russian tortoise

Russian tortoises are a hardy species that make interesting, and most would agree, adorable pets!

Russians are friendly, active tortoises that quickly learn their who you are and will greet you eagerly at feeding time!

We will cover Russian tortoise care and husbandry requirements as well as providing you some tips and tricks to keep your tortoise happy and healthy!

Russian Tortoise Care Guide

A Quick Introduction...

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Agrionemys horsfieldii also Testudo horsfieldii

COMMON NAMES: Russian tortoise, steppe tortoise, Central Asian tortoise

ADULT SIZE: Females, averaging between 7 and 10 inches, grow somewhat larger than males which range from 5 to 6 inches in length

LIFE EXPECTANCY: Russian tortoises can live anywhere from 50 to 100 years!

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Russian tortoises make great pets but if you’d like another option, you can’t go wrong with a painted turtle! Check out our guide here…

Natural Habitat

Russian tortoises are primarily found in central Asia. Their native environment is an arid, rocky terrain including sandy steppes at elevations of 5,000 to 7,000 feet. 

Russian tortoises are known for their digging ability and create deep burrows during the winter.

They also dig burrows to escape hot, dry periods during the summer months where they remain in aestivation; a prolonged state of dormancy.

ZOND 5 spacecraft

FUN FACT

In 1968 two Russian tortoises circled the Moon and returned safely to earth on the Russian Zond 5 mission! They are known as the first Earth creatures to travel to the moon!!

ZOND.jpg” by Ebs08 is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

FUN FACT!
ZOND 5 spacecraft

In 1968 two Russian tortoises circled the Moon and returned safely to earth on the Russian Zond 5 mission! They are known as the first Earth creatures to travel to the moon!!

ZOND.jpg” by Ebs08 is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Size

Russian tortoises are a small tortoise species that average between 5 and 10 inches. 

Males tend to be smaller than females and usually max out at 5 to 6 inches. 

Females can get as large as 10 inches; their bigger bodies helping to accommodate eggs. 

Russian tortoises are sexually dimorphic, meaning that males and females display different physical characteristics. 

Males tend to have longer tails and longer claws than females which have short, fat tails and short claws.

Males also have a slit-shaped cloaca compared to the female’s star-shaped cloaca. 

Lifespan

A Russian tortoise that receives proper care will most likely outlive its owner. These tortoises can live upwards of 100 years!

This means that you will most likely need to have accommodations and a plan for your tortoise as they can outlive you.

Coloration

Russian tortoises tend to be a reddish-brown to almost black in coloration. Their scutes fade into outlines of various shades of yellow.

A Russian tortoise’s body is mostly straw colored and/or brown colored.

Behavior

Russian tortoises are very active and friendly tortoises; they’re always on the move!

Russians are excellent climbers and even better diggers.

Russians can do well kept in a community environment dependent on the fact that you supply them with adequate space and hiding spots. 

Males tend to be a bit more aggressive with other males and with females during the breeding season, so reducing the number of males in a community can help “keep the peace.”

Enclosure

There are two main options for Russian tortoise enclosures, indoor habitats and outdoor habitats. 

All things being equal, outdoor enclosures will be the optimal choice for your Russian tortoise. 

However, not everyone has the ability to provide an outdoor enclosure for their tortoises so we will provide options and recommendations for both types. 

Outdoor Enclosures

An outdoor enclosure for your Russian tortoise has to meet a few baseline criteria.

  1. You live in a temperate climate 
  2. You have available sun for basking and can provide shade
  3. You have ample space for the rather large enclosures that Russian tortoises require

A 4 foot by 4 foot enclosure would be a great option for an adult Russian tortoise. 

Russians are excellent diggers so the walls of the enclosure should extend at least 12 to 18 inches below the surface to prevent escape by burrowing.

Likewise, Russians are excellent climbers necessitating walls be at least 12 inches tall so that your tortoise cannot climb over them. 

Security, from both predators and theft,  is also important with outdoor enclosures. Locking screens and netting can be used to deter most potential threats. 

Your enclosure will need to have excellent drainage as Russia tortoises do not appreciate damp soil. 

You can plant your outdoor enclosure with wild flowers, grasses, and shrubbery along with driftwood, mounds of dirt and rock formations. 

They more ‘interesting’ and intricate the enclosure the ‘bigger’ it will seem to your tortoise making escape attempts less and less frequent.  

Russian tortoise burrow long tunnels into the ground to sometimes escape the heat and dry air as it is cooler and more humid underground. 

If your enclosure isn’t deep enough for burrowing you can supply peat moss, cypress mulch, or even organic soil to allow them options to keep cool and have enough humidity. 

Indoor Enclosures

An indoor enclosure should be as large as possible. 

Russian tortoise enclosures should be a minimum size of 3 feet by 2 feet or something similarly sized to a 50 gallon Rubbermaid tub. 

You could even build a custom enclosure that is watertight.

An indoor enclosure will need several inches of substrate. Substrates such as orchid bark, cypress mulch, or mixtures of organic top soil and sand can serve as an excellent means for keeping your Russian tortoise.  

You can even add layers of hay to the substrate to increase its depth and your tortoise may even consume some hay which is a healthy treat!

Substrates made from pine and cedar should never be used as they are known to cause respiratory problems for reptiles. 

Indoor enclosures for your Russian tortoise will require both heating, by means of ceramic heat emitters, and lighting, both UVA and UVB light, by means of fluorescent tubes.  

A basking area around 95° should be provided at one end of the enclosure and the cooler end should be maintained between 70-72°, at night even dipping into the high 60s.

As with outdoor enclosures, you’ll need to provide adequate hides and elements to break up the space as well as providing a large bowl of fresh water at all times. 

Feeding

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Testudo horsfieldii” by fortbragg is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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