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What is the Russian Tortoise?

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  • Written By: L.K. Blackburn
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 25 November 2016
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The Russian tortoise, also known as Horsfield's tortoise, is from the dry and arid desert regions of central Asia. Usually brown in color, the tortoise reaches up to 8 inches (20.32 cm) in length. They require a large amount of fiber in their diet and eat mostly leafy greens. Popular as a pet, the Russian tortoise is commonly bred in captivity and can live inside an appropriately sized enclosure. A healthy tortoise can live up to 50 years of age.

Fiber and calcium are the most important part of the turtle's diet. When kept as pets, calcium and vitamin D3 supplement powder should be sprinkled regularly on their food. Grains and fruit should never be given to a Russian tortoise. Instead, they should be provided daily with a fresh supply of leafy greens.

When living in the wild, the tortoises eat the majority of the food they consume in the summer months to prepare for winter hibernation. In captivity, however, a tortoise will eat a lot of food year round, resulting in improper growth if their diet is not monitored and restricted. As a result, the tortoise should not be allowed constant access to food.

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Found primarily in Uzbekistan, the Russian tortoise also lives in Afghanistan, Iran, and Northwestern China. It prefers to live in rocky deserts, sandy hillsides, and dry steppes. As pets, the tortoises are regularly shipped from these areas to countries worldwide. If they are not captive-bred, they can have parasites and should be checked out immediately by a veterinarian after purchase.

The Russian tortoise can be easily bred in captivity. Mating season is in the spring and summer months following the hibernation period, starting in March. Hibernation begins in October for tortoises that live in the wild. Russian tortoises kept as pets may not hibernate at all, but will still only breed in the summer months.

Eggs are laid by a female tortoise 1 month after fertilization. In captivity the eggs are out laid out in the open, and in nature they are placed in a secure burrow. The male has nothing to do with the eggs or the female after fertilization. Female tortoises have no interaction with their offspring after laying her eggs. The eggs will hatch within 110 days, producing babies that are up to 1.34 inches (34 mm) in length.

A large wooden box full of enough soil to burrow in is an appropriate habitat for the Russian tortoise. When living indoors, a basking spot should be created for the tortoise using a 100 watt heat lamp that can reach temperatures of 90°F (32°C). A water bowl large enough for the tortoise to bathe in should be provided for hydration.

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