Caring for and Feeding a Russian Tortoise
Turtle or Tortoise?
First off, I want to explain a few differences between a turtle and a tortoise...
Turtles spend most of their time in water, whereas tortoises spend most of their time on land.
Turtles are more likely to adapt to an aquatic lifestyle when the weather gets cold, finding warm ground in the water by digging and making a nest area. Tortoises, on the other hand, will more than likely drown in deep waters and waters with a fast current.
Turtles' front feet are mostly fins, whereas tortoises have hard, scaly feed that are built to crawl across sharp rocks and sand. Tortoises often have front claws that help them dig burrows to nest in during hot weather.
Turtles have a flat shell, whereas tortoises have a rounded dome shell.
Caring for Russian Tortoises
Russian tortoises are native to the continent of Asia, more specifically in the Ukraine, Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and parts of China.
Like with more land tortoises, they tend to live up to 100 years, so before you get a Russian tortoise, make sure that you're prepared for a life-long commitment. These guys aren't something that when you're tired of caring for the you can just throw out; these guys will more than likely live longer than you.
Russian tortoises tend to grow about an average size of 4" to 10" in length.
If you decide that you're in for the commitment of caring for a Russian tortoise, you'll want to find a reputable breeder. Before you bring home a pet tortoise, you really should do all the research that your can, so that you don't have any questions about care and diet after you've got the tortoise in your home. You want to make sure that you have the enclosure already set up and your veggies and supplements ready.
When you first get a your tortoise, you want to take it to a reputable herpetological veterinarian, so that you can make sure that the tortoise is healthy. Because most Russian tortoises are actually wild caught, you want to make sure that yours is healthy, as most wild caught specimens have parasites as well as other health illnesses, but this can be true of wild caught or captive bred.
Make sure that the vet weighs the tort and does the fecal exam.
A Russian Tortoise Enclosure
Once you get a clean bill of health from your veterinarian, you'll need to make sure that you have the ideal cage setup ready. You can either purchase a plastic storage bin or a glass aquarium; if you use a storage bin, you'll want to leave the lid off for proper ventilation. It's ideal that if you have good climate, that you set up a pen outside. Russian Tortoises prefer to be outside and like large outdoor pens (at least 4' x 3').
If you prefer to keep the tortoise inside, you'll want to make sure that the tank or tub is large. Tortoises like to explore. As for the ideal size aquarium, you'll want at minimum a 75 gallon tank, and for a storage tub, you'll want at least a 50 gallon container. For babies, you can go a little smaller, but as for adult sized enclosure, you don't want to go any lower than a 75 gallon glass tank or a 50 gallon plastic container.
It's best that you take dark paper or tape and block off the bottom 10" or so so that the tortoise can't see out of the tank or tub (if the tub is clear); but doing this you can reduce stress because the tortoise will try and try to go to the other side of the enclosure walls if he can see to the other side. You can purchase colored storage bins so that you don't have to worry about taping up the bottom.
You may even consider using a 100 gallon plus, reptarium for a play-pen style cage.
There are many options for you to choose from, but the best substrate that you will want to use is a 50/50 sand and garden loam. Other options include bed-a-beast (which you can find in a compressed brick form).
You don't want the substrate to be too dry, but not overly moist either. The best way to achieve this is to pour a pan of water (about 48 ounces of water will do) into the enclosure once a week and mix up the substrate. It'll dry before the next week, but that'll be ok.
The ideal humidity is around 70%, so make sure to mist the substrate just a little to help create the ideal humidity.
You don't want to use newspaper, rabbit pellets, care fresh bedding, or alfalfa hay.
During the day, you want to have the temperature on the hot side of the enclosure around 90-95F and the cool side around 70F.
The best and most accurate way to measure the temperature is by using a digital thermometer with a probe. Without this particular type of thermometer, you tortoise may not be getting the accurate temperatures, which can lead to health concerns.
The best way to achieve accurate temperatures is by using an under tank heater, but remember that best way to measure the temperatures is by using a digital thermometer with a probe.
As mentioned above, the ideal humidity level needs to be right around 70%.
If your humidity is too high, substrate too wet, and temperatures too low, you can cause your tortoise to suffer scale rot. If you keep lower humidity levels, you'll want to soak your tortoise in warm water once or twice a week.
You want to provide both UVB lighting and regular lighting. You can easily achieve this by purchasing the UV heat bulbs. T-Rex has the Active UV-Heat that works great.
The alternative to the T-Rex Active UV-Heat or even the Capture Sun bulbs is using a UVB tube, but because they do not put off any heat, you'll want to use a clamp light as well.
You want to keep the lighting on for about 12-14 hours each day. This can easily be achieved by a simple timer.
Foods to Avoid
- All fruit (although sometimes recommended, it can lead to parasite blooms due to the sugar content)
- All grains (to include bread, pasta, etc.)
- All human food except what's been listed as "good"
- Bok Choy
- Commercial pellet diets
- Dog and cat food
- Iceberg lettuce
You want to make sure that you're not only providing a proper diet, but that you're providing proper supplements. You want to lightly dust the fresh vegetables with non-phosphorus calcium with D3, especially if you house your tortoise inside. Even if you house your tortoise outside, you should still supplement calcium daily.
The problem can arise if your tortoise gets too much calcium, as your tortoise can cause a secondary deficiency such as zinc, copper, and iodine. Too much calcium can also cause mal-absorption of fatty acids, as well as the formation of bladder stones.
You can prevent secondary health concerns by still supplementing your tortoise daily. What you can do is put a cuttlebone in the enclosure so that the tortoise can regulate his own calcium intake
Russian Tortoise Diet
You need to restrict your tortoise's diet, as captive tortoises get less exercise and they can easily overeat, which can cause rapid growth and a shortened lifespan.
It's best to feed your tortoise however much he will eat in a 20 minute period and remove anything uneaten.
You want to make sure that you provide fresh foods every day. You will want to provide a wide variety of foods as well.
Some of the greens and flowers that you will want to include in your tortoises diet include.
- Apples (the only fruit you should give your tortoise because of the high pectin content, but ONLY feed on occasion)
- Cabbage (ONLY on occasion)
- Mustard greens
- Red and green leaf lettuce
- Romaine lettuce
- Turnip greens
Plants and Flowers
- Californian Poppy escholzia
- Chrysanthemum flowers
- Cornflowers Plagiobothrys ssp
- Dayflower Commelina diffusa (flowers and leaves)
- Forsythia (flowers and leaves)
- Hen and Chicks
- Hibiscus (flowers and leaves)
- Ice Plants
- Mallow (flowers and leaves)
- Mulberry leaves
- Plantain (not the banana fruit but the weed plantago major)
- Prickly pear flowers (fruit and pads) (burn the spines off)
- Rose (flowers and leaves)
When it comes to getting plants from the garden store, make sure that you replant them for at least 1-3 months in a non-fertilized soil. You don't want your tortoise eating a fertilizer within the leaves or flowers.
You'll also want to provide a very shallow bowl of water. Make sure that the bowl is filled with fresh water daily.
Make sure that you wash the greens and veggies thoroughly, and you want to make sure that there aren't any pesticides or sprays on the veggies before you give the greens to your tortoise.
Caring for Turtles and Tortoises
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