Russian desman (Desmana moschata)

Russian desman hunting underwater
Loading more images and videos...

Russian desman fact file

Russian desman description

GenusDesmana (1)

Desmans belong to the same family as moles but are adapted for a more aquatic lifestyle. They posses a similar long, cylindrical body, but the tail is longer and flatter than that of a mole and is broadened by a fringe of stiff hairs (3). The legs are also covered in stiff hairs and the thick, waterproof coat is brownish-red in colour, fading to ashy-grey on the underside (2) (3). The snout is long and flexible and the back feet are completely webbed in order to provide propulsion in water (3).

Head-body length: 18 – 21.5 cm (2)
Tail length: 17 – 21.5 cm (2)

Russian desman biology

Very little is known about the natural ecology and behaviour of the Russian desman. They build nests on the banks of rivers and appear to be fairly gregarious, as eight individuals have been found in a single nest (2). Females produce two litters a year of three to five young, which are born in spring and autumn (2). Musk glands at the base of the tail are used to mark territories (4).

Russian desmans are primarily nocturnal and catch their prey in the water, using their flexible snout to feel along the riverbed and also as a snorkel (3). They can stay underwater for up to five minutes between breaths (4). They eat a range of aquatic organisms such as fish, molluscs, insects, crustaceans and amphibians (2).


Russian desman range

Fossils from the Pleistocene period show that the Russian desman was found across Europe from southern Britain to the Caspian Sea (3). Today, it occurs in Russia, Belarus, the Ukraine and Kazakhstan, where it occurs in the river basins of the Volga, Don, Dneiper, Ural, Uj and Tobal (2).


Russian desman habitat

The Russian desman inhabits lakes, ponds, slow-moving streams and rivers. While a supply of freshwater is essential for this species, it is occasionally also found in brackish waters (2).


Russian desman status

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable


Russian desman threats

Russian desmans were massively exploited for their fur and musk glands in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and populations were decimated as a result (2). The delicate wetland ecosystem in which they are found is under threat from draining, pollution and agriculture, and desmans also face competition with introduced nutria (Myocastor coypus) and muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus) (2) (4).


Russian desman conservation

The Russian desman is fully protected today, and the fur trade no longer poses a threat to their survival (3). A number of reserves have been established to protect the last unspoilt wetlands and captive breeding programmes have been set up, although these have so far been unsuccessful (4). Very little is known about natural populations of Russian desmans, and this must be a conservation priority before any effective action plan may be put into practice.

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.


This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:



Slightly salty water.
Diverse group of arthropods (a phylum of animals with jointed limbs and a hard chitinous exoskeleton) characterised by the possession of two pairs of antennae, one pair of mandibles (parts of the mouthparts used for handling and processing food) and two pairs of maxillae (appendages used in eating, which are located behind the mandibles). Includes crabs, lobsters, shrimps, slaters, woodlice and barnacles.
A diverse group of invertebrates, mainly marine, that have one or all of the following; a horny, toothed ribbon in the mouth (the radula), a shell covering the upper surface of the body, and a mantle or mantle cavity with a type of gill. Includes snails, slugs, shellfish, octopuses and squid.
Active at night.
A geological time period from approximately 2 million years ago until 10,000 years ago.


  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2012)
  2. Stone, R.D. (1995) Eurasian Insectivores and Tree Shrews - Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.
  3. Macdonald, D. (2001) The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  4. The Russian Desman: An Introduction(Bryansk Forest Film Studio tx. 2002).

Image credit

Russian desman hunting underwater  
Russian desman hunting underwater

© Igor Shpilenok /

Nature Picture Library
5a Great George Street
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 117 911 4675
Fax: +44 (0) 117 911 4699


Link to this photo

Arkive species - Russian desman (Desmana moschata) Embed this Arkive thumbnail link ("portlet") by copying and pasting the code below.

Terms of Use - The displayed portlet may be used as a link from your website to Arkive's online content for private, scientific, conservation or educational purposes only. It may NOT be used within Apps.

Read more about



MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite Arkive images and videos and share them with friends.

Play the Team WILD game:

Team WILD, an elite squadron of science superheroes, needs your help! Your mission: protect and conserve the planet’s species and habitats from destruction.

Conservation in Action

Which species are on the road to recovery? Find out now »

This species is featured in:

This species is affected by global climate change. To learn about climate change and the species that are affected, visit our climate change pages.

Help us share the wonders of the natural world. Donate today!


Back To Top