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The Russian or Horsefield’s Tortoise: an Ideal “First Tortoise”?

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.  Tortoises are among the most highly-desired of reptile pets, but their care is fraught with difficulties, and captive death rates remain surprisingly high.  The plucky Russian, Horsefield’s or Central Asian tortoise (Testudo horsfieldi) is often promulgated as an ideal “first tortoise”. 

A Cold Hearty Tortoise?

In many regards this is true.  Unlike most of its relatives, the little Russian tortoise is quite cold hearty.  Its range (three subspecies) extends from the southeastern coast of the Caspian Sea through Kazakhstan to western China and south to Iran, and encompasses some very cold regions.  Tortoises living in the north may be active for a mere three months each year.

Living on Little

The Russian tortoise’s adaptation to a Spartan diet also suits it to captivity. Generally, it subsists upon dry grasses, with only limited access to flowers, herbaceous plants and fruits.   Individuals in some populations rarely encounter standing water.

Size

Size also recommends the Russian tortoise as a pet…it tops out at 8.8 inches, and many are considerably smaller. 

Nearly round in profile, the Russian tortoise is pleasantly colored in light to yellowish brown, and patterned with dark blotches.

Some Cautions

For all of the above reasons, it is a Russian tortoise that is often taken home by those new to tortoise-keeping.  Unfortunately, thousands perish each year, often because their owners were initially supplied with misleading advice.

Space and Cage Style

Despite their small size, Russian tortoises are far more active than other reptiles…even the largest of glass aquariums is inadequate.  You must think in terms of a 4-6’ x 4-6’ enclosure.

Glass aquariums, unless ventilated via fan, also do not provide sufficient air flow.  As humidity rises, respiratory problems are a near certainty.

Ideally, these tortoises should be housed outdoors throughout the warmer months.  Outdoor bird aviaries work well, although you may need to install an opaque, plastic barrier along the lower wall edge to prevent climbing. If you must keep your tortoise indoors, a custom-build enclosure is needed (please write in for details).

Environmental Conditions

Indoors or out, Russian tortoises require deep, dry substrates – grass and moist soil will not do.  A mix of sandy soil and oyster shell is ideal.  If unable to construct nighttime sleeping pallets (excavations), Russian tortoises become stressed and subject to dehydration-related disorders.

Pros and Cons

With proper care, the Russian tortoise can indeed be a most responsive and long-lived pet.  However, they are by no means animals to be purchased lightly.  Please consider your abilities carefully, and write in if you have any questions whatsoever. 

I hesitate to discourage responsible people from keeping these fine animals…tortoises ranging from the tiny South African padloper to the massive giants of Aldabra and the Galapagos Islands have provided me with some of my most memorable herp-keeping experiences.  Yet I hesitate to paint too rosy a picture.  Please write in regarding your specific situation, and I’ll do my best to advise you appropriately.  

The Russian tortoise owner must also take into consideration those other factors critical to the care of all tortoises – diet, UVA/UVB exposure, humidity levels, etc.. We’ll take a look at these and other subjects in future articles.  Until then, please write in with your questions and comments.  Thanks, Frank Indiviglio.

Further Reading

Please check out A Complete Guide to Russian Tortoises  in our Reptile Books Department.

An interesting article detailing the natural history of Russian tortoises in a harsh environment is published in the journal Ecography at

http://www.bio.usyd.edu.au/Shinelab/staff/xavier/ecography2003.pdf

128 comments

  1. avatar

    Hello.

    I am curious as to what is the ideal diet, of a Russian Desert Tortoise. I have heard many things from different sites or books on what to feed it, and what not to feed it. Each site and or book has its own ideas. I understand feeding it certain foods can give it certain problems. I am curious as to which foods do what, in regards to health, and damage.

  2. avatar

    Hello Malik, Frank Indiviglio here. Thanks for your interest in our blog.

    There is indeed a great deal of conflicting information available as regards the feeding of tortoises. While there is some flexibility as concerns diet (i.e. based on local differences in produce availability), there are some general rules that should be followed, and, unfortunately, a good deal of misinformation finds its way onto the internet. Dietary requirements also differ greatly among the various tortoise species…for example, a diet which is ideal for a red-footed tortoise would be devastating to a Russian tortoise.

    Horsefield’s or Russian tortoises have evolved to consume a diet that is high in fiber and calcium and low in protein and fat. In the wild, they feed almost exclusively on grasses, herbaceous plants and flowers, with fruit rarely available to most populations.

    In captivity, commonly offered foods such as beans, and dog and cat food should be avoided; fruit is not necessary, although a very small amount each 10 days or so, during the summer only, is fine as a treat (berries, apple, pears).

    In the summer, I use native grasses, weeds, flowers and plants for 75-85% of the diet of these and other grassland tortoises…in outdoor zoo exhibit this amount approaches 100%. The following are some native and introduced wild plants that can be used:
    • Dandelion (Taraxacum officianale)
    • Hawkbits (Leontodon spp.)
    • Sowthistles (Sonchus spp.)
    • Hawkweeds (Pictis spp.)
    • Hawkbeards (Crepis spp.)
    • Plantains (Plantago spp.)
    • Clovers (Trifolium spp.)
    • Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum)
    • Cat's ears (Hypochoeris spp.)
    • Vetches (Vicina spp.)
    • Trefoils (Lotus spp.)
    • Mallows (Malva spp.)
    • Bindweeds (Calystegia spp.)
    • Sedums (Sedum spp.)
    • Ivy-leaved Toadflax (Cymbalaria muralis)
    • Robinia (pseudo-acacia) leaves
    • Wild clematis
    • Acanthus
    • Nettles
    • Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) leaves, stems and flowers.
    • Red clover (Trifolium pratence) leaves, stems & flowers
    • White clover (Trifolium repens) leaves, stems and flowers.
    • Greater Plantain (Plantago media)
    • Ribgrass or Ribwart Plantian (Plantago lancealata)
    • Smooth Sow Thistle (Sonchus ol¬eraceus) leaves, stems & flowers
    • Prickly Sow Thistle (Sonchus as¬per)
    • White-Dead Nettle * (Lamilim al¬bum)
    • Red-Dead Nettle (Lamium pupureum)
    • Chickweed * (Stelaria media)
    • Smooth hawks-beard (Crepis cap¬illoris) leaves & flower
    • Hedge mustard (Sisymbrium offl¬cinale) young plants
    • Bramble (Rubus fruticosus) shoots, eaves & fruit.

    Please see my article on Toxic Plants for a list of species that may be potentially harmful to tortoises.
    The balance of the diet is comprised of seasonally available greens such as kale, endive, dandelion, squash (small amounts) and romaine (chop up thick stems and add to the salad). Other greens can be added, but avoid spinach, bok choy and iceberg lettuce.

    Zoo Med’s Grassland Tortoise Diet is specifically formulated for Russian and related tortoises, and can comprise up to 30% of the diet in winter or summer (hydrate it before using).

    During the winter, their diet consists of 70-75% commercially available greens and 25-30% Zoo Med Grassland Tortoise Diet. Grated yams and carrot can be offered once weekly as a treat. Some native plants freeze well, and can be stored for winter use.

    I add Reptocal to all meals provided to growing tortoises, and 3x weekly for adults. A cuttlebone is always available as well…not all tortoises will use this, but keep one in their enclosure just in case. Water should always be available, or the tortoises can be soaked on alternate days, during which time they will drink heavily.

    Russian and other tortoises will not be able to properly metabolize calcium or digest other nutrients unless provided with a warm basking site and high levels of UVB (I suggest either the Zoo Med 10.0 bulb or a mercury vapor bulb).

    Please let me know if you need further in formation.

    Good luck, enjoy your tortoise and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  3. avatar

    i have3year old horsefield can you tell me if i need any heat source at night has i keep him in shed and nights starting to get cold i use uv and basking lamp 12hrs by day

  4. avatar

    Hello Paul, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog.

    Please let me know what temperatures your tortoise will be exposed to…this would allow me to make a more specific recommendation. In general, healthy Horsefield’s tortoises are fine with a dip to 59-60 F at night, as long as they can warm up during the day. Some individuals will go off feed, however, as the seasons change. This is not a problem for animals in good weight (they should be offered water throughout the winter).

    You can also allow the tortoise to hibernate, but this can be a bit tricky; I wouldn’t recommend it.

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  5. avatar

    Do you bathe the Russian Tortoise? How often?

  6. avatar

    Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog.

    It is a good idea to soak the tortoise once each week. Use 2-3 inches of warm water (the tortoise should be standing, not swimming) and leave it there for 20 minutes or so. This will encourage the tortoise to drink and to defecate.

    Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  7. avatar

    hey!! i am just like you and i found http://www.russiantortoises.org really helpfull. you can also watch youtube videos they helped me out a lot.

  8. avatar

    Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog.

    I wasn’t able to reach the web site that you mentioned…perhaps a problem with the address?

    I look forward to your future comments,

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  9. avatar

    are there any special need sfor hibernatoin like wat you have to do wat do i do

  10. avatar

    Thanks for your interest in our blog.

    There’s no need to specifically lower the temperature for your tortoise, but the care you should give it over the winter varies a bit depending on what temperature it is being kept at, and how it behaves and feeds. Please write back with some specifics about your tortoise and I’ll be happy to send along some ideas.

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  11. avatar

    I just got a little horsefield for christmas I live in ireland so it isnt always the warmest here! Could you please give me some tips on the ideal habitat and diet for her. She is quite shy around people now will he grow out of that?? Thanks!

  12. avatar

    Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Merry Christmas and Thanks for your interest in our blog.

    Please see my article Feeding Mediterranean Tortoises for further information on diet. As for a habitat, open topped wood/screen enclosures are superior to glass terrariums. For instructions on building a very simple one that is ideally suited for your tortoise, please see Building an Open Top Enclosure for Tortoises.
    Personality varies a great deal – give the tortoise time to adjust and a place to hide for the time being. Eventually, most become quite bold and confiding.

    Russian Tortoises sometimes slow down in winter, even if kept warm. Please write back if you have further questions or if your tortoise appears lethargic.

    Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  13. avatar

    We have a six month old Russian Desert tortoise. We just found a small egg shaped soft thing that you can kind of see through opaic white in it’s water dish. Could this be an egg? She seems very young she is only 2 inches. What do you think it might be?
    If it is an egg what should we do with it? There is no male in withe her.

  14. avatar

    Thanks for your interest in our blog.

    Tortoises sometimes pass partially developed eggs if they have not mated or something short-circuits development, but this would be extremely unlikely in one so young as yours…rapid development can occur in tortoises fed high protein diets(an unhealthy situation) – please write back if you have an questions in that regard.

    Another possibility is that the material an extra large bolus of uric acid that was retained and finally passed – as it was deposited in the water, this might change its appearance. Be sure your tortoise is drinking so that it passes uric acid in smaller amounts, more frequently. Soaking 1-2x weekly is a good way of assuring that the tortoise remains hydrated.

    A host of internal problems – injuries, blockages, etc. could lead to the expulsion of scar tissue and other material, but this does not seem likely based on your note. If it happens again, perhaps consider having an experienced veterinarian analyze a sample.

    Good luck and please let me know if you need further info.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  15. avatar

    Thanks so much for your help and advice! He’s really great now , really come out of his shell, he even sleeps beside the dog, he sleeps inside and when its warm roams about in the garden and loves to dig!His main diet consists of lettuce, dandelions and celery is thsi suitable??

  16. avatar

    Hello Christin, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for writing back – I’m very glad to hear that the advice was helpful and your tortoise is doing well.

    I would make some changes in the diet, as Russian tortoises have very specific needs. Iceberg lettuce should not be given, but Romaine is fine…celery is okay in small amounts as it is high in fiber but low in nutrients. You’ll need to add much more variety, however – please check out my article Feeding Mediterranean and Russian Tortoises for a complete description of a healthful diet, and then write back with any questions you might have.

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  17. avatar

    Hi,

    we got a horsfield tortoise 5 days ago, she is still getting used to her enclosure and us obviously but is setting in really well. When we go to the doors she comes over to see us and waits for us to pick her up, she also likes going in water and having a drink and blowing bubbles HeHe!! But the only problem is we dont really no what to feed her which will be best for her, we put in options of carrot, watercress leaves and sliced cucumber but she didnt have any of it, what would you suggest? As noticed in what to feed them you mentioned alot of weeds but how do you tell them apart from the ones your not ment to give them!!
    Thanks xx

  18. avatar

    Hello Sami, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog.

    Tortoises in general can be very picky, but they usually come around in time. Russian tortoises often slow down their feeding during the winter, even when kept warm…this may also be part of what you are seeing.

    I wouldn’t offer too much carrot and cucumber – try as varied a mix as is possible, using fibrous greens as the basis of the diet – kale, endive; see Feeding Russian Tortoises for other options. Anything seasonally available can also be tried – radish greens, bok choy, collard and mustard greens etc. Mix everything together rather than offering seperately and chop finely, so that it will be harder for the tortoise to choose favorites. Be sure to mix in Grassland Tortoise Diet as well, so that the animal gets used to eating it along with greens. Grated sweet potato sometimes sparks them to feed – mix in well.

    As for weeds, etc. use only those form the list that you can ID – dandelion is easy and they like it – the flowers are a real favorite when available. There are a number of good field guides to native plants, some even titled “Weeds” (Audubon, Golden, etc), which can help.

    Best not to handle the tortoise too much until it is feeding regularly…they can be very responsive, but (sorry!) are more interested in what you feed them than being picked up…but some handling is fine once it has adjusted. A secure hiding spot will also help the tortoise to settle in – even bold individuals need this.

    Please let me know if it does not eat after a time, and we can review temperature, etc.
    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  19. avatar

    hi frank
    we brought Tilly horsefield tortoise in june 2007 weighing 45grams size 7x8cm she is now 400grams and 165.5×15.3 3years later she is very active and frendly
    is her weight and growth ok
    yvonne

  20. avatar

    Hello Yvonne, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog.

    Their growth varies widely – the rate may depend upon where in the range the tortoise (or it’s parents) originated, However, what you describe sounds fine – seems like you have done a fine job! A good way to keep tabs on growth is to watch for shell deformities, especially high, pointed scutes (known as pyramiding) – this indicated nutritional problems, overly rapid growth. Please feel free to send info on the diet – sometimes nutritional deficiencies take years to manifest themselves.

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

  21. avatar

    Hi Frank, I find your info very useful but am still stuck on one thing, last week my sister got a 8-10 month old Horsefield Tortoise then a few days later I purchased the other one the seller had in the same tank who we were advised was a month younger, the older one of the two has been very active, eating, walking around a lot, where the younger one has yet to be seen eating, this morning I have noticed they are both out but nor near the food supply (I put fresh in about an hour ago so it’s not gone stale already) they are having a mix of cabbage leaves, broccoli, dandelion leaves and tortoise supplement, today I have put a little strawberry and their leaves to entice the younger one to try.

    I have now got some digital scales to monitor both weights to ensure they are gaining at an equal rate but is there anything else you think I am missing out?

  22. avatar

    Hello Nic, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for the feedback and kind words.

    Moving is traumatic for many tortoises, as they are very aware of their environments; a secure shelter is vital and should help it in adjusting; avoid handling the new animal for now and check that it is not being intimidated by the other.

    Broccoli and kale are not always favored, and also should not comprise the bulk of the diet, try mixing in some of the produce listed in Feeding Russian Tortoises. Dandelion flowers are great favorites, a good source of nutrition and are abundant in many areas this month.

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  23. avatar

    Hi again,

    I probably should have mentioned before that I am in the UK and have never seen most the items listed in the “Feeding” section in local shops and pet shops only seem to sell the pellets, we were advised to use salad leaves but keep away from iceberg lettuce, are spinach, rocket, cucumber, cabbage, carrot and melon any good.

    new update, I saw mine out not long ago eating a bit of cabbage leaf so am happier now, I think it may just be the time of day she comes out.

  24. avatar

    Hello Nic, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for the feedback; hopefully the tortoise is settling in. Almost any locally available salad green would be fine, outside of iceberg and spinach (spinach may lead to stone formation in some species). Carrot and shredded yam or sweet potato is also fine; as are grass clippings; mix in some of the tortoise pellets as well. Use melon/fruit only if necessary to induce feeding, basically they need high fiber, course vegetables/greens. Some cucumber is fine. A field guide may help you ID native plants (most listed in the article are found in the UK) if collecting is an option for you.

    Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  25. avatar

    Hi Frank,
    Just bought Tilly our horsefield today, the guy in the petshop advised a 2ft viv with basking lamp, uv lamp and heat mat stuck on the back of the viv.
    I see you recommend the open top type of enclosure, but only noticed this great site since purchasing Tilly, will she be ok if we keep the viv but open the front doors in the day?
    I am going to make some climbing rockery etc tonight for her based on your ideas for habitat.
    Any first week tips would be appreciated.
    Many thanks,
    Kyle, Manchester, UK.

  26. avatar

    Hello Kyle, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog and the kind words, much appreciated.

    Unfortunately opening the doors will not do much in the way of alleviating humidity and other problems that arise when tortoises are housed in glass tanks. A rabbit/guinea pig type enclosure is useful, but best to use one equipped with a deep plastic tray so that the tortoise does not try to climb the bars – something along the lines of this model would work for a small individual. Homemade cages are best as the tortoise matures, as you can theoretically provide more room.
    A shelter or cave for hiding should be provided.

    Depending upon the lamp model, keep the UVB bulb within 12 inches or so of the tortoise. The heat mat will most likely not be needed – keep in mind that there should be a temperature gradient between the basking site and the rest of the cage (i.e. 75-90 F); a dip in temperature at night s fine, the heat mat might be used during winter for nighttime warmth.

    Diet is critical, and not always well-understood by sellers – please see my article on Russian Tortoise Diets for more info.

    Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  27. avatar

    My granddaughter just moved in with me with her Russian Desert Tortoise. It is not eating & it is turning more & more yellow. It is always next to the heater. I’m told it needs more heat, but I read it can be between 70 to 90 degrees. The tortoise is 1 1/2 yr. old & female, lives in glass aquarium. Plus can you help with its diet. She only feeds it kale & I see that’s not great.
    Thank you in advance for your help.
    Shelley, Maryland, USA

  28. avatar

    Hello Shelly, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog. I’m glad you wrote in…there s quite a bit to the care of Russian Tortoises – they are hardy as tortoises go, but delicate pets.

    As you’ve read, Glass tanks make poor enclosures; a small animal cage is a better choice, although even these do not provide enough room; check out this plan for building an excellent table-top cage; another option is to provide regular exercise in a large, secure area, indoors or out.

    70-90 F represents the active range; the tortoise needs a basking site of 90-95 F, plus the ability to move off into a cooler area (70-80, nite-time can dip a bit); this is another reason why large, airy enclosures are needed – aquariums do not provide the option to thermo-regulate.

    The tortoise will also need daily UVB light – without this it cannot produce Vitamin D to metabolize calcium; it will live for a few years, but expire long before the 50+ year long natural lifespan. The zoo med 10.0 UVB is ideal (note – it does not provide heat) if you can position it within 12” of the animal. Longer-range bulbs provide heat and UVB.

    Kale is a great food item but variety is critical; please see this article on Russian Tortoise diets for more info on foods and supplements (chopping new foods finely and mixing in with kale will help ensure that the tortoise consumes all).

    Quite an involved prospect, I realize, but such is the nature of tortoise keeping; your granddaughter was likely not informed of all the details when she purchased the animal – unfortunately, this is typical.

    Please write in if you need more info.

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  29. avatar
    Steve and Jane Thwaites

    Hi,
    We have a 2 year old Horsfield tortoise called Tilly, and she keeps catching her head. About a month ago, she took a scale off the top of her head, and we dont know how. The Vet gave us some iodine to dilute and apply to the wound. It started to heal but she still seems to be catching it on something. We often find her with the scab off and the sore bleeding. We have found this really distressing and had her back to the vets. They gave us some wound gel but she still bleeds from the sore every other day. We had thought she may be catching her head on her shell but the Vet said there is enough clearance. We have checked the large stones in her table, in case she has tried to burrow under them, but there is no sign of blood.
    We found this website while searching for advice about what could be causing it.
    Tilly lives in an open top crate, approx. 120x 50cms, and 35 cms deep. It is half depth full of a mix of 25% fine sand and 75%top soil. She has a burrow at one end, made from 2 stones and a piece of wood across the top. She has a small selection of stones to climb over. She has clean water daily and has a diet of dandelions, kale, broccoli, romaine lettuce and cucumber (which is her favourite). She has a bath twice a week, during which she drinks and urinates.
    Please tell us if there is anything we are not doing properly or need to change? We have had her 4 and a half months, and love her so much, she’s a real character,

    Thanks for any advice you can give,

    Steve and Jane Thwaites

  30. avatar

    Hello Steve and Jane, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog.

    A few possibilities come to mind:

    Could the tortoise be falling over when climbing rocks? …using its head to flip back would worsen the injury. Also, blood traces may be difficult to find on stones…climbing is good exercise, but perhaps remove for now.

    If the crate is wooden, perhaps he is rubbing while trying to “dig through” the sides?

    There’s always a chance that bacteria/fungi may have become established at the wound site, and are delaying the healing process.. a swab/culture would be needed; or perhaps a general antibiotic cream (if cream you have now is not medicated).

    I have had situations where reptiles have been bandaged…your vet would need to decide if this is a useful option, and attach a suitable covering (difficult on top of head).

    Just a few other notes…I assume you are providing UVB? This, and a suitably warm basking spot, will keep the immune system working properly. The varied diet you describe is fine; adding seasonally available produce and native grasses (clover) and others as mentioned in this article on Diet, if available, is a good idea; a bit of yam also. Don’t rely too heavily on romaine, cucumber. Commercial pellets are not necessary if you vary diet, but please see note in article re supplements. Some tortoises will nibble cuttlebone, which is an excellent calcium source.

    Good luck and please let me know if you need more info…it’s very useful for myself and my readers to follow case histories, so please update me if possible,

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  31. avatar
    Steve and Jane Thwaites

    Hi Frank,
    Just to keep you up to date, we were advised by our local vet to take Tilly to a specialist. The Specialist, Siuna, said Tilly was grossly underweight, and they took ablood sample for testing. The sore on the top of her head was through to her skull!! She was admitted to their hospital for an operation for a feeding tube to be fitted going in by her neck into her stomach, and a blood test was taken. The bloodtest showed a severe blood infection, with low white bloodcell count. The tube was fine for a few days, once she came home, until she pulled it out!! As a nurse, I attempted to refit it but it would not go. Tilly had started eating and Siuna said to leave the tube out if she is eating. We have to give Tilly antibiotic injections every 3 days and bathe her twice a day. She has an iodine/povidine solution to dilute and apply to her head, and the bleeding by her joints is a symptom of the blood infection. We are trying to encourage her to eat but, according to Siuna, Horsfields wont eat if they are too hot or too cold. We are trying to keep her warm and she has perked up a little, and we took her back today, she has put a little weight on. We just need to keep on with daily bathing and injections and encourage feeding.

    Here’s hoping. Hope this update provides sufficient info.

    Jane Thwaites

  32. avatar

    Thanks very much for the update; it’s very useful to be able to track such treatments, as we still have a great deal to learn about reptile medicine.

    Sounds like your vet has it well in hand. Be sure to provide UVB radiation as well, as this is essential if the tortoise is to manufacture vitamin D3 and utilize dietary calcium. There is also evidence that UVA may help in maintaining the immune system. The type of bulb you use, and its distance from the tortoise, is very important. Please let me know of you need further info on this.

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  33. avatar

    I have a healthy Russian Desert tortoise and am housing him in a 55 gallon tank with moistened shredded coconut husk that is bought in brick form for substrate. I am going to buy a similar sized animal cage but need to know what the ideal substrate and other items I might need to include in his new home are. I have the proper heating and lighting and his feeding is fairly in tune with the recommended diet. Any recommendations for his tank are greatly appreciated! Thanks.

  34. avatar

    Hello Travis, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog. I would avoid coconut husk – too dusty, especially in the confines of an aquarium, and tends to stick to food. Pine bark is a much better choice (cheaper at garden supply shops than pet stores).

    Also, keep the substrate dry at all times or you risk respiratory, fungal and other problems. Provide a water bowl for soaking – you can leave in place or just soak the tortoise 2-3x weekly if it continually spills the water.

    Good idea to use a cage…aquariums are not at all suitable; none are large enough, and air flow restriction is a severe problem. If possible, you should aim for a cage at least twice the size of a 55 gallon aquarium; smaller may be ok if the animal gets plenty of outdoor exercise. Homemade cages are often preferable, and less expensive even if you need to hire someone to do the work; please let me know if you need details. Tortoises sometimes incessantly climb the screen sides of animal cages. You may need to install a wood/plastic barrier along the lower border to prevent this.

    Be sure to include a secure hide spot; tortoises also like to push below large plastic plants or leaf piles, so add these from time to time.

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  35. avatar

    I need to know this assoon as possible can a russian tortoise eat celery

  36. avatar

    Hello Brenda, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog. Celery will not harm your tortoise, but it does not have very much nutritional value (mainly water and some fiber), and so is best avoided.

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  37. avatar

    does a russian tortoise need a uvb light …………… and do russian tortois hibernate

  38. avatar

    Hello Brenda, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Nice to hear from you again. UVB is critical to the health of all tortoises. You can use a high output florescent bulb positioned within 6-12 inches of the animal, or a mercury vapor bulb (this emits heat as well) for greater distances. Natural sunlight is the best source, but keep in mind that window glass filters out the beneficial UVB rays, so it must be direct.

    In most parts of their range, Russian Tortoises do hibernate. Captives often slow down their feeding in winter even if kept warm, but some continue to feed well all winter.

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  39. avatar

    how do u figure out how ur russain tortoise is bcuz i just got one like 2 weeks ago and i dont know how old he is

  40. avatar

    Hello Brenda, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your note. Tortoises lay down growth rings on each scute (scale on the upper and lower shell), similar to growth rings on trees. You can estimate the age of wild tortoises by counting the rings on one scale, as 1 is produced each year or so on average. However, captives generally eat more than wild ones, and do not hibernate, so more than 1 ring may be produced each year. Size is not reliable either, as it depends greatly upon diet, health and temperature.

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  41. avatar

    wht kind of bedding is best for russain tortoises and how much can a russian tortoise eat a day and how many times a day should they eat

  42. avatar

    Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog. A mix of sand and oyster shell (available at garden supply shops) is best. The substrate should be kept dry, and should be deep enough for the tortoise to dig a shallow sleeping area 6 inches or so) ; please note that glass aquariums are not suitable homes (please see article for further details).

    Please check this article on Russian Tortoise Diets; food intake depends upon temperature and the tortoise’s age, but feeding every other day, or small daily meals with occasional fast days, works well. Provide as much as the tortoise can eat in 10 minutes or so.

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  43. avatar

    plz b spacific on this wht do u need for a russian tortoise homing

  44. avatar

    puedo banar mi tortuga con jabon de banar (Can I use soap to bathe my turtle?)

  45. avatar

    Hola, No, usted no debe usar jabón para bañar a su tortuga … mejor usar agua del grifo o añadir añadir un poco de bicarbonato de sodio. (No, best to use plain water or add a bit of baking soda if need be).

  46. avatar

    Hello Brenda, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Sorry if I did not provide enough information last time. You’ll need a cage measuring appx. 4’ x 4’ or larger if possible…please check these plans for a table-top terrarium. Aquariums are not suitable. A small animal cage can suffice if the tortoise is given daily exercise in a room or safe outdoor area, but you may need to install a plastic barrier along the bottom of the cage to prevent climbing.

    The tortoise will also need a powerful UVB bulb (or outdoor exposure to unfiltered sunlight) and a heat bulb that provides a basking spot of 90-95F; a mercury vapor bulb provides both UVB and heat. A secure hiding spot is also essential, although the tortoise may prefer to burrow into the substrate. Substrate should be dry – a mix of sandy soil and oyster shell is ideal. Please see this article for information concerning the diet.

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  47. avatar

    i fed my tortoise iceburg lettuce is this really bad….. can he die… i need to know as soon as possible

  48. avatar

    Hello Brenda, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Don’t worry. The problem with iceberg lettuce is that it is not very nutritious. It will not hurt the tortoise, but if the tortoise eats it for a long time then he will not be getting proper nutrition and will eventually suffer vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  49. avatar

    thnk u frank i was so worried

  50. avatar

    Hello Brenda Indiviglio here.

    Your welcome…please feel free to write in if you’d like some thoughts on the rest of his diet.

    Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  51. avatar

    Just an update, I have changed over to a 3′ by 3′ by 15″ cage with the bottom 6 inches of the cage being a plastic basin. The substrate i’m using is a mix of sand and oyster shells as recommended and I have also gotten a 4′ by 5′ pet pen to let him move around in during the day. He seems to be more active and enjoys the hiding spot provided for him. Thanks again for your help!

  52. avatar

    Hello Travis, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks very much for the update and kind words. I’m glad it is working out, sounds like you have made some very useful changes.

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  53. avatar

    i have a big question can russian tortoises eat cabbage……. and how many times a day should i feed him

  54. avatar

    Hello Brenda, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog. Cabbage has been implicated in kidney/goiter problems…a small amount once in awhile is ok, but best to avoid. Please see this article on Tortoise Diets for more info.

    Meal size/frequency depends upon age, temperature, exercise, genetics and many other factors. Please send me some background details; as a general rule, skip 1-2 days each week, except for hatchlings.

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  55. avatar

    can tortoise eat turnip leaves

  56. avatar

    Hello Nubia, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog. Turnip leaves are fine to include as part of your tortoise’s diet.

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  57. avatar

    how many times should a russian tortoise eat a day

  58. avatar

    can i feed my russian tortoise radish leaves

  59. avatar

    Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog. Radish leaves are fine to use as part of the diet.

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  60. avatar

    Hello Nubia, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog.

    Meal size and frequency depends upon age, size, temperature, UVB exposure, cage size and set-up, exercise, genetics and many other factors. Please send me some background details and I’ll provide some general guidelines.

    Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  61. avatar

    ok i believe he is 8years old …. about 5 inches …… the temperature is 95 degrees F…… cage size is 10×12 ….. i let him excersize by walking around in my room every 3x a week . I hope thts enough info to see how many times he should eat a day

  62. avatar

    Hello Nubia, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for the feedback. Feed once daily, but skip a day or 2 each week; you’ll need to experiment with amounts – he shouldn’t finish it all in a few minutes, there should be a bit leftover after an hour or so. 95 F is actually too warm as a constant temperature – ideally, the cage should range from 75-82, with a basking spot of 95 or so. This is one reason why a large cage is needed – in a small area, the basking light will over-heat the whole cage. Aquariums of any size are equally bad, as they overheat and provide inadequate ventilation. Outside exercise is a great idea, but you should try to arrange a larger cage in time. Please see this article for information on an excellent homemade type cage .

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  63. avatar

    The plates of my russian tortoise’s shell appear to be separating, with a light green shade in between them. I generally feed him romaine lettuce and zoo med feed. Is this change to his shell simply how it looks as it grows along with him, or is there some deficiency in his diet or general care that could be causing this? There is no pyramiding, but I’d obviously like to avoid this if it’s the road he’s headed down. Thank you.

  64. avatar

    Hello Ben, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog. Spaces between the plates/scutes does typically indicate overfeeding; the diet you describe is also not likely providing adequate nutrition. Zoo Med Grassland Tortoise diet can be used as a portion of the diet, especially for adults, but I would scale back on it slowly for now and replace with a variety of greens in addition to the romaine – collards, kale, small amounts of bok choy, dandelion, endive, etc. Avoid cabbage and related plants. Wild grasses and “weeds” are best as long as poisonous species are avoided and they are pesticide free…please see this article for further info on foods and supplements. Please keep in mind that Russian Tortoises are adapted to what seems to us to be a very low quality diet – high in fiber, very low in protein, almost no fruit.

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  65. avatar

    hello my russian tortoise just pooped white liquid is that bad …. and wht is it

  66. avatar

    Hello Nubia, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog. Tortoises pass their waste products in solid and liquid form; the appearance varies with diet and the amount of water taken in. White liquid is usually a normal passage of urates.

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  67. avatar

    oh ok thnk u frank

  68. avatar

    Hello Nubia, Frank Indiviglio here.

    My pleasure…

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  69. avatar

    can i feed my russian tortoise spring onion …. please let me know as soon as possible

  70. avatar

    Hello Nubia, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your note. Not much info on onions or their leaves; I would not use the onion itself, and suspect that the leaves would not be accepted – many animals seem to avoid them.

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  71. avatar

    can my russian tortoise eat broccoli

  72. avatar

    Hello Nubia, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Nice to hear from you again. Broccoli can be offered in small amounts, but there is some evidence that it interferes with calcium absorption (as does cabbage and related plants).

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  73. avatar

    My russian tortoise wont eat anything, it’s been over a week. We thought maybe we gave him too many tomatoes and so we stopped and now he wont eat his once beloved kale. (he wasn’t eating it with the tomatoes either) What could be wrong? What other signs can we look for? He is 6 years old and we bought him back in november and we have been treating him the way the people said to, so nothing has been new.

  74. avatar

    Hello Anna, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog. Unfortunately, not feeding is typical in just about every ailment that a tortoise can have – intestinal blockage, bacterial infection, etc. – so it’s not possible to make a diagnosis based on that. A vet visit is the only way to find out what is wrong; please let me know if you need help in locating a reptile vet in your area.

    We can also review diet and general care; please send me some details as to temperature, UVB exposure, size of cage and diet, as each will affect its health. Please check this article on diet as well; as you’ll see, tomatoes are not a good food to use regularly and kale alone is not sufficient.

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  75. avatar

    Good Morning, So I offered my tortoise kale this morning mixed with romaine and I swear he is picking through it to just get the romaine. I was reading on a blog and it recommended yellow peppers, squash and cooked cauliflower, I was wondering what you thought about adding these item into his diet and if so what kind of squash???

  76. avatar

    Hello Monica, Frank Indiviglio here.

    A small amount of squash (any variety) is fine 1-2x each week; use less peppers, if at all; I’ve read mixed reports on cauliflower and have not used it.

    The point to keep in mind is that this species has evolved to survive on a low protein, high fiber diet…lots of volume but low in nutrition, due to the harsh environment it is native to. Fruits and vegetables are rarely available in the wild; grasses and rough vegetation are its main foods, so we need to mimic this. What would seem a “high quality” diet to use will not be digested and lead to illness and death. Some sweet potato, finely chopped, is ok as well.

    He is definitely picking through for favorites…tortoises are very good at this, and it can be frustrating. Chop the foods very finely and mix well; soaked tortoise pellets can be mixed in and will form a “mush” that helps bind all together and prevent picking. Don’t be afraid to keep him hungry until he begins to eat everything…fasts will not bother him at all, but a poor diet can be fatal.

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  77. avatar

    Dear Frank,

    maybe related to someone’s earlier post, my tortoise is not eating lately. in the 7 months he’s been with us, we have been providing him with a variety of greens including romaine lettuce, kale, dandelion greens, etc. he ate these handily and in fact you had helped me realize we were actually overfeeding him. i then reduced the serving size.

    to describe his setup, he is in an indoor area, probably 2ft by 5 ft, 10 inch wood walls with chicken wire above. his area is split into four sections, rocks, two sand/soil mixtures, and newspaper. his favorite spot used to be under that turtle log. about two weeks ago, he burrowed into the newspapers and hasn’t seemed interested in eating since. i took him out once for a bath, but he didn’t defecate and only ate a little. since then, I’ve let him stay burrowed because I thought perhaps he wanted to hibernate. Should I take him to a reptile vet, or is this somehow normal? Thank you for your time.

  78. avatar

    Hello Ben, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest and kind words. Wild Russian Tortoises do hibernate in part of their range. Captives sometimes respond to “internal clocks” and may cease feeding even if kept warm (I’m assuming ambient heat and basking site temperatures are appropriate). This is true of many temperate zone turtles. They usually do fine, even if kept at temperatures well above what they would experience in a true winter. Some begin feeding after a few weeks, others wait until spring.

    The burrowing behavior suggests that the turtle is slowing down for the winter, and not sick…Unfortunately, there is no way to be absolutely sure without a vet exam.

    Please write me with some details re temperature and UVB. One risk involved in keeping turtles on the cool side during winter is that the immune system slows as well, and parasites/bacteria that were being kept in check can become dangerous to the animal.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  79. avatar

    Dear Frank,

    Thank you as always for your prompt response. I have an overhead lamp that provides heat and UVB that we keep on during daytime hours. The temperature under this lamp is approximately 80’F these days, but as the habitat is in our den the temperature on its cold side never dips below 60.

    If it is relevant, that the basking side contains the rocks, and the tortoise is under newspapers on the other end. The food is generally kept in the middle. Thanks again for your guidance.

  80. avatar

    Hello Ben, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for the feedback. Russian tortoises can tolerate cool temperatures, but only if able to warm up to an appropriate temperature by day, or if in full hibernation. The basking temperature should ideally be 90-95F, and the cool side of the cage should remain in the low 70’s. A dip into the 60’s at night is ok if the above temps are maintained and the animal is in good health. While they are active at times when temperatures reach only 80 in the wild, by basking they can get much warmer. Try raising the temperatures and see if this has an effect. In captivity, there are factors working against the tortoise – stress, limited diet, etc., so it’s best to keep the immune system functioning at full speed, which requires higher temperatures than those you’ve mentioned.

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  81. avatar

    Hi Frank I bought my son a Russian tortoises for Christmas last week I have her hiding in my room lol. She is 3 years old and so far is eating sleeping well. I have got lots of info from your blogs ty for doing that. She seems a little aggressive when I go to feed her or lift her out to excercise she hisses a bit . Do you think she will settle down and learn to trust us? Looking at photos her shell is not as shining as others I’ve seen I have bathed her.to which she did not like either.I’ve found a chip gone out of her shell I rang the pet shop he said it’s just from her knocking off things and she is fine. She is going to the vets in January hope all will be well.I can’t wait for my son to see her Christmas day and am so looking forward to building her outdoor pen with Shane .and thanks to you I hope to make it just right thanks again for all the info xx

  82. avatar

    Hello Lorraine

    Thanks for your interest and kind words.

    Behavior varies among individuals, but most Russian tortoises learn to tolerate being picked up and moved for a short time. However, being carried about is a stressful situation for an earthbound creature with many predators. They will learn to recognize people as food providers, can learn to navigate mazes, etc., may even approach when people enter the room, and are generally very mild mannered. However, reptiles do not have the capacity to bond to people or appreciate their companionship as might a mammal.. It’s important, I believe, that your son learn about their essential natures – makes for a better experience for both.

    They rarely enter water in the wild and will always resist bathing; no real need for it in most circumstances. It can be soaked for 10 min or so in a few inches of water 2x weekly if appears not to be drinking; this will also encourage defecation and simplify terrarium cleaning.

    This scutes, or scales, flaking off from the shell are a normal part of the growth process, and minor chips are not a concern. Deeper injuries that expose blood vessels within the shell should be attended by a vet.

    Outdoor housing is ideal; just be sure the enclosure is predator proof. This article on indoor enclosures might interest you.

    Very good that you have arranged a vet visit. Be sure to speak with the vet and your family doctor concerning hygiene, Salmonella prevention, etc.

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, I hope you and your son enjoy, and please keep me posted. A happy and healthy holiday to you and yours.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  83. avatar

    Hey frank,thanks for your kind wishes for the holidays,the same to you and yours,thanks for the advice you have given me,i will be sure to help shane with all i have learned from you.i fed maggie today my pet name for her until shane names her himself,i sat and watched for awhile guess what she did.she ate her food,then climbed in her dish and went to the toilet.i cleaned up put the food bowl back in went down to get more food and yes u guessed it she done it again.any advice???? i dont undrstand it because up until now she only went toilet when i took her out.i just dont like the idea of her doing that.ill have to watch her when eating now.god how silly do i sound lol.i know she has to go but her food dish really?? ty again, merry christmas frank xx

  84. avatar

    Hello Lorraine,

    Thanks for the kind words. It’s difficult to predict when they will pass stool, although some do fit into patterns, at least for a time. The bowl is likely coincidental. I save jar/coffee can lids and such, which can be used once and disposed of.

    Most tortoises defecate shortly after being placed in an inch or 2 of warm water; soaking 2x weekly ensures they are drinking as well, and may reduce waste in terrarium. A 10 minute soak in shallow water (1/3 or less height of shell) is not usually stressful.

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  85. avatar

    hey Frank, i bought my russian tortoises in november and they get along well, they eat, well but i have never seen them drink or soak in the water. their water bowl still goes down. I did however buy a terrarium, the biggest the store had, and i now know this is bad i was wondering what i could do to make their habitat more pleasurable for them. i have a box that they can go inside and they seem to enjoy it but besides that all i have is a food and water bowl

  86. avatar

    Hello Kevin

    Thanks for your interest. In the wild, Greek Tortoises get most of their water from food for much of the year. Yours may be doing the same, but I always play it safe by soaking them for 20 minutes or so once weekly. Place them in a plastic container or bucket in 1-3” of warm water; they will usually drink and will likely defecate as well. The will try to escape once they drink, so make sure container can hold them.

    There’s not much that can be done in a terrarium; enrichment is easiest to supply in the form of novel foods…whole dandelion plants, etc., or via time out of the cage in a safe room. Check out the link to the Table Top Pen in this article; it’s a great cage that can be built at home (if your skills exceed mine!). Zoo Med’s Tortoise Home and Tortoise Playpen are also worth considering.

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  87. avatar

    I have owned desert tortoises for 16 yrs. My cousin has a Russian tortoise he wants to give me so he has a backyard to roam in. My tortoise has respiratory problems all her life. Will the Russian catch it or can they share other health problems. If they are kept separate but share backyard at different times we they pass diseases through their environment. Will they try to mate?

  88. avatar

    Hello

    Thanks for your interest. The two should not be kept together; related species from different parts of the world may carry micro-organisms that are relatively harmless to one but dangerous to the other (similar to tourists becoming ill after drinking tap water in foreign countries). They may also pass respiratory and other diseases, and the 2 species will try to mate. Sharing the same yard at different times can be a problem, as parasites, bacteria may become established it the substrate. It may work if they are in different parts of the yard, in which case airborne transmission would be the only concern. I can send along info as to that if it would be helpful…please send along some details as to yard size, type of respiratory disease etc.

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  89. avatar
    JustAnotherDay

    Hello –
    We are taking care of the classroom Russian tortoise for the summer. S/He is about 5″ and came to us in a 20 gal aquarium with a water bowl, plastic foliage and very small wood bark/chips. In the classroom, the tortoise lives in a much longer tank and eats superworms exclusively. The kids and I have been looking up info about the Russian tortoise and it appears that we could be doing things a lot differently and better with the tortoise while we have it this summer.
    We’ve had it a couple of weeks and haven’t fed it any of the worms. Instead, we’ve offered it romaine and red leaf lettuce. I don’t think he’s eaten anything. We did take him outside for a field trip and wow! did that tortoise perk right up. He wanted to walk all over the place. But, we live in a high mountain forest area and I don’t know that any of the native things growing around here would be of interest to the tortoise. Rabbitbrush, sage, pine, mules ears, larkspur, and lupine are the common plants around here.
    We’re going to get him into a 50 gal rubbermaid bin with the sand/soil substrate mixture. Any advice about feeding is appreciated.

  90. avatar

    Hi Kerry,

    Good that you are making diet changes…the tortoise would have met an untimely end under the care it was getting. Providing a proper diet takes a good deal of time and effort…they will get by for a time, sometimes years, on poor diets, but succumb eventually. Unfortunately, romaine/red leaf alone are not adequate. Please see this article for a description of the proper diet. Native plants, incl those listed in the article are fine, but it’s difficult to comprise a diet based solely on them.

    Perking up likely has to do with access to UVB light, as well as stimulation (space, food scent, etc). Given what you’ve written re its care, I’m assuming it has not been provided with access to UVB radiation? Sunlight is best, but be aware that UVB is filtered out by glass/plastic, and overheating is a real threat. Please see the section on light in this article for info and links to bulbs. The rest of the info there, re care, is largely applicable as well.

    Good idea to move the animal out of a glass terrarium..no matter how large, they are not well-suited as tortoise homes. Please see this article for details, and let me know if you need further info.

    Glad you wrote in…they are great pets, but their needs are far more complex than many realize. Please keep me posted, enjoy, Frank

  91. avatar

    Hello, I am thinking very seriously about getting a Russian Tortoise so I have quite a few questions.
    I was going to buy a Pennplax Tortoise Palace Aquarium would this be a suitable house for it (when it is fully grown)?
    I will put newspaper on the bottom filled with Tortoise Life substrate to fill it to 6″ high so it has sufficient room for burrowing would this also be ok?
    I will get a rock for it to sit on in the basking area (it will be kept at 90F the rest of the place will be 70 Fexecpt at night when i will set it to 65F). Are these the correct temperatures?
    I will get it a UV light that shines the light through the length of the house, will I need any other lights?
    I will put it in warm shallow water for about 10 minutes once a week to keep its hydration up is this ok?
    I know the diet that should be given to it.
    I will do a full clean once every fortnight with a partial clean every day is this correct interval to clean the cage?
    And are there any other things that I need to know about caring for a Russian Tortoise?

    Thank you for you time in answering these questions.

  92. avatar

    Hello again, a few more questions that I forgot to ask the first time.
    What do I do for hibernation?
    And I won’t be able to take my tortoise outside very often because of the high amounts of predators around the area in which I live; so would it be ok for it to get exercise inside the house, by allowing it to roam around freely for about an hour a day?

  93. avatar

    Hello,

    Thanks for your interest.

    A larger enclosure would be preferable, but with out-of-cage exercise time the PennPlax might be suitable. The ZooMed Tortoise Home allows for expansion by adding units, so you may wish to look into that. The best option is the Table Top Cage (see link in this article, under Housing), which also provides additional care info that should be useful to you. I would keep the night temps to at least 70 F (lower is well tolerated, but 70F safer). I’m not familiar with that substrate, but based on the product info it appears fine. If water will not be available daily, then it is best to place the tortoise in a separate container with water 2x week. it will drink and defecate at these times. Cleaning frequency depends upon a variety of factors, you’ll need to fine tune as time goes on.

    I’m not certain what you mean re the UVB; please see suggestions in article linked above and send some details, thanks.

    Best regards, Frank

  94. avatar

    Hello Nick,

    Hibernation in captivity can be difficult; I wouldn’t recommend for a first time tortoise owner. Most will stay active if kept warm, but some tortoises slow down in winter. if otherwise healthy, this is not a concern.

    Roaming indoors can be problematical. Most importantly, there is a likelihood that the animal may spread Salmonella about, and this bacteria can survive on floors, etc. for some time. You’ll also need to be sure there is nothing that the tortoise can chew on, esp. electric cords. Better to contain it in an easily cleaned area, perhaps one of the “playpen” type enclosures marketed as exercise areas for ferrets and guinea pigs. Best, Frank

  95. avatar

    Hello again, the lamp that I am talking about is a UVB lamp and I will get one for the basking area so that it is the correct temperature, but will it require a different light for night-time to keep it at the right temperature during the winter (I have no central heating), because i think that a bright light may keep the tortoise awake, and which kind of bulb is best or doesnt it really matter e.g. T-rex UVB / Mercury Vapour Lamp. Following your advice of getting a playpen for the tortoise to get exercise would a Ferplast Rabbit & Guinea Pig Cage 120 be ok? I have also looked at the alternative housing options that you provided me with the ZooMed Tortoise Home and the Table Top Cage and I think that the ZooMed one would most likely be best as you said I can add to it as the tortoise grows. Thank you for all your advice and taking the time to answer the questions.

  96. avatar

    Oh also thank you for your advice on hibernating, using your advice I will not hibernate it as I wouldn’t really know what to do. And you metioned salmonella is there anything I could do about it?
    Sorry this wasnt with my other question I forgot to add it.

  97. avatar

    Hi Nick,

    Rabbit cages such as the ferplast can be used as permanent homes; for exercise, a larger playpen is ideal (you may need to install a barrier if it tries to climb the wire. Mercury vapor lamp technology is standard, so any well known brand would be fine. These produce heat as well. Red/black bulbs provide heat without visible light, useful at night.

    Best, Frank

  98. avatar

    Salmonella is impossible to eliminate from most reptile species but the threat to people can be managed with a bit of effort. Please check this article on Salmonella prevention and let me know if you have any questions. Best also to speak with your doctor concerning risks that might be specific to you or yours, etc.

    Please write in as often as you’d like, other readers benefit as well, Best, Frank

  99. avatar

    Thank you for all of your advice it has been very beneficial. If I have anymore questions I will be sure to ask you.

  100. avatar

    My pleasure, Enjoy and good luck, Frank

  101. avatar

    My son really wants a turtle/tortoise for his birthday. He will be turning 8 and he is actually a very responsible pet owner. I have done some research and found that most turtles available will bite and he won’t be able to hold them. I came across the russian tortoise and that seemed like it might be a good fit. I am am concerned about an enclosure for the tortoise. I was planning on having it live in my son’s room but it sounds like that won’t be enough room. Any suggestions?

  102. avatar

    Hi Kristin,

    Tortoises do need space and quite a bit of specialized care; if you decide on one, a Russian would be best. One of the American Box Turtle species might be better…rare;y bite, need space but a bit less than tortoises, can be allowed to roam safe areas outside the cage. Hatchlings are available from breeders, easier to house for first few years. Please see this article for care info and let me know if you have any ques. All species are protected by law, so you’ll need to purchase a captive bred animal. You can find sources here.. Musk turtles are the best choice for an aquatic species. Like most, they bite at first when disturbed but settle in well..mine is 42 yrs old now! Handling really should be done only to move the animal, check for injuries etc. Some species will tolerate handling, but they do not “get anything” from it as might a dog or parrot, and it is very stressful for many. Best, Frank

  103. avatar

    The American Box Turtle is a little bigger than I want. We have a pool so backyard roaming is not an option. Maybe the musk turtle would be a better option for him at this point. I am very concerned with making a humane environment so I don’t want to stick a tortoise in an area it won’t be happy. Do you think he could keep the musk turtle in his room?

  104. avatar

    An adult common musk can be kept in a 20-30 gallon aquarium; hatchlings are quarter-sized, very active and fun to rear. Several species are bred in captivity; all except 1 are small and easy to manage; mud turtles are closely related and require similar care. Please let me know if you need more info, links to suppliers, etc. Frank

  105. avatar

    Hi again Frank,
    I have decided to go with common musk turtle. Can you tell me what I need to set its tank up? I know a 30 gallon aquarium. I have read that I need a stronger filter than a 30 gallon to keep the water clean. Is this true? I know the water needs a heater and I will need a basking area with a heat lamp. Can you help me with the rest?
    Thank you!

  106. avatar

    Hi Kristin,

    Good choice, you’ll enjoy. If you feed outside the tank (move turtle to a plastic sweater box, etc) it will be easier to keep water clean. Please see this article http://bit.ly/Vwvgnt clarity ffor details. This article describes some useful filters http://bit.ly/t6H0N5; the supreme ovation is easiest to service and comes in a size suitable for a 30 gallon. Water need only be heated to 74F or so in winter, heater not needed in summer; UVB not needed; most bask only rarely or not at all (at least not by leaving water, but good to position a 50 wt incandescent bulb over the land area in case. The PennPlax Turtle Pier is the best basking site…put bulb so that it warms ramp area as well as actual dry area, in case turtle want’s to bask while in shallow water. The info in this article is useful re general considerations, diet http://bit.ly/AzhWlX, (but musks do not need UVB and take little if any plant food, so ignore that advice); reptomin and freeze dried shrimp can form basis of diet, but add plenty of small whole minnows, which will provide Calcium and earthworms, occ. crickets; live blackworms if available. Enjoy and pl keep me posted, Frank

    supreme ovation http://bit.ly/t6H0N5

  107. avatar

    Hi I know it is best to feed a horsefield tortoise weeds and flowers firm outside but at times that isn’t possible what us the beast salad bag I can buy from the shop? Or anything that I could feed her from the shops?

  108. avatar

    Hi,

    There are many types of produce that can be used; please see the note under “Feeding, desert/Grassland Species” in this article. In addition you can add dandelion, collared greens, sprouts, bok choy (small amounts of this) and others not listed as problematical in the article. Strive for as much variety as is possible. Pl let me know if you need further info, Best, Frank

  109. avatar

    Thanks for all the information. I do have another question. I have purchased the filter, heater and basking pier. What is the best substrate for the musk turtle? Do I need more areas for it to hide beside the pier?
    Thanks!

  110. avatar

    Hi Kristin,

    My pleasure, Best to use no substrate; turtles are messy, even when fed outside the tank. Substrate prevents the filter from picking up much of the waste, and contributes to poor water quality. With a bare-bottomed tank, you can see debris and scoop it up with a fine meshed-net (those sold as brine shrimp nets are esp useful). Turtles may also swallow gravel when feeding, which can result in blockages (not common, but possible).

    A shelter is useful, glad you brought it up. The pier will be enough for some individuals, but best to provide another as well, esp. for smaller specimens. A broken crockery flower pot with rough edges sanded or otherwise smoothed down is ideal. Most reptile shelters are designed for use on land, and so may leach harmful substances into the water (no evidence either way); those market for tropical fish are usually too small. I like to use 1/2 of a pot, so that there is an opening at front and back, allowing the turtle to exit easily. be sure to check size, watch that the turtle does not get stuck when you first introduce. Enjoy, pl keep me posted, Best, Frank

  111. avatar

    Hi Frank,
    Our turtle arrived. My son named him Shelly. :) He is about the size of a quarter. I was wondering about feeding. How often should he be fed? We put him in a container yesterday and tried to feed him but he had no interest. Will it take a few days to become accustomed to his new home? I have the pellets and the freeze dried shrimp.
    Thanks!

  112. avatar

    Hi Kristin,

    Hatchling musk turtles are on the menu of everything from giant water bugs and frogs to larger fish and herons, and so tend to be very shy at first; shipment is also very stressful. be sure it has hiding spots and do not disturb for awhile; no need to worry about it starving, they are very efficient at utilizing their reserves, altering metabolism to suit needs.

    pre-killed guppies and live blackworms, if available, are great favorites and sometimes help to get them started (guppies impt as a calcium source in any event), but pellets/shrimp should be accepted once it settles in. Please keep me posted, Frank

  113. avatar

    Hi Frank

    I have a male Russian tortoise approximately 5 years old. He used to be a voracious eater, but recently hasn’t been eating much. I haven’t really changed his diet and I feed him various types of lettuce and other greens, sometimes sprinkled with bits of fruit. He has a 3ftx1.5ft enclosure with hot and cold zones. The hot zone is around 90F and the cold one around 70F. He has a log to hid under. His shell looks nice and shiny and his eyes are not cloudy either. I soak him in lukewarm water once a week.
    What might be the problem with him? He has become very inactive lately and doesn’t eat much.

    Appreciate your help.

    Thanks,
    Ashish

  114. avatar

    Hi Ashish,

    When behavior changes suddenly like that, when no changes have been made to diet, enclosure, etc., then a medical problem is likely…an internal infection (lung, digestive, etc), perhaps a blockage from something that has been swallowed; also, parasites that may not have been a problem can build up in numbers if not treated, and can weaken the animal over time. The only way to diagnose the problem is via a visit to an experienced reptile vet, as the symptoms you mention are associated with a wide range (almost all) of ailments. Please let me know if you need help in locating a vet.

    best, Frank

  115. avatar

    Hi… Ive bought an hosfield tortoise around 5 days ago… Its around 2 years old, and its settling very well. Today ive notice something which im not sure its normal or not. My tortoise twice whenever was approaching something it made scared noise, and at the same time put its head completely into shell. Is that normal?? Can it be breathing problems or it gets scared of something??? Thank u for ur help …

  116. avatar

    Hi Monika,

    They hiss when frightened…nothing to be concerned about and will lessen as animal adjusts. Wheezing/whistling during normal breathing is usually a sign of respiratory distress and requires attention. Pl let me know of you need more info, enjoy, Frank

  117. avatar

    Thank u very much for ur last reply… The hissing stopped but im facing another problem with him… Basically he started making noise when breathing out… Its very quiet but ive noticed it when bathing him… Another thing is that there was something pinkish in his urine in water and on a top of that he also have something slight pink on his throat when head and throat meets… Im really scared it might be some kind of injury or overeating…??? Im taking him to vet … Thanks!

  118. avatar

    Hi Monika,

    Good idea..any number of problems can elicit those symptoms. Good luck and pl keep me posted, Frank

  119. avatar

    My 2yr old Russian tortoises she’ll is turning yellow between the plates. Why? Is it growth? Her diet is mainly mixed greens, ie: romaine,kale, an other lettuce varieties with the occasional carrott, radish.

  120. avatar

    Hello,

    Some do change color a bit with age; fungus does not usually appear as you decribed, but check carefully just in case. Here is a bit more on diet: http://blogs.thatpetplace.com/thatreptileblog/2009/07/29/tortoise-diets-mediterranean-species-and-russian-horsfield%E2%80%99s-tortoises/. Please let me know if you need more info, best, Frank

  121. avatar

    Hi there,

    We have a 2 yr old male russian tortoise. We just got him and changed his bedding for the first time. I bought him the ground coconut fiber. He had bark. I don’t think he likes it. He has been sleeping in the corner where his basking light is not in his den. He is starting to worry my daughter. I did buy bark for him and we have plans to change out the coconut fibers tomorrow. He is eating and is active just won’t sleep in his den. any thought? Thanks Penny

  122. avatar

    Hello Penny,

    Coco husk is not ideal..holds moisture; sticks to food and when dry can enter nostrils, eyes, etc. Bark better, but the sandy soil oyster shell mix mentioned in article is preferable…allows them to dig shallow pallets, east to maintain etc.

    Here’s a bit more on general tortoise care; please let me know if you have any questions, best, Frank

  123. avatar

    Is there a type of tortoise I can get for a 20gal long tank?

  124. avatar

    Or would a 20gal tank be fine for a Russian tortoise? I could take it out and let it walk around my backyard and bedroom. I have a dog and cats so I would have to watch it. I have a guinea pig play pen for my guinea pig that has metal bars that are vertical so he/she couldn’t climb with extra metal bars my dad attached but those bars are horizontal so it’s climbable.I have a heating lamp from my leopard gecko he doesn’t use it be austere got him a heating pad for under his tank. If the 20gal tank won’t work I might get a skink, a bearded dragon, or some other type of reptile from my pet store.

  125. avatar

    Hi Kellie…out of cage time can be useful, but you’d still need to have an adequately sized home enclosure. A 20 gallon would not work. Please see this article on tortoise care and let me know if you need further info, best, Frank

  126. avatar

    Hi, Frank. I’m about to get a tortoise and I’m wondering about the pen. Is there a specific type of habitat that’s really good for a tortoise? Also, what kind of food would you reccomend? Thanks, Liam

  127. avatar

    Hello Liam,

    The best tortoise pens I know of are homemade…see the link to the Table Top Pen in this article for specs. Certain rabbit cages work well also..there’s a link in the same article to some examples. Please see this article for info on feeding Greek Tortoises and let me know if you need further info, Best, Frank

  1. Pingback: i am going to start breeding russian tortoises but i cant find a decent enclosure less than 100 bucks? | Porch Enclosure

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About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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