hunted for its fur and musk glands (used in perfumes) until the late 1800's. They are now protected.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

No documented examples.

Conservation Status

Hunting in the late 1800's drastically reduced desman populations. This species is currently listed as endangered and is protected by law. Russian desman populations have also suffered from habitat destructin, competition from introduced species (nutria and muskrats), and water pollution. The Russian desman has been introduced into other river systems outside of its original range and into areas in their original range where they were decimated.

Other Comments

There is a general lack of knowledge about this species in all aspects of its biology.


Eric J. Ellis (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


uses touch to communicate


Macdonald, Dr. David [Editor]. 1984. The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Equinox (Oxford) Ltd. pgs 766-769.

Nowak, Ronald M. 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World, 5th Edition. The Johns Hopkins University Press. Pgs167-170.

Parker, Sybil P. 1990. Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals, Vol. 1. McGraw Hill Inc. Pgs 506-513.