Russian Tortoise - Agrionemys horsfieldii


Basic Facts

It is found in Afghanistan, Northern Pakistan, Northern and Eastern Iran, North Western China and the Soviet territory Kazakhstan.
  • Males: 6-8 inches in length
  • Females: 8-10 inches in length
Live span: In captive settings greater than 50 years with proper care.Diet: Herbivore
Puberty: The rough estimations for captive males with a SCL (Straight carapace length) of 5” and females with a SCL of around 6”.
Eggs: They typically lay 1-5 eggs, hatch in 8-12 weeks

Some reasons why Russian Tortoises make great pets
  • Great long term pets with the proper care
  • Generally hardy
  • Maintain small size even in adulthood
  • Can be kept in groups assuming no aggressive males
  • Readily available as captive bred to avoid wild caught animals

Zoonosis: Salmonella bacteria is easily spread between reptiles and humans:


  • Size
    • Tortoises need a large exercise area. Many people choose to create their own enclosures, minimum 4 ft x 4ft.
    • Enclosures need only be 8-12” high as long as it is not possible for the tortoise to climb on items to escape.
    • Aquariums are often recommended by pet shop employees. However, they are unsuitable for tortoises. Because of the shape (too tall and narrow) air circulation is poor. They are also hard to keep at the proper temperatures.
  • Bedding Material and Enclosure Props
    • Care should be taken to make sure your tortoise is not ingesting bedding material either inadvertently (attached to food) or intentionally.
    • Hide boxes should be provided that are sufficient size to make the tortoise feel protected and safe. Boxes should be provided in multiple areas to allow them to select based on temperature choice.
    • Alternative/Outdoor Housing
    • When temperatures are appropriate and maintaining throughout the night, housing tortoises outdoors allows for exposure to high quality UVA/UVB and mental/physical stimulation.
    • Outdoor enclosures should be secured from other animals entering the enclosure such as racoons and opossums, which can injure or kill the tortoise. Russian Tortoises are excellent at digging and will escape easily in a rather short period of time. Outdoor enclosures should include a “rat wall” or buried barrier at least 10-12” into the soil to block them from digging out. This barrier can be made from concrete, block, or metal/heavy plastic sheeting.
  • Full spectrum lighting- UVA/UVB
    • This is necessary for Vitamin D3 synthesis which is needed for calcium metabolism
    • These bulbs are generally effective for about 6-10 months and will need replacement afterward. Fluorescent UVB bulbs do not project UVB very far, so it is necessary to have it positioned closely - 10 inches above the basking area would suffice. Halogen and mercury vapor UVA/UVB lighting can give broad spectrum light at a greater distance than fluorescent but also produce a significant amount of heat.
    • Any plastic or glass in the aquarium hood/lid or in the light fixture will impede UV light and will need to be removed.
    • Light cycles can change throughout the year to mimic changes in day length, however it is easier to place lights on an automatic timer to assure consistency.
  • Basking lighting
    • Red lights can be used for 24hour hot spots in one area of the enclosure. These lights do not provide any UVA/UVB and should be placed a safe distance from hide boxes and props.
  • Temperature is critical for a healthy tortoise. The pen should have a cool end with the temps in the low 70's and a basking spot at 90-95°F. Night time temperature drops are needed (Low 70s-High 60s). If they are kept too cool they can't digest their food. Too warm and they stop eating.
  • Invest in a good thermometer.
  • Temperature can be maintained via an undertank heater or spot lights. Temperature should be closely monitored to determined daily maximum temperature and to assure that basking lights and UV lights are not causing the enclosure to become overheated.
  • Monitor temperatures closely during seasonal changes as they can become too hot in the summer.
  • Russian Tortoises are vegetarians and need a diverse diet of vegetables and fruits. The base of the diet should be dark greens like kale, collard greens, turnip greens, etc. Avoid spinach except in small quantities as can lead to kidney stones. Romaine lettuce and head lettuce have little to no nutritional value and should be avoided. A variety of fruits should be offered in smaller quantities.
  • Avoid avocados, onions, stone fruit pits, apple seeds, as they can cause health issues.
  • Growing grass, clovers, grated carrots and yams, endive, escarole, and small amounts of romaine lettuce. All vegetables must be washed thoroughly to remove any pesticide residue. Dandelions and other natural weeds are optimum foods, plus rose and hibiscus petals are readily eaten (watch for pesticides!). Do not use insecticides of any kind on grass, plants or trees in your yard. A shallow dish of water must be provided for drinking and soaking in both indoor and outdoor accommodations
  • One of the most important supplements is calcium. If there is a good source of UVB as with tortoises kept outdoors, a light dusting of the food with calcium daily is sufficient. Indoors use phosphorous free calcium with D3 (Rep-Cal Calcium with Vitamin D3).

When should my Russian Tortoise see the Veterinarian?
  1. Any new pet should be examined by a veterinarian, then have yearly check-ups with a veterinarian as long as they are healthy
  2. Below are some common problems seen in Russian Tortoise and recommendations of when to see your veterinarian. If you are ever concerned about the health of your pet do not hesitate to call.
  3. Common problems with Russian Tortoises and Signs to watch for
  4. Metabolic bone disease (MBD), also known as soft shell syndrome. It is a serious but preventable disease brought on by deficiencies of calcium and/or vitamin D3. Early cases are treatable but advanced cases may be too difficult to overcome. It is possible that MBD may have incurred other diseases due to poor diet and conditions.
  5. The shell may be soft in certain areas or all around and may appear deformed. Areas of white discoloring may develop on the shell and shell rot may take hold. The tortoise may refuse to eat or appear weak and lethargic. Tremors and reflex problems can also be symptoms.
  6. Tortoises are especially susceptible to respiratory ailments. Runny or bubbly nose, loss of appetite and gasping are symptoms of upper respiratory tract disease (URTD) or pneumonia. More tortoises die from pneumonia than from any other cause.
  7. Shell ulceration/Rot: can form when there is an injury to the shell in which the damaged area becomes infected. The initial injury could be minor and not easily noticeable or could be very obvious. It may have occurred in the form of an abrasion, scratch or even a burn. If left untreated or improperly cared for, this lesion could be penetrated and lead to a number of diseases such as fungal and bacterial infections and septicemia. Poor habitat conditions greatly encourage shell rot development.
  8. Trauma: fall, drop, or animal attack (Dogs mistake turtles as chew toys)
  9. Male Russian Tortoises can be aggressive to females and other males. They will bit at the legs of the other and can cause injuries.

This list contains the most common problems seen in pet Russian Tortoises. If your Tortoise is not eating, is acting lethargic, or if you are at all concerned call your veterinarian, they can assist you in determining if and when your pet should be seen.
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