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russian tortoise, Testudo horsfieldii
Reptile Rapture
6308 Monona dr., Monona, WI 53716


Common Names:
Russian Tortoise/Horsefields Tortoise
Scientific Name: Agrionemys horsfieldii
Origin: Central Asia including parts of Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, China and the former Soviet Union.
Size: 8-10" (females usually larger than males)
Lifespan: 40-60 years

You will find many ways on the internet on "how to" take care of this animal. This care sheet is showing the way we found works best for us from our many years of experience of caring for this species.

In the wild, Russian Tortoises live in hot, arid landscapes from flat sandy steppes to dry rocky slopes. The ideal pet enclosure is an outdoor pen (during the warmer months) with dry, well-drained soil. The larger the area the better, with a minimum size of approximately 4'x 4' for an adult. If you have moist clay soils or damp lawn grass, dig down and remove about a foot of this material. Replace it with a layer of gravel followed by a layer of sandy soil.

They love to climb and burrow, so the enclosure should be sturdy enough to keep the tortoise in. You want the walls a minimum of 18" high and constructed from concrete, cinder blocks, wood, or other solid building material. You don't want to allow the tortoises to see through the wall, otherwise they will continually try to escape. The wall should also be buried 10" to 12" below ground. Setting up the interior of the pen with mounds, rocks, logs, and other items can help not only provide shelter, but also keep it more interesting for your tortoise. If you live in an area with raccoons and other predators, the enclosure should be covered with some sort of frame and hardware cloth for protection.

Keeping your tortoise indoors requires an enclosure with lots of space and ventilation. Basically all inside enclosures will be too small on their own. Tortoises love to roam. So make sure you take your russian out to walk in the yard or around your house. If using a glass enclosure, for an adult Russian, make it as big as possible. A 90 gallon Zilla critter keeper is a decent size for an adult. Allow the tortoise as much space and open air as you can. Custom built enclosures like Tortoise Tables are popular. At the very least, use a 50 gallon (or preferably larger) rubbermaid-type plastic tub or plastic kid pool (as long as it is tall enough for him not to climb out). For a baby tortoise you can start with a Exo Terra 18" x 18" x 12" enclosure. They will out grow this usually by the time they are a year old.

Because they like to burrow, a good substrate mixture of Zoo Med eco earth and Exo Terra sand is recommended, at least 4" to 5" deep for adults. Keep it clean and dry. Russian Tortoises are susceptible to respiratory and other disorders if they're kept in damp environments. As with outdoor enclosures, your indoor pet will appreciate rocks, branches, plants and other structures to hide behind and keep their interest.

Since tortoises roam vast amounts of land they always like to be busy and explore. Whether you keep them in glass or something they can't see out of they will still go into the corner of the enclosure and dig.

You'll want to keep your enclosure temperature in the mid 70s with night time temperatures between 60-65 degrees. A basking spot of 90-95 degrees should also be provided at one end of the enclosure. Use a good quality temperature gauge, like Zoo Meds digital temp gauge or Exo Terras Thermometer to figure out the temperatures in your enclosure. They will need a UVB light to help properly process calcium and to synthesize vitamin D3. Since they are not out in natural sunlight in our homes, we must provide UVB light in the form of a special fluorescent bulb designed to produce UVB rays. The best bulbs are the mercury vapors such as Exo Terra's Solar Glo bulbs, ZooMed's Powersun, or Solar bright bulbs. These bulbs provide heat and UVB all in one bulb. You can also use separate basking (heat) bulb and UVB bulbs. If you use these, you will want the Zoo Med 10.0 or Exo Terra UVB 150 variety. (If you don't have a screen over your tank (and it is not a really tall tank), you can use a 5.0 bulb instead.

Although the Russian Tortoise comes from an arid region, they still need clean water daily. In an outside enclosure, this can be in a large low bowl or tray that the tortoise will climb into. They often drink and defecate at the same time, so it's important to change the water daily. Exo Terra bowls or Flukers rock dish are nice naturalistic non-porous water bowls. You will want to soak babies in a shallow bowl of room temperature water every morning for approx. 15 mins. to help them stay hydrated.

Russian Tortoises are herbivores and require a plant-based, calcium-rich diet. Broadleaf weeds are a favorite, but a variety of dark leafy greens is important. Outdoors, dandelions are excellent. Store-bought salad mixes are good, especially if they included things like turnip greens, collard greens, and kale. Top off your greens with Mazuri tortoise diet, zoo med gourmet tortoise food, or zilla dried vegetable mix. Make sure to supplement your Russian's food at least every other feeding with calcium and vitamins such as Repashy Superveggie (this can be used everyday) or Zoo Med calcium w D3 & Zoo Med Reptivite with D3.

greens (turnip, collard, mustard)
leaf lettuces (dark types, no spinach)

Mazuri tortoise diet
zoo med gourmet tortoise food
zilla dried vegetable mix

Tortoises are friendly and fun to watch, though it can be stressful to them if handled too much. After they get to know you they will follow you around and like to be next to you but they prefer not to be picked up to much.