Russian Tortoise Care Sheet

Russian Tortoise Care
Russian Tortoise Care, photo by margaretglin


  • Scientific Name: Testudo [Agrionemys] horsfieldii
  • Lifespan: Russian Tortoises can live for more than 40 years in captivity.
  • Handling: They are pretty hardy species and don’t mind being handled too much, but don’t over do it either. Like any other reptile, they can become stressed easily and should be handled only on occasion. Also, try to avoid letting little kids handle your Russian tortoise, as many kids get scared easily when the tortoise’s head pops out or in, and can accidentally drop them.
  • Size: Approximately 8 – 10 inches.
  • Care: Easy
  • Community: The answer varies, depending on the gender of the tortoises and the size of the enclosure. Normally, two females will get along fine if kept in a large enough enclosure, while two males will fight for dominance by chasing, bumping shells, and on occasion biting. Russian Tortoises do perfectly fine on their own and do not need any companionship.
  • Lifestyle: Diurnal, active during the day.


Enclosures for Russian tortoises should be kept quite big. Don’t expect to house one of these tortoises in a normal 10 gallon fish tank like most pet stores do. That’s not a proper setup for a Russian tortoise of which can grow up to almost a foot long. Tortoises kept in small enclosures become restless and spend much of the day trying to get out of their enclosure. Pens for one or two adults should be at least 2 feet by 4 feet. If kept outside (in warm weather), enclosure walls should be set into the ground at least 8 – 12 inches to avoid escapes from the holes that your Russian tortoise(s) may dig. Having that being said, enclosure walls should also be at least 12 inches or higher above ground.  If building things isn’t something your good at, then you may want to go and buy a large bin to put your Russian tortoise in. I am not talking about regular home depot 5 qt sterilite bins. I am talking about those large plastic pool bins that they usually sell at wal-mart or toys-r-us as kids swimming pools. These bins are made quite large and are definitely suitable for a Russian tortoise. However, if kept outdoors, just remember, there’s no type of drainage for these bins, so make sure to bring it inside if it starts to rain.


Russian tortoise enclosures are pretty basic. They only need a few things to thrive.

  1. A large water dish for your Russian tortoise to soak in and drink from. This should be deep enough so your tortoise can wet a good portion of its shell, but not so deep that it can drown itself. You are going to want to place this on the cool side of the enclosure as a heat lamp will dry it out faster and warm up the water, not allowing your Russian tortoise to freshen up with cool water.
  2. A hide box should also be located at the cool end of the enclosure to allow your tortoise to hide when threatened or scared. Your tortoise may even use the hide to sleep in most of the time. Make sure to use a sturdy hide, as Russian tortoises love to re-decorate their enclosures by pushing everything around.
  3. You may also include a variety of toys that your tortoise may enjoy such as rocks, tunnels, and logs that your Russian tortoise can climb over, under, and through.

When decorating your Russian tortoises enclosure, it is very important that you do not over-decorate the enclosure as these types of tortoises need lots of room to move around in.

Lighting & Heating

Lighting is very important for Russian tortoise. Without proper lighting, your Russian tortoise will have high risks of developing illnesses and diseases like metabolic bone disease which is painful and incurable. With proper lighting, your Russian tortoise will live a nice and healthy life. All you need are two types of lights which are mentioned below.

Basking Bulb

This bulb is to provide heat for your Russian tortoise when he decides to bask. Depending on where you live and the temperatures being held there, you will need to figure out which kind of heat bulb you will be needing. There are different wattage’s that give off different temperatures. Usually 75 – 100 watts will do the trick. If you live somewhere cold, you might want to get a basking bulb with 150 watts.

UVB Bulb

This bulb is very important for the growth and health of your Russian tortoise. The best bulb that most reptile enthusiasts may agree on is the reptisun 10.o made by zoomed. When looking for UVB bulbs, try to get  a tube version and not a coil version. Tube versions are overall better for your Russian tortoise as they cover more area of the enclosure, last longer, and are better for the eyes of your Russian tortoise.


Note: UVB bulb must be present throughout their entire life and must be replaced every 6-7 months. UVB rays are known to diminish after this time period.


If you can give your Russian tortoise some outdoor time, take advantage of the natural sunlight. The natural sun is better than any bulb you can buy at any pet store. But make sure the temperatures and environment is safe for your tortoise. Be cautious and aware of predator birds and rodents.


When measuring temperatures, it’s best to use digital thermometers. Dial thermometers tend to give off inaccurate measurements. 

Day Time

Cool side: 70 – 75 °F

Warm side: 85 – 95 °F / 95 – 105 °F for an adult

Night Time

No lights are necessary. The temperatures should be between 60 – 72 °F. If you decide to house your Russian tortoise indoors and the temperatures go extremely below 60 °F, I would suggest using a ceramic heat emitter, as this will provide enough warmth for your Russian tortoise to sleep comfortably.

Feeding & Diet

Russian tortoises are leaf eaters, but don’t try feeding the leaves you find outside in your backyard to your tortoise unless you know for sure that they are edible and free of any pesticides. Their main diet will be made up of kale, collared greens, turnip greens, and dandelions. STAY AWAY from iceberg lettuce. Feeding iceberg lettuce to a reptile is almost every reptile owners biggest mistake.  Little do they know that iceberg lettuce has no nutritional value whatsoever and causes a reptile to have the runs.


Humidity levels should be between 20 – 50%. You can achieve this by simply putting a bowl of water into your Russian Tortoises enclosure and misting the enclosure once in the morning and once in the evening. You can easily measure the humidity percentages by using a digital hygrometer (humidity gauge). Dial hygrometers tend to give off inaccurate measurements.


Choose a water bowl big enough for your Russian tortoise to submerge itself into the water when he needs to. Make sure it’s only deep enough for your tortoise to simply soak it’s shell without drowning itself. This will also allow your Russian tortoise to drink and hydrate when needed. Water bowls should be changed out every other day to reduce the chance of bacterial build up and dirty water.


Russian Tortoises need a substrate that they will be able to dig and burrow in. The best choice of substrate to use for a Russian tortoise is a mix of 50/50 between play sand and topsoil or a mix of 50/50 coir and play sand. These two substrate mixtures allow for your tortoise to burrow easily and allow for humidity levels to increase.


However, do not over spray the substrate as you would not want humidity levels to increase too much, or respiratory infections may occur.


Note: The information on this Russian tortoise care sheet is not a substitute for veterinary care.


    • Hello Kelly,
      I’m glad you found the care sheet helpful. If you ever have any questions, please feel free to ask.

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