Russian Tortoises

ZENformation: Getting a Russian Tortoise?

Animal Care Manager Kasey includes the Russian Tortoise on her list of favorite reptiles.

Q: Why is the Russian Tortoise a favorite?

Kasey: “Russian Tortoises are super easy to care for and give you the ability of owning a tortoise that does not grow to be more than 100 pounds like the African Sulcata Tortoise or 550 pounds like the Aldabra Giant Tortoise! An important thing to note is that Russian Tortoises can live to be over 50 years old, so they are a super long-term commitment. If you are not looking for lifelong friend, these guys might not be the right pet for you.”

Q: What kind of family is good for a Russian Tortoise?

Kasey: “The Russian Tortoise makes a great family pet. They have great personalities and easily bond with their owners. They are not super snuggly when it comes to handling and prefer to be on a solid surface like the floor. They are docile so bites rarely happen. You need to teach young children about good hand washing hygiene as most reptiles, including these guys, are likely to carry Salmonella.”

Q: What are other characteristics of the Russian Tortoise? 

Kasey: “These tortoises are extremely food motivated and will approach you quickly if they see you holding their favorite treat. They are prone to obesity from over-feeding, so that is something to watch. They grow to be about 8-10” long. Their skin is tan to yellow colored and the top part of their shell is dome shaped and ranges in colors from tan to yellow to olive green with brown and/or black markings. The bottom part of shell can be solid black or have brown and black splotches on the individual plates that make up the shell. Russian Tortoises have four toes on each foot, which is why it is sometimes called the Four-toed Tortoise.” 

Q: What kind of environment do they like? 

Kasey: “Russian Tortoises are endemic to high elevations of the rocky deserts in Central Asia. Intheir environment they face many extremes and because of this they are very forgiving when it comes to temperatures. Because of their adaptations to such an extreme arid climate, these guys both brumate (semi-conscious sleeping period during the winter) and aestivate (a semi-conscious sleeping period during the summer) if the temperatures are not within a habitable range. Just because they can survive in these extremes, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t provide them with a consistent habitat.”

Q: What do they eat?

Kasey: “They are grazing animals, and their captive diet should be filled with a wide variety of broad-leafed greens such as romaine lettuce, endive, collards, kale, turnip greens, etc. If you are housing your tortoise indoors you will also need to provide supplemental calcium and vitamin D3. Most of your tortoise’s water intake will be from the fresh produce fed to them, but they should still be provided with a shallow pan of water (also for soaking themselves). Hay should also be provided for foraging. I would stick with Timothy, Orchard or Bermuda as Alfalfa can be too high in proteins.”

Q: What type of enclosure and accessories does a Russian Tortoise need?

Kasey: “Russian Tortoises kept indoors need an enclosure that has at least 12 square feet of floor space that is at least a foot high as they are excellent climbers. You can combine 4'x2'x2' and 2'x2'x2' enclosures side-by-side with an extension kit. Your new tortoise will also need a substrate, a large hide, food dish, large shallow water pan, UVA/UVB light, a basking light, a heater, two thermometers, and enclosure décor.” 



Q: What kind of substrate works best?

Kasey: “Russian Tortoises are avid diggers and burrow to escape the harsh temperatures on both ends of the spectrum. They should have a substrate that is easy to dig in, such as peat moss, Cypress mulch, or coconut fiber, and be at least 8-10” deep.”

Q: What do they need for heating?

Kasey: “They need to be provided with a heat gradient just like other reptiles. This should include ambient (air) temp of 75-85°F and a basking area of around 90-95°F. Nighttime temps should not fall below 60°F and because of this you will most likely need supplemental heat. If you have trouble keeping the enclosure above that temperature you can use a ceramic heater as a supplemental heat source.”

Q: What lighting is best for the Russian Tortoise?

Kasey: “UVB/UVA light is required for all reptiles. Your Russian Tortoise can be kept on a 12 hours on and 12 hours off light cycle.”

Q: What should the humidity level be in their enclosure?

Kasey: “Their enclosure should be kept between 40-50% humidity, this can be achieved by daily misting, a misting system, or placing a heavy bowl of water over an under-tank heater.”

Q: What should the Russian Tortoise have for stimulation?

Kasey: “Décor should include a hide, rock piles to climb and real or artificial plants. Be mindful that your tortoise may eat your decorative plants, so its best to include plants that are also a part of their diet. Some decorative plants that are safe for them to eat include Desert Sage, Bristle Brush and Prickly Pears.”

Zen Habitats offers a variety of enclosures and accessories to suit your reptile, no matter the species. We would love to help you select the right enclosure setup for you and your pet! Email or call (978) 763-3035