Russian Tortoise Care (Testudo [Agrionemys] horsfieldii)
A famous pet tortoise, Russian tortoises, are one of the most readily available species. They're small, feisty, eager to eat and more active than some other tortoises. They have one of the highest tolerances for temperature extremes and provided they have a burrow; They're one of the few tortoises that can be kept outdoors in Los Angeles year round. And do quite well in our climate.
Russian Tortoise Availability
Captive production of Russian tortoises is low, and the cost for a captive bred baby is still very high, but will start to fall in the next five-ten years as more and more home breeders get in the hobby. Most adult or subadult Russian tortoises you see for sale are wild-caught (imported). Russian tortoises larger than 6 inches are hard to find for sale.
Russian Tortoise Size
Russian hatchlings will measure about 1 inch in shell length. As they grow, they can reach a maximum length of 8 to 9 inches. Females are slightly larger than males at full size, although most people can't see the difference. When females are about 5 inches long, they are large enough to begin producing eggs; however, if breeding is the goal, a larger female will produce better eggs and a higher success rate.
Russian Tortoise Life Span
Russian tortoises live for more than 40 years. Raised on a high-fiber diet, captive-raised animals in low-stress environments have long lifetimes, that should be considered before purchase.
Russian Tortoise Caging
The preferred setup for Russian tortoises is an outdoor enclosure in a warmer climate. Housing for two or three adults should be at least 2 feet by 4 feet. Walls should be buried into the ground 6 to 8 inches to prevent them from digging under the sides and escaping, and they should be 12 inches or higher aboveground also to prevent escape.
Russian tortoises like to dig. They tend to burrow into corners and against objects. Placing wooden planks or large rocks under the soil in the corners of the enclosure will prevent tortoises from escaping. In hot or cold temperatures, they attempt to go underground to protect themselves from the temperature extremes. Building underground hide boxes that maintain more stable temperatures helps to keep them from burrowing too much — shaded grassy areas that get regular water help to keep tortoises cool, and should be provided.
Russian tortoises will eat any plant accessible to them in their pens. Check that all plants in the enclosure are safe to eat. They prefer wide-leafed plants and weeds. They do not like to eat grass unless they are out of options. Dried timothy hay should be provided in the corner of the cage for the tortoise to snack on. Tortoises housed indoors can be accommodated in glass terrariums. One to two adults can be housed in a 40-gallon enclosure measuring 18x36", with sidewalls 8 inches or higher. More space is better. Babies can get away with smaller cages, around 10-20 gallons Tortoises kept in small enclosures can become stressed and will spend much of the day trying to get out of the cage, so be sure to upgrade their cage as they grow.
Many different substrates can be used. We recommend wood chips or coconut mulch. Using only sand makes running around somewhat tricky for them, Their feet sink with every step, and it can be tiring. Include large, flat rocks in the enclosure, they will help file down the tortoises' nails and can also warm up nicely if placed above a heating pad or below a heat lamp. Russian tortoises also enjoy exploring, so try to provide caves, branches and other decorations in the enclosure to gives them the opportunity for exploration. Don't use Plastic plants as the tortoises will try to eat the green leaves thinking its food.
Russian Tortoise Lighting and Temperature
Russian tortoises housed outdoors and allowed to dig burrows are capable of taking care of themselves as far as temperatures are concerned. You can Keep Russian tortoises outside year-round in Los Angeles, introduce them in spring or summer, so their bodies have time to adjust to the colder months. Do Not take a tortoise from the warm pet store and put it outside in the colder months unless you provide an adequate heat source.
Russian tortoises will hibernate underground during the winter if they are allowed time to dig a burrow before cold temperatures set in. They can handle high temperatures only if they have access to cool shaded areas or an underground burrow. Keeping any tortoise outside when it's over 100 degrees is not advised unless proper steps are taken to allow them to cool down. Always provide a clean water source for them to soak and cool off and a shaded area.
Indoors, Russian tortoises should have access to a hot spot heated by an overhead light. This spot should be about 85-95 degrees, with the cool side in the 70s. Nighttime temperatures into the low 50s can be tolerated without a problem. Like most day-time reptiles, they require UVB light to help them properly process the calcium and vitamins in their diets. Keep UV lights on 12 hours a day, and turn off at night, the heat sources can also be turned off at night, but that's optional, and we prefer to keep them on 24/7. Russian tortoises kept outside will try to hibernate during the winter but will need some time to dig a burrow before cold temperatures arrive. If no digging area is available, consider bringing your tortoise inside for the winter months. Russian tortoises do not need to hibernate, so if kept indoors and maintained at warm temperatures, they will not require a change in care to be healthy during the winter months.
Russian Tortoise Food
Russian tortoises are great eaters and will consume almost any leafy greens or vegetables offered to them. We alternate kale, collard greens, turnip greens and any of the darker lettuce types. Variety is the key. We also provide timothy hay in their enclosure which they can snack on whenever they want. Only offer small amounts of fruit.
Russian Tortoise Water
Provide water dishes in their outdoor enclosures. We use shallow, low sided bowls that are glazed to make cleaning easy. Cleaning needs to be done regularly, as most tortoises tend to soak in their dishes and "dirty" them while in there. You can also bathe your tortoise in a small plastic container once or twice a week for 15 to 30 minutes and gently clean with a soft-bristled toothbrush, bathing also ensures your tortoise is adequately hydrated. Babies tend to dry out much quicker than adults. Because of this, soak baby tortoises in shallow water up to three times a week, for 10 to 15 minutes.
Russian Tortoise Health
Purchase an alert, active tortoise with bright, clear eyes and clean nose with no discharge. These tortoises can be prone to respiratory infections if they are kept in wet enclosures, mainly if temperatures are low. They do need to be able to dry their bodies. Respiratory infections are probably the most common issue, although relatively easy to prevent if kept in a clean, warm environment.