Russian Tortoise – Habitat, Care, Diet, Facts

A Russian Tortoise will be your best friend in need. This is a very small and long-lived tortoise whose diet is very simple and easy to accomplish. Otherwise called the “Afghanistan Tortoise,” “Steppe Tortoise,” “Four-Toed Tortoise,” or “Horsfield’s Tortoise,” this reptile is one gorgeous and cute animal.

To find out more about it, keep reading because I’ll be going over every little scale on this Russian Tortoise. I’ll uncover everything about it, so stay tuned!

Russian Tortoise Appearance

An adult only reaches about 5-8 inches (12-20 cm) in length, with females a bit larger than males. In any case, this species counts among the smallest tortoises in the world. Their carapace is very broad and rounded, and also dorsoventrally flat.

The color of the shell is generally green to brown, with a bit of black, while the scutes are yellow-brown. There may also be a dorsal ridge that you should watch out for.

Russian Tortoises have a few differences compared to other tortoises. For starters, they don’t have a movable plastron hinge between the abdominal and femoral scutes. Then, they also have a horny claw at the end of the tail, with a series of enlarged scales to the left and right of the tail.

This tortoise also has only four toes on its forefeet, instead of five. Lastly, the Russian Tortoise has lateral scutes and a tall bridge, making it easy to defend from potential threats.

Russian Tortoise Behavior

These Tortoises are not that shy and isolated, which is a common characteristic of all tortoise species. Russian Tortoises are quite feisty and active, especially during daylight. Compared to other tortoises, these are very dynamic and won’t sit still at all during the day.

They also love to make holes and burrow inside, though Russian Tortoises are also very tolerant of hot and arid environments. New tortoise keepers will certainly enjoy these reptiles!

If you feed them during the early morning and hide away the food in their enclosure, Russian Tortoises will enter a frenzy. They won’t stop until they find every bit of scrap you’ve hidden around. Scavenging for food is one of their favorite activities.

You’ll also start enjoying it since it’s one of the few chances you can share a moment with the tortoise. It doesn’t like petting and handling too much, which isn’t a surprise for a tortoise.

Russian Tortoise Lifespan

Among its brethren, the Russian Tortoise lives a fairly long life. This reptile can live for more than 50 years if you take care of it properly. Even though captivity significantly lowers the lifespan of tortoises, a no-stress environment will dampen this disadvantage.

Keep your tortoise on a high-fiber diet, with lean herbs and some fruits, to increase its happiness and lifespan. Stress is the greatest contributor to premature tortoise death, in any case.

Russian Tortoise General Care & Housing

Tortoises love their natural habitat. Digging holes to lay their eggs, hiding in bushes to stave off the sun, hunting for critters, or munching on leaves, tortoises love it all. This is why you should try to simulate their natural habitat as best as possible.

If kept indoors, a tortoise needs a spacious terrarium or a nesting box fit with everything it needs. This includes a bowl of water, hiding spots, ornaments, daily food, a basking light, a UVB light bulb, and that’s pretty much it.

– Temperature

As I said before, Russian Tortoises can resist pretty high-temperature environments. They’re used to arid places but that’s only true if they can dig underground. In very hot summers, these tortoises retreat in underground holes where it’s cooler.

They’re most active when temperatures are between 60-90 °F, with anything over 100 °F being too hot for them. They can also remain active during colder summers, though they won’t sleep outside.

If you keep the tortoise indoors, you can maintain a temperature of 68-80 °F, with the basking spot being at 90-100F. During the nighttime, the temperature can even drop to 50F and these tortoises won’t have a problem.

Keep a thermometer in the enclosure at all times to make sure the temperatures don’t go awry. As long as the Russian Tortoise can burrow underground, though, even the hottest summers aren’t dangerous for it.

– Humidity

Humidity should always be at 60% for adults, with a bit more humidity for baby tortoises. Even though Russian Tortoises are used to arid environments, humidity is still an issue. For a longer lifespan and better health, they need approximately 60-65% humidity in their enclosure.

You can easily provide this through the substrate. Use sand/soil substrate to better retain the humidity. Make sure the substrate is deep enough so the tortoise can dig holes in the ground.

I also recommend placing a bowl of shallow water in a corner of the enclosure. This contributes to the overall humidity when the water evaporates from the bowl. Moreover, the tortoise may choose to drink water at any time, replenishing its humidity levels.

Any tortoise species needs a high level of humidity or they’ll slowly die away. This is the same with Russian Tortoises. Pet owners should keep this in mind if they want the tortoises to be happy and comfortable.

– Enclosure Size

As usual, I recommend housing your Russian Tortoise outdoors. It’ll allow your tortoise to self-regulate its temperature by basking in the sun. If the enclosure has shady spots with vegetation, the tortoise can burrow a hole and cool off, when it’s too hot.

Make the enclosure at least 2 feet by 4 feet, for one or two adults. Set the walls at least 15-30cm into the ground to prevent the tortoise from digging under them. Aboveground, the enclosure walls should be at least 12cm high.

For indoor housing, the enclosure is the same. Use sand or soil for substrate materials, and make sure it’s deep enough so the tortoise can burrow in it. During the winter, use the basking light and UVB light to offer a suitable temperature and light.

Without these, Russian Tortoises may become unhealthy and suffer from various illnesses. If it’s too damp and cold, the tortoise may even develop respiratory issues.

– Lighting

An outdoor enclosure doesn’t need a specific UVB light during the summer. The tortoise remains active during daylight, filling its body with enough vitamin D3. Natural sunlight is ideal for tortoises of all kinds, not only Russian ones.

During the cold season when tortoises hibernate, you’ll need an artificial UVB light shining 12 hours per day. You’ll need to simulate a 12-hour day cycle for the tortoise.

Vitamin D3 allows them to properly assimilate and process calcium in their bodies. Without sunlight, they don’t get any vitamin D3, calcium doesn’t get properly processed, and they have weaker bones and shells. You want your tortoise to be as healthy as possible, and UVB lighting is crucial for this.

Russian Tortoise Food & Nutrition

It may come as a surprise by tortoises need to eat to survive. Fascinating, right? What’s more, they need to eat an herbivore-based diet with as much diversity as possible. All jokes aside, Russian Tortoises aren’t any different from other tortoises.

They’ll eat grasses, leafy greens, weeds, and such things. There are some things you should avoid feeding your tortoise, like animal protein and fruits.

– Feeding

A Russian Tortoise needs leafy greens and grasses the most. This includes dandelion greens, kale, romaine lettuce, collards, endive, escarole, mustard greens, and hay. Regular weeds and plants are ideal for a tortoise but alternatively, you can feed it the above vegetation.

While they will eat fruits and meat protein, I don’t recommend it. Russian Tortoises are vulnerable to various illnesses caused by fruit and meat overdose.

Despite being omnivores and theoretically being able to digest meat, tortoises shouldn’t eat too much meat. In the wild, Russian Tortoises rarely eat critters or other living beings, so the meat is not their main diet. Plants are their primary diet, be it day or night. I recommend feeding your tortoise vitamin D3 and calcium supplements. The tortoise may not get enough from its food.

– Hydration

Tortoises don’t drink too much water. They get the necessary hydration from their food, mostly. Juicy plants and leafy greens have plenty of water for a tortoise. But they may choose to supplement their needs directly, by drinking water.

Even in the wild, tortoises often choose to drink water from puddles or lakes. I’d advise you to place a water dish in the enclosure, one shallow enough so the tortoise doesn’t get stuck inside it.

You need to clean the dish daily since tortoises may defecate in the bowl. Many tortoises soak in the water bowl instead of drinking it, to cool off. During rainy seasons and cooler periods, I recommend not using a water bowl.

It can easily make the tortoise sick if the water is too cold. Moreover, rain offers more than enough hydration for a Russian Tortoise. Even raindrops falling from leaves make up for a large part of its hydration needs.

Russian Tortoise Breeding

When mating, Russian Tortoise males fight each other to get the female’s attention. Usually, the winner turns the loser on its back and, filled with glory, walks up to the female to but heads. This is when the harassment and ramming begin. The male will pester and chase the female until either he gets bored or she gives in. If the female accepts, copulation takes place.

After copulation, the female will need to search for a proper nesting spot, in a few months. She’ll start sniffing the ground and look for a sandy surface where she can easily dig a hole.

First, though, she’ll urinate to make the ground softer, and then she’ll dig the hole. After laying the eggs, she takes off and abandons her babies. Fortunately, baby tortoises don’t need any parental care either before, during, or after hatching.

5 Interesting Facts about Russian Tortoises

  • Russian Tortoises are some of the most sociable tortoises in the world. Some have even compared them to dogs.
  • Despite their big and bulky shell, Russian Tortoises are able climbers and burrowers.
  • Russian Tortoises have a very high tolerance to extreme temperatures, especially high temperatures.
  • This tortoise can be found across Russia, Pakistan, Iran, and China.
  • Similar to cows, Russian Tortoises like to graze on pastures. If they have grass to graze on, they’ll get their fill and then go back to sleep. Rinse and repeat!


A tame and friendly tortoise that loves climbing and scavenging, the Russian Tortoise can be your life companion. It can easily live beyond 50 years if you take care of it properly. Its sociable personality makes it become quickly unafraid of its owner if you bring it food constantly.

It’ll start coming right up to you when you bring it tasty food. Make sure you don’t handle it too often, though. No tortoise likes that! Though, once in a while is just great for a tortoise.

avatar William
William is a respected pet enthusiast with expertise in reptiles and birds. With extensive experience caring for these animals, he shares his knowledge through engaging and informative articles in various publications. He is an active member of pet-related organizations, volunteering regularly at shelters and promoting animal welfare and conservation. read more...

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *