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Russian Tortoise Care

Russian Tortoise Care

Russian Tortoise (Testudo horsfieldii)

also known as Horsfield’s Tortoise and Central Asian Tortoise

Popularity: They are one of the most active and delightful tortoises that are hardy and easy to care for. They are quite intelligent and quickly learn who their keepers are.

Origin: Southwest Asia

Native habitat: Semi-arid landscapes

Size: 6-10 inches

Lifespan: 50+ years, even up to 75

Appearance: Females grow slightly larger than males. Males usually have a longer tail that is tucked to the side. Females have flared scutes on their shells, while males do not. Coloration varies, but the shell is usually a ruddy brown or black, fading to yellow between the scutes. The body is straw-yellow and brown. They have four toes.

Diet: Herbivores

Misc characteristics: In nature, Russian Tortoises deal with the harsh environment by burrowing into the ground for nine months out of the year. They come out of hibernation in the spring to breed and eat.



In warm climates, Russian Tortoises can live in outdoor enclosures, but only if the temperature never drops below 40 degrees F. The enclosure should measure 5-feet by 5-feet and should have a barrier that is buried 6-12 inches into the ground to prevent escape. The height of the walls should be 8 inches or higher. This is enough room for one to two adults. If you keep them outdoors, give them the opportunity to graze by providing plants within the enclosure. An indoor enclosure should measure at least 3-feet by 5-feet, or you can use an aquarium of at least 40-gallons. An aquarium needs visual barriers at the bottom to prevent the tortoise from bumping into the glass.


Place rocks, plants and logs in the enclosure as hiding places. There needs to be a shallow bowl of chlorine-free water large enough to soak in, but shallow enough to keep from drowning. See the water section for important details.


The substrate should promote burrowing. Good materials include aspen bedding, cypress mulch, or clean, plain soil. The substrate should retain moisture.

Temperature and Humidity

The daytime temperature should be between 75ºF to 85ºF, but not above 90º except in the basking area. The basking area should be from 90ºF to 95ºF. Nighttime temperatures should dip no lower than 65ºF to 70ºF. The tortoise is used to an arid landscape, so the enclosure should have humidity no higher than 60%.


Russian Tortoises require 12-14 hours of light each day. Provide this with a full spectrum of light through a UVA and UVB light. It is important for skeletal and shell development. There should be a distinct day/night cycle. Use a timer to set day/night periods. If a heat source is required to maintain correct nighttime temperatures, use heat mats or strips mounted below or on the side of the tank, infrared heat lamps, ceramic heat emitters, or a combination of these.


Maintain a constant supply of chlorine-free water. Provide a shallow water dish for drinking. Additionally, the tortoise needs to be soaked in lukewarm chlorine-free water at least twice a week for about 20 minutes. These things keep your tortoise from dehydrating. Babies dehydrate faster than adults do, so soaked them at least three times a week. They will defecate in their water bowl while soaking so clean it frequently. Give tortoises that are housed outdoors a full-time soaking bowl so they can soak whenever they want.


Feed Russian Tortoises plant matter only. They enjoy big leafy greens. Wide-leafed plants, edible grasses, weeds, and dandelion greens are some favorites. They also eat romaine lettuce, endive, red leaf lettuce, escarole and various dark, leafy greens. Give them turnip greens, collard greens, pumpkin and butternut squash sparingly as an occasional treat. Offer chopped up Timothy hay, orchard grass hay and Bermuda hay with the greens. Limit fruits because they don’t digest them well. Don’t feed them dog food, cat food, meat or grains. Wash and dry all foods before serving. Allow an outdoor Russian Tortoise to graze throughout the day and feed it a small meal once daily. The grazing will make up for much of their diet if they are living in an outside enclosure where plants are growing. Control how much an indoor tortoise eats because they will not be as active. Give adults as much food as they can eat in 20 minutes daily or as much as they can eat in 40-60 minutes every other day. Feed hatchlings and juveniles the same type of food as adults daily. It is necessary to provide calcium and vitamin supplements as part of the diet.

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