Russian Tortoise Care Sheet

Scientific Facts

Common Name:Russian Tortoise
Scientific Name:Agrionemys horsfieldii
Life Span:More than 40 years
Size:From 1 inch (hatchlings) to 10 inches (adults)
Country of Origin:Russia, Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan

Physical Description

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Russian Tortoises are smaller varieties of tortoise but still have some of the regular physical characteristics of a normal tortoise. These animals reach only about 8 to 10 inches as adults and are generally a lot smaller than the general type of tortoise that is most commonly found in television or in many zoos.

The carapace of a Russian Tortoise is large, rounded, and a bit stocky in appearance compared to other tortoise shells. However, the top portion of the carapace is a little flattened. This shell has a general color that is quite greenish and brownish at times. There are moments when the shell can look black. It is lined by fades of yellow all over the shell. Meanwhile, the underside or the bottom portion of the carapace differs in appearance from tortoise to the tortoise in the sense that there are those that are solid black while there are also those that have markings of black or dark brown.

While most other tortoises have a movable hinge between their femoral and abdominal scutes, what makes the Russian Tortoise different is that they lack one. Meanwhile, these tortoises also feature a uniquely hard and bony claw-like spur at the end of their tail. And what really makes them stand out is that they have four claws on each of their legs. As such, the Russian Tortoise is often called the four-toed tortoise.

In a lot of other types of animals, the males are usually larger than the females. However, in the case of the Russian Tortoise, the females are generally bigger than their male counterparts. The females also have flared scutes on their carapaces. Meanwhile, male Russian Tortoises have longer tails that they often tuck sideways. 


Like a lot of different species of tortoises, the Russian Tortoise tends to live quite long and can live longer than its average lifespan of about 40 years when given the right type of diet and when taken care of properly. There have been cases where some Russian Tortoises were able to live for more than 50 years. In that sense, there is no certainty as to how long Russian Tortoises can really live but it is generally believed that they can live extended lives when given a proper lean and healthy diet that is composed of a lot of fiber and the right nutrients.

Eating Habits

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Like most other tortoises, the Russian Tortoise is an exclusive plant-eater or a herbivore. It only feeds on plants and never on meat or any other type of animal. And even though they are plant eaters, that does not mean that they are not heavy eaters. These herbivores munch any vegetable, plant, or fruit insight and are very enthusiastic when it comes to eating. When left in outdoor enclosures with a lot of greens or vegetation, they will surely wreak havoc and destruction because of their tendency to eat everything in sight so long as it is part of their regular diet.

If you want to choose what to feed your Russian Tortoise, there are plenty of types of vegetables to choose from. You can opt for leafy greens such as high-fiber plants like dark lettuce, hay, kale, and dandelion greens. Some vegetables you can also feed these reptiles include squash, turnip, corn, peppers, sweet potatoes, and carrots.

In some cases, Russian Tortoises can thrive well on a diet that is also composed of fruit. You can feed them apples, berries, and bananas. However, their diet should be dominated by leafy greens and vegetables. Fruits can be an occasional treat to these reptiles especially if you want to supplement their diet with vitamins and minerals that can only be found in some types of fruits. Your Russian Tortoise’s fruit diet should be composed of no more than 10% of its total calorie intake.

You should be extra careful when feeding Russian Tortoises because these reptiles will munch on almost everything you offer them. In that regard, only offer them types of food that should be a part of their regular diet. Do not give them grains because they hardly get any nutrients out of such types of food. Also, never offer these herbivores meat because their bodies were not meant to metabolize meat regardless of whether it is cooked or raw.

There are available animal pellets or tortoise feeds that are sold commercially. These types of food have the nutrients that the Russian Tortoise needs but there are some experts that believe that going all-natural is better because commercial feed usually contains high levels of starch, which may disrupt your reptile’s diet. You can still choose to mix and match your tortoise’s diet and put a bit of animal feed in it to add some variety to what they eat. However, it is still advised that you go for leafy greens and other types of vegetables instead.

A Russian Tortoise that is regularly exposed to ultraviolet Blights can get outdoors do not need to have additional supplementation of calcium because they are already getting enough vitamin D3. However, those housed indoors may need to have their food dusted with calcium powder to make sure that they get the calcium they need to develop strong and healthy bones, muscles, and joints.

Younger Russian Tortoises need a lot of food because they are growing. Feed them about thrice a day with food that is supplemented with calcium or vitamin D3. The younger the tortoise, the higher the supplementation it needs. Older Russian Tortoises do not need to eat as much as growing ones but they still need to be fed daily about 2 times. Again, adult versions of these reptiles do not need the same amount of calcium and vitamin D3 as younger ones.

Sleeping Habits

Russian Tortoises are diurnal reptiles that are active during the day. That means that they are mostly awake during daytime except for instances when they take short naps. It is common for younger Russian Tortoises to nap from time to time especially when they are new to the surroundings. Meanwhile, they mostly spend the night sleeping. Russian Tortoises can sleep up to 12 straight hours even after a 2 or 3-hour nap during the daytime.


It is best to use a large yet shallow watering dish for your Russian Tortoises because these reptiles do not only love to drink water but also love to soak their entire bodies in the water. These reptiles prefer soaking in water to keep their entire body hydrated especially when the temperature gets too hot. In that case, it is perfectly fine to see them soaking in the water for about three times a day. Baby Russian Tortoises are the most susceptible to dehydration, so always keep an eye out for them and make sure that they get to not only drink water regularly but also soak their body regularly. Provide them with chlorine-free water. If your tap water is safe for drinking, then you can give it to your Russian Tortoise.

Russian Tortoises also enjoy defecating in their water source. That means that you should very well watch out for when they do so because you have to quickly change the water and also disinfect the entire dish to make sure that it is free from harmful bacteria that can potentially cause internal illnesses or infections. If you find replacing their water too much of a hassle, you can opt for a different approach by using a dripping system for their water. But you still have to make sure that your Russian Tortoise is soaked in water outside the enclosure for about once or twice a week.

If you are housing your Russian Tortoise outdoors, you may not need to provide them with a water dish so long as it regularly rains in your area. They will get their water from puddles and from leaves so long as there is regular rainfall. Otherwise, you should still provide them with a water dish that they can use for drinking and for soaking.

Development and Reproduction

Russian Tortoises take a lot of time to reach their sexual maturity. Most of these reptiles need at least 10 years before you can start breeding them. However, they are not even considered fully grown at that age because some Russian Tortoises can take at least 20 years and up to 30 years to reach their mature size. That means that you may want to wait until they are more than 10 years before you can start to breed them.

Female Russian Tortoises are generally bigger than the males. The males need to be at least 4 inches before they can be ready for sexual reproduction. However, it is generally believed that it is better for them to be about 5 inches to make sure that they are fertile. Meanwhile, the bigger females must be about 5 to 6 inches first before you can think about preparing them for reproduction. Make sure that both the male and the female eat healthy diets. The female, in particular, needs more calcium and vitamin D3 supplementation so that they can produce healthy eggs.

How to Breed

Before the breeding begins, hibernation is a near necessity for both males and females to have the energy and vigor for reproduction. Russian Tortoises will naturally go into hibernation once the winter season begins. As soon as you see their activity levels dropping, gradually decrease the food that you give them so as to make sure that their bowels are completely empty during hibernation. This usually lasts for about three to four months.

As soon as the climate begins to heat up when the season changes, you will notice that your Russian Tortoises will become active once again. In particular, males will feel the need to look for a female to mate with in the first month since coming out of hibernation. Meanwhile, the females may not be as active in seeking out a mate but you can see that they do want to mate because they won’t be as interested in eating as they used to be. You can immediately pair your male and female up as soon as they show signs of wanting to mate.

Because of how active they are when they want to mate, males can display an odd behavior and will chase the female everywhere. He may even bite and hold on to her legs to prevent the female from escaping. It might take a while for the female to submit to the male and to allow him to mount her. When the male Russian Tortoise begins to mount, you will often hear him squeaking.

In some cases, male Russian Tortoises tend to be too active to the point that they can wear down the single female. As such, some breeders take advantage of the male’s vigor by putting him in an environment where he can mate with up to three females. This increases the chances of successful breeding. 

Common Health Problems

Russian Tortoises are known to be very resilient and hardy reptiles that can live for a very long time. On top of that, these animals tend to have a very nutritious and healthy diet composed mostly of rich greens and vegetables. However, not even their diet and hardy nature will save them from illnesses that can potentially harm their life. As such, it is important to know the common health risks associated with Russian Tortoises.

Respiratory diseases

Respiratory diseases are really common when it comes to reptiles. As hardy as the Russian Tortoise is, they are no different in the sense that they are just as susceptible as most reptiles especially when the weather gets too cold or too damp for them. In some cases, these diseases can be caused by bacterial infections and stress as well.

Symptoms of respiratory diseases include wheezing, heavy breathing from the mouth, lethargy, and decreased appetite. 

Shell Rot

Shell rot is a serious infectious disease that a lot of different types of tortoises commonly suffer from. This is caused by bacteria or fungus that usually enters through something as simple as a cut or a scrape on the shell. If not treated right away, shell rot can lead to bigger health issues that can potentially be fatal to your Russian Tortoise. In any other case, the infection will eat its way through the shell and may cause serious damage. Some symptoms of this illness include white flakes on the shell.  

External parasites

Reptiles, including the Russian Tortoise, commonly suffer from external parasites such as ticks and mites. Ticks, for instance, will be common in wild Russian Tortoises. They will borrow their way to the legs to suck blood. Meanwhile, it is common for mites to be sucking blood from hard-to-reach places. Mites can be rare and are mostly only acquired from other reptiles. They are also pretty difficult to spot because they look like black specs that can be easily mistaken for dirt. Mites can also be transmitted from human contact. So before you handle your Russian Tortoise, make sure to sanitize yourself as well.

Metabolic bone disease

Metabolic bone disease is another one of those common health problems that most reptiles suffer from. This happens when their calcium levels are not balanced with their phosphorous levels. Such a disease can cause bone and muscle weakness, which can potentially lead to easy bone fractures and deformities. In the case of Russian Tortoises, metabolic bone disease can also affect their shell as well.

Preventing Illness

As hardy as a Russian Tortoise is, the best way to help it prevent potential illnesses is to give it an environment that is suitable enough for it to live in. Sanitizing the enclosure and making sure it is clean is a good way of keeping bacteria and viruses away from the reptile. You can also prevent ticks, mites, and other types of parasites from reaching your Russian Tortoise. Also, never forget to sanitize yourself when handling the reptile because you yourself may be a carrier of harmful diseases that can affect your tortoise. You should also provide it with an enclosure that is not too cold or too damp for it so that you can prevent respiratory infections.

Meanwhile, the best way to prevent metabolic bone disease is to supplement your Russian Tortoise’s diet with calcium and vitamin D3. You should also provide it with a UVB light if you keep it indoors. When kept outdoors, the sun will be enough to provide it with the calcium and vitamin D3 it needs to balance out its calcium and phosphorous levels.

In any other case, a visit to a nearby veterinarian is essential. Go to a doctor that specializes in reptiles to prevent wrong diagnosis and wrong treatments. You can go online to find a doctor that knows how to treat reptiles and other exotic pets. Keep a list of such doctors so that it will be easy for you to set an appointment in case your Russian Tortoise gets sick or shows early signs or symptoms of common illnesses.


Russian Tortoises are generally peaceful creatures when handled by humans. As such, you should not expect them to cause any sort of harm although being cautious is still the best course of action. They are passive and submissive to handling. Even children can safely interact with them without fear of getting injured. However, the one thing you should keep in mind is that they tend to feel very stressed when taken off the ground for an extended period of time. Being under heavy stress can cause serious health issues. That said, make sure to keep them on their feet as much as possible. The best way for you to interact with them is to feed them using your hand and by petting them. Try not to carry them as much as possible.

These reptiles, despite their appearance, can be quite active and friendly as well. They love roaming around when taken outside and are pretty outgoing creatures. Here are some of the things they commonly do:


Russian Tortoises are natural diggers. They love digging through the ground as a means of hiding from potential predators. It is also a way for them to feel secure and to find a way to hide from the sun whenever it gets too hot. In other cases, they like hiding underneath other objects or burrowing into the substrate of their enclosure.


As mentioned, it is very common for Russian Tortoises to feel stressed especially when taken off the ground. They do not like being carried and can feel really stressed when they do not feel the ground with their feet. That means that you should avoid carrying these reptiles as much as possible.


Similarly, Russian Tortoises are reptiles that are easily startled. Moving around them quickly can place them in a state of panic. Try not to do so when you are around them. Instead, move slowly when approaching them so as to avoid startling them.

Hibernation Cycle

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Hibernation is a part of the Russian Tortoise’s usual yearly cycle. They will naturally go through a period of hibernation especially during the cold winter season when temperatures drop drastically. When left in an enclosure outdoors, they will hibernate naturally. But when they are housed indoors, you may have to make sure that the temperature in their enclosure is suitable for hibernation. Russian Tortoises will begin to drop activity levels when the hibernation season begins. 

At this point, try not to feed them a lot so as to prevent any sort of internal infection during hibernation. Hibernation will last for a period of about 3 to 4 months or as soon as temperatures begin to rise up again. Russian Tortoises will soon begin to start their mating season in the month after they begin to start becoming active again.  


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Because Russian Tortoises are still reptiles, they still very much shed their old skin to make way for new skin to grow. However, unlike snakes and lizards, these reptiles do not shed a much and as often. Shedding is most common in Russian Tortoises when they are still growing. But, since they grow at a slow pace, you might not even notice them shedding. In some cases, they only shed the skin from their legs and from their tail. 

To make shedding easier for your Russian Tortoise, always provide them with a lot of moisture. You can mist them with water from time to time or you can give them a water dish where they can rehydrate manually by submerging their entire body in the water. It is important to make shedding easy for these reptiles because, unlike snakes or lizards, it will be difficult for them to scrape off the old skin.


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It is always best to house your Russian Tortoise outdoors especially if you live in an area with a climate that can be quite warm and humid. Those who live in regions that have climates that are close to tropical conditions can find a lot of success housing their Russian Tortoises outdoors because of how the conditions can help provide the reptile with the ample supply of sunlight, rainwater, and natural soil they need. However, if you live in a place where the climate does not cooperate with what your Russian Tortoise needs, then it is best for you to house them indoors.

And indoor Russian Tortoise enclosure should not be smaller than 2 feet long and 4 feet wide so that the reptile can have a lot of room to roam around. Make sure that the walls are at least a foot high to discourage them from escaping the enclosure. You can even put rocks at the edges of the walls so that your Russian Tortoise will not be able to burrow their way out. Some pet owners use aquariums or plastic tubs to house their Russian Tortoise indoors. That also works to some extent but it might still be best to use a pen or any other type of housing.  

You might want to decorate your Russian Tortoise’s enclosure with some greenery or plants to add some color. It might be best to use plants that are edible to the reptile so that it will have a constant supply of food that it can munch on whenever it gets hungry. And when housing them outdoors, use plants that have wide and broad leaves to provide cover for your Russian Tortoise whenever they need to hide from the hot sun.

Unlike other types of reptiles, Russian Tortoises are not very territorial. That means that you can safely house multiple Russian Tortoises in a single enclosure. However, as much as possible, try not to house more than one species of tortoises in a single enclosure.

Lighting and Humidity

When housing a Russian Tortoise outdoors, you can rely solely on the power of the sun to give it ample lighting. This allows them to get as much ultraviolet rays naturally. As such, most pet owners who house their Russian Tortoises outdoors do not even use UVB lamps to provide their reptiles with calcium and vitamin D3. In some cases, they no longer supplement their food with such essential vitamins and nutrients because the sun is sufficient in itself.

For those housed indoors, Russian Tortoises need ultraviolet B lamps to get the necessary calcium and vitamin D3 supplementation they need to balance out their calcium and phosphorous levels. On top of that, you should also use a heat lamp in the basking area of your Russian Tortoise. You should also keep a light schedule of 12 hours at best. However, you can decrease your light schedule during the winter season whenever they are hibernating.

In terms of humidity, those who are housed outdoors can rely on the climate and on rainwater to keep their enclosure humid. But those housed indoors need to rely on regular misting and on a watering dish to keep the enclosure humid. Try to keep humidity levels above 50% but not more than 60% so that your Russian Tortoise does not get dehydrated. Too much water in the air can cause respiratory diseases.


Like any type of reptile, Russian Tortoises are cold-blooded animals that rely on external heat to heat their body up. They prefer living in conditions that are close to being tropical. That means that temperatures should be warm enough and are about 85 degrees Fahrenheit at the warmest and about 75 degrees at the cool portion of the enclosure. Those in outdoor enclosures can rely on the natural heat of the sun. However, Russian Tortoises kept indoors should rely on a heat lamp like an incandescent bulb to get the ample heat they need to keep their bodies warm.


Russian Tortoises can easily get infections from their habitat if you do not keep things clean and sanitary. As such, it is best for you to make sure that they live in a hygienic enclosure that you regularly clean so as to keep them away from infections and other illnesses. Keeping their water dish clean is arguably the most important part here because they regularly defecate in the water when they submerge their body. In such a case, always replace their water regularly. It is also best to make sure that their water dish stays sanitary by thoroughly cleaning it.

Natural Environment – Substrate

Russian Tortoises thrive in places that allow them to dig because they naturally love to burrow through soil or similar types of substrate. That means that you should house them in an environment that will allow them to do so. Those kept outdoors might thrive better when kept in an enclosure that uses soil. However, indoor housing might require a substrate that is edible because Russian Tortoises are also known to eating substrate. Use pellets that are digestible. You can purchase them in pet stores. Make sure that the substrate is deep enough for them to burrow through. Try not to use sand or gravel because of how they can possibly scratch the carapace.


Russian Tortoises love to drink water from water dishes or from puddles or from leaves when they are kept in outdoor enclosures. Dishes and puddles also allow them to submerge their bodies so that they will be able to keep their selves hydrated. However, they also love to defecate in their water source. That means that you should best keep their water dish clean and sanitary. Always replace their water with a fresh clean batch and make sure to sanitize the water dish.

Availability – Where to Get One?

Russian Tortoises are commonly imported into America and are generally not bred in captivity although you can still find breeders who are willing to sell captive Russian Tortoises that they themselves bred. Adult-sized Russian Tortoises are expected to be ones that were captured in the wild. It is rare to find adult-sized Russian Tortoises that were bred in captivity because they are usually sold as babies at low prices. You can find Russian Tortoises in reptile specialty stores and from online sellers.

How to Care for a Russian Tortoise?

Here are some tips on how to care for a Russian Tortoise:

  • Try to avoid carrying Russian Tortoises or keeping them off the ground. Whenever their feet do not feel the ground, they will be placed in a stressful situation that will be difficult for them to overcome. This will eventually be too much of a tax on their health. In that case, try not to carry them when handling them.
  • When you want to handle a Russian Tortoise the best way to interact with them is to feed them using your hands or by petting them. Carrying them will only put a lot of stress or strain on them. 
  • If the climate in your region or area is suitable, try to house your Russian Tortoise outdoors. Doing so is generally a lot more affordable because you will be relying on nature to provide your reptile with the heat, light, and humidity it needs to thrive well.
  • Always make sure to clean their water dish whenever possible because of how they tend to defecate in them whenever they are soaking their body. By doing so, you can possibly prevent diseases and illnesses from the bacteria found in contaminated water.

FAQ Section

What should I feed my Russian Tortoise?

Unlike some reptiles that are omnivores or carnivores, Russian Tortoises are herbivores that should only eat greens, vegetables, and the occasional fruit. Try to avoid feeding them with grain or meat.

Do Russian Tortoises need light at night?

Russian Tortoises are active during the day and are asleep during the night. That means that you no longer need to provide them with light at night.

How often should you feed your Russian Tortoise?

Russian Tortoises should be fed regularly or daily. Younger ones need to have a constant supply of food while mature adults can be fed once or twice a day depending on the amount of food that you provide them with.

Can Russian Tortoises live together in the same enclosure?

Russian Tortoises are not very territorial and can live together in peace in the same enclosure. That means that you can place multiple Russian Tortoises in one single habitat to save space and money.

Can you handle Russian Tortoises?

If by handling you mean to carry, yes. However, all experts would advise against that because Russian Tortoises are easily stressed when they are carried.

Can you pet Russian Tortoises?

Yes. Petting a Russian Tortoise is the best way to interact with it because you do not have to carry it off the ground.

Is it normal for a Russian Tortoise to hibernate?

Yes, it is. The Russian Tortoise normally hibernates during the winter season whenever it gets too cold.

How to know if my Russian Tortoise is happy?

There is no possible way of telling for sure whether nor not your Russian Tortoise is happy but the best way to tell is to look at how healthy they are. Look for any signs that indicate that your Russian Tortoise is healthy to know whether or not it is a happy reptile.

Do Russian Tortoises need heat at night?

It is fine to see temperatures dropping at about 65 degrees at night without having to rely on a heat source. However, if the nights get too cold at a time when your Russian Tortoise has no need to hibernate, you might want to use a heating pad to keep things a bit warm for them.

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