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Russian Tortoise: Pictures, Facts, Diet & Care Guide

Melissa Gunter

By Melissa Gunter

Closup view of cute one year old Russian tortoise

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The Russian tortoise is one of the best reptiles to make part of your family. Not only are they easy to care for, but these friendly tortoises love being around people and are often compared to dogs. With basic care and nurturing, these cuties can live up to 50 years, making them lifelong companions. Let’s learn more about these amazing reptiles below.

Size: 8 to 10 inches
Weight: Up to 2 ½ pounds
Lifespan: Up to 50 years
Suitable for: Beginner turtle owners and those with experience
Temperament: Active, friendly, and outgoing with proper socialization

Russian tortoises go by many names. This includes the Horsfield tortoise, the name given to them in honor of naturalist Thomas Horsfield. These handsome tortoises are reddish brown to black with a lighter yellow found between their scutes. They are also recognized thanks to only having four toes unlike all other tortoises. Now, let’s learn more about these amazing creatures so you can decide whether one is right for your home.

Russian Tortoise Characteristics

Energy
Trainability
Health
Lifespan
Sociability

How Much Do These Tortoises Cost?

The Russian tortoise is one of the most popular species in North America. If you choose to bring one of these tortoises into your home, expect to pay between $100 to $200 for the pet itself. Typically, pet shops are the best bet for finding one of these pets. However, you should ensure the pet shop is respected. This means they openly care for their pets, and ensure they receive medical care and proper habitat care. If you do choose to purchase from a breeder, proper research should be done. You do not want to work with a breeder who does not provide proper care to their pets.

You’ll also need to consider habitat needs when bringing a Russian tortoise home. You’ll need a tank, lighting, bedding, food, and bowls for food and water. All these necessities must be purchased upfront and be ready when you bring your new pet home. You should also consider setting up an outside area for your Russian tortoise to enjoy time outdoors as well.

Beautiful close-up of a Russian tortoise
Image Credit: MattL_Images, Shutterstock

Russian Tortoise Behavior

One of the reasons so many people lean toward Russian tortoises as a pet is how well they do with people. These little tortoises are often compared to dogs. They are able to recognize their owners, and even enjoy spending time with them. While the Russian tortoise spends quite a bit of time hibernating, they are also very active. Instead of spending all their time hiding in the substrate, they will dig, climb, and explore.

Do These Tortoises Make Good Pets?

Yes, Russian tortoises make great pets due to their calm temperament. They also have basic care needs and can easily be cared for by beginners. Considering their mild temperament, they are social and can be held when doing so properly. You should always remember to approach them openly so as not to scare your tortoise and always pick them up properly.

Russian Tortoise Tank Mates

You should not house Russian tortoises with other breeds. If you want to have multiple Russian tortoises in your home, there are a few things to keep in mind. You’ll need a large enclosure so each tortoise has lots of room to hide, dig, and explore. You must also remember that when housing 2 male Russian tortoises together there can be territorial issues. This can cause fights. The same can be said with housing 2 females together although it may not happen often. If you decide to house a male and female together you should expect breeding to occur. You may also notice your male becoming more aggressive when breeding time is approaching.

Care Sheet & Habitat Setup:

Light Requirements

Like many reptiles, Russian tortoises need a full-spectrum UV light system that provides UV rays. These tortoises require 12 hours of light and the same amount of darkness. As for the lighting, it helps ensure your tortoise receives the proper amount of D3 and calcium.

Tank Size

Indoor tanks for Russian tortoises can be made of glass, wood, and even plastic. For one tortoise you will need an enclosure that is at least 5 square feet with roughly 12-inch walls. This is due to Russian tortoises being known as escape artists. If you have more than one Russian tortoise, you’ll need to increase the enclosure size. You can also choose a larger tank or enclosure to simply provide your pet with more room to explore.

Outdoor enclosures for Russian tortoises should be at least 3 x 3 feet. You’ll also want to ensure the walls are at least 1 foot tall with 6 inches of thickness. You’ll also need to ensure that your tortoise has the chance to find shade when outside so a partial covering could be needed. As with an indoor tank, if you have multiple Russian tortoises, you will need to increase the enclosure size.

holding a male Russian tortoise close up
Image Credit: Karen Dole, Shutterstock

Temperature

Tanks of enclosures for Russian tortoises need to have both a basking area and a cooler side. The temperature of the basking area should be maintained at around 90 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the day. The cooler side of the tank should be around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. These temperatures should be constant. A thermometer can be used to ensure everything is optimal. At night, a Russian tortoise prefers temperatures of around 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

Plants

Yes, plants can be placed inside your tortoise’s enclosure. Both inside and outdoor enclosures can use edible herbs or plants to help provide sight breaks and activity. You’ll also want to offer your tortoise lots of rocks and logs to climb on.

Substrate

Like most tortoises, Russians will most likely eat their substrate and bedding. While you’ll find experts debating on which substrate is perfect for these tortoises, a mixture of several is often the best option. You can include hay, alfalfa pellets, peat moss, or sand mixed with soil. The key to the substrate is to avoid compacting it. Russian tortoises need room to dig and hibernate. This means you could require anywhere from 10 inches to a couple of feet of substrate.

Things to Know When Owning a Russian Tortoise:

Food & Diet Requirements

Russian tortoises are herbivores that have great appetites and love to eat. This is especially true throughout the summer as they prepare for hibernation. When they are in the wild, Russian tortoises enjoy leafy veggies, grass, edible plants, broadleaf weeds, and flowers. When in captivity, these tortoises should eat a high-fiber diet consisting mainly of greens such as collards, kale, dandelion greens, mustard greens, and turnip greens.

You’ll also want to supplement other vegetables into your tortoise’s diet. This can include carrots, squash, peppers, and sweet potatoes. Berries and apples can also be given to your pet once or twice a week as a tasty treat.

Your Russian tortoise should also have a shallow water dish with fresh water. Not only will your pet use this for drinking but they will also soak in it to keep their body temperature regulated. Keep in mind that tortoises cannot swim so do not put too much water in the tank.

These tortoises will also need a calcium supplement added to their food twice per week. This is to help ensure they get the needed calcium as part of their herbivore diet.

russian tortoise eating strawberry
Image Credit: Elena M. Tarasova, Shutterstock

Size & Growth Chart

Russian tortoise eggs are laid and hatch after 60 to 75 days. The new hatchlings are quite small, typically measuring only 1 inch in size. Sexual maturity is reached between 15 to 20 months of age. At this time they are around 4 ½ inches long. Finally, when Russian tortoises are around 20 to 30 years of age they reach their adult size. At this point, they are between 8 to 10 inches with females being the larger sex.

Hatchlings (birth) 1 inch long
Sexually mature adults (15–20 months) 4 ½ inches long
Adulthood (20–30 years) 8–10 inches long

Lifespan and Health Conditions

Russian tortoises are considered hardy pets that have a long lifespan. These tortoises can live between 40 and 50 years when they are properly cared for and given a clean, proper habitat. However, this doesn’t mean they can’t deal with the same issues other pet reptiles do. Signs that your Russian tortoise is feeling under the weather can include:

  • Skin issues including bleeding from the shell
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Issues walking
  • Discharge from the mouth, nose, or eyes
  • Breathing issues such as difficulty or wheezing
Minor Conditions
  • Respiratory infections
  • Gastrointestinal parasitic infections
  • Metabolic bone disease
Serious Conditions
  • Ticks
  • Mites

Male vs Female

Male Russian tortoises are known for being more territorial than females. This often makes it difficult to house multiple males together. Whether alone or not, males can show aggression when the mating time occurs. While females aren’t as territorial, they can show aggression or fight with others. The biggest difference between the two sexes, however, is that females are bigger and bulkier than their male counterparts. You’ll also be able to distinguish between the two thanks to the males having a pointy tail.

3 Little-Known Facts About Russian Tortoises

1. Four-toed Tortoises

Unlike other tortoises, Russian tortoises have four toes on each foot. This is often used to identify this species as it is unique to them.


2. They Are Native to Lots of Countries

While the name tells us they are native to Russia, these tortoises are also found in other countries. This includes Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, and parts of China. These natural habitats make them quite hardy and able to survive in harsh climates.


3. Russian Tortoises Hibernate, Sometimes

In the wild, it’s natural for Russian tortoises to hibernate from October to March when the weather outside becomes colder. However, when kept inside the home, it’s common for these tortoises to avoid hibernation.

Final Thoughts

The Russian tortoise is a great pet if you are a reptile lover. Not only are these tortoises easy to care for but they are also very open to being around people. Whether you’re a pro when it comes to tortoises or new to the game, bringing a Russian tortoise into the home can be fun for everyone involved.


Featured Image Credit: TadeasH, Shutterstock

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