Russian Tortoise Lifespan – Everything You Need To Know

Having gotten its own genus Agrionemys, the Russian tortoise is still commonly referred to as Testudo horsfieldii. It also goes by the names the Afghan, the Horsfield’s, or the Steppe tortoise.

In the wild, these tortoises are primarily found in Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, southeastern Russia, and Iran. They prefer to live in harsh, arid areas where there are sandy steppes and also in grassy areas close to springs where there are rocky and hilly terrains. They do well at elevations as high as 7,000 feet.

The Russian Tortoise averages five-eight inches long and have a flat, roundish, olive or yellow-green carapace (top part of the shell).

If you’re looking to pet the Russian Tortoise, one main question you may ask is; how long do Russian tortoise live?

Generally, the average lifespan of a Russian tortoise is 30 to 40 years, but this depends on several things, which we’ll discuss in this lengthy guide. However, the Russian tortoise may live more than half a century, depending on the care it gets.

There’s no definite lifespan of the Russian tortoise as there’re limited scientific studies about it, but in general, its lifespan, as we’ve mentioned above, is influenced by several environmental factors, which we discuss below.

Environmental Factors Affecting Tortoise Lifespan

Let’s start by discussing the risk factors that can end the life of a tortoise in the wild:

1.     Predators

Any animal that wants to eat a tortoise or do harm to it can be considered a predator. In the wild, it’s always the battle of the fittest, and you can imagine how disadvantaged a tortoise is compared to other running prey.

Some of the well-known tortoise predators include raccoons, eagles, crows, opossums, dogs, cats, eagles, snakes, and skunks.

However, the good thing is that tortoises have their own defense mechanism. After all, if this weren’t the case, they would have become extinct by now. Although their defense mechanism is not the best, it still helps most of them stay protected.

A predator can terminator a tortoise’s life in just minutes, with the most vulnerable tortoises being the young, inexperienced ones as they do not know how to defend or hide well. This is why their average lifespan is lower than the maximum years they can live.

Tortoise predators know that young tortoises are easy to attack, which makes them easy prey.

2.     Natural Catastrophes

Of course, in addition to the predators, a wild Russian tortoise faces other life-threatening dangers, including natural catastrophes, wildfires, prolonged winters, tornados, etc.

The most unfortunate part about these natural catastrophes is that they not only directly endanger a tortoise’s life but also their source of food. For example, a tornado can destroy the entire vegetation leaving a tortoise in an area without food for some time.

In addition, pollution also affects the lifespan of a tortoise. For example, if people camp in an area with tortoises and they throw litter on the ground, and the tortoise eats it, they may end up dying if the little is toxic, thereby cutting short its lifespan.

We can list a lot of random factors that endanger tortoise in the wild, but since our main focus here is a pet Russian tortoise, let’s stop with examples now as you have an idea.

Let’s talk about environmental factors that determine the lifespan of a pet Russian tortoise.

Pet Russian Tortoise

The good thing with Russian tortoises in captivity is that they don’t have to deal with the predators and catastrophic factors affecting the wild tortoise in the wild. However, they have a different set of factors that can drastically influence their lifespan. 

In the below sections, we’ll address these factors as how to take care of Russian Tortoise.

1.     Caging

We’ve already mentioned that the Russian tortoise likes to live in arid areas, and therefore the best way to raise it is in an outdoor enclosure where the environment is warm. For one or two adults, make the pens at least two feet by four feet. 

The enclosure walls should be 6-12 inches deep as these tortoises tend to dig deep. They should also be 12 inches or higher above the ground.

Keep large rocks in the corners to prevent these tortoises from digging out, as Russian tortoises are known to be burrowers. This is often the case if there are extreme temperatures – when temperatures are low or high, these tortoises tend to go underground for insulation. 

It’s essential to keep underground hide boxes where they can get into to stabilize their temperatures. The hide boxes will help reduce their burrowing. There should be shaded grassy areas that are regularly watered to keep the tortoises cool.

When in their pens, Russian tortoise will try to eat any plant around. They prefer wide-leafed weeds and will only eat grass as the last option. Ensure the plants growing in their enclosure are safe for these tortoises.

For those who can’t house Russian tortoises’ outdoors, there is an option to house them indoors. Make sure to cage them in large plastic bins, small plastic pools, or stock tanks. You can keep one or two adults in a five square feet enclosure with sidewalls measuring eight inches or higher. In fact, the more space you have, the better. 

Russian tortoise babies can be caged in smaller housing, but as they graduate to the juvenile stage, they should be transferred to a bigger cage. Keep in mind that tortoises in small enclosures can become restless and will spend most of their day trying to getting out of their cage.

For the substrate, a combination of dirt or a mixture of sand and fine coconut coir or peat moss will work fine. Avoid sand-only surfaces as it makes it hard for the tortoise to move around since their feet tend to go under with every step.

You can also include a nature-like environment by placing a few flat rocks in their enclosure to help the tortoises file down their nails and give them a cleaner surface for eating their food. 

Russian tortoises are climbers, and thus giving them that opportunity in captivity will help keep them busy.

2.     Lighting and Temperature Requirement

If the Russian Tortoise enclosure is outdoors and is allowed to burrow, then there’s no need to take care of their temperatures as they can control themselves. You don’t need to provide additional heat sources unless the winters are too cold.

As long as they dig burrows, they can handle the high temperatures of the summer. Keeping the tortoise outdoor when temperatures are over 100 degrees will be torture. Russian tortoises like it when the temperatures are between 60 degrees and 90 degrees, but they’ll also be active in the midsummer when temperatures are not as hot.

During the winter, Russian tortoises hibernate if you allow them to dig a burrow before the winter hits. You may also find them hibernating during the fall.

Overall, they tend to bed down in the extremes of both hot and cold temperatures. If you have them indoors, maintain the temperatures between 60 degrees and 80 degrees. You should reserve an area where they can access heated overhead light with a temperature range of 90 degrees to 100 degrees.

UV light is important for the health of all animals, including tortoises, and it comes in two necessary forms – UVA and UVB radiation waves. UVA rays stimulate appetite and instill natural instincts and behaviors. On the other hand, UVB rays help in the absorption and metabolism of calcium and phosphorous to help improve bone health.

Therefore, make sure to provide UVB light to your indoor pet to help their bodies absorb and process calcium in their diets. This will help them grow stronger bones and shells. 

There are plenty of options in the market when it comes to UV bulbs; just make sure the bulbs you choose provide sufficient radiation and heat. Keep in mind that you should replace the bulbs every four to six months unless the output is still sufficient. 

The distance of the UVB light source also affects the intensity of radiation, which is why you should allow your pet to get within 12 inches of the UVB light sources. However, despite the sufficient nature of the artificial UV light you provide, nothing beats the UV sources from the sun. Therefore, make sure to have supervised outdoor moments during the warm summer days.

If you maintain stable temperatures for your indoor pets during winter, Russian tortoise will not have a reason to hibernate. After all, it’s not a must that they hibernate. They only hibernate to escape the extreme of cold and hot temperatures. During the night, tortoises can handle temperatures as low as 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Indoors, keep lights on for 12-14 hours a day, and turn off all heat and light sources at night.

3.     Food and Water

In the wild, the Russian tortoises feed on succulent and herbaceous vegetation, including twigs, flowers, wild fruits, and grass. Therefore, in captivity, their best diet is one that’s as close as possible to their natural diet, which has high fiber, is calcium-rich, and has low protein. 

Keep in mind that Russian tortoises do not eat animal protein, so don’t feed it with meat or animal products.

Ideally, if there are edible plants in their enclosure, the better. However, in most cases, they’ll feed on the plants in the enclosure down to the roots. To solve this, make sure to grow an assortment of edible plants around their enclosure in a pesticide-free way, and feed them to your tortoises.

The Russian tortoises will eat virtually all the foods you throw at them, which is why you should be cautious not to overfeed them as they can become overweight in captivity. If you notice them starting to look plump when in their shell, cut back on their meals.

Grass hays such as brome, timothy, orchard grass, etc., have good fiber content. Virtually all the leafy greens you eat at a grocery store will be ideal for your Russian tortoise. Just ensure they provide varying levels of nutrition. 

Kale, spinach, watercress, mustard greens, collard greens, dandelion, parsley, Swiss chard, spring mix, romaine, and endive are all excellent foods for your tortoise. Limit the amounts for spinach, Swiss, and kale.

Clovers (bluegrass, fescue, common Bermuda, rye, and timothy), hibiscus, strawberry, dandelion, apple, endive, blackberry, mallows, honeysuckle, gazania, petunias, escarole, roses, sedums, parsley, and nettle are all good varieties of weeds you can feed your tortoise.

Fruits are not readily available in the wild and thus should only be given as treats – you shouldn’t feed fruits in excess or as a food choice.

When it comes to giving your tortoise water, place the water in small dishes. Shallow, low-sided dishes are better than big bowls as your pets will not be able to get their feet in them.

If your tortoise is outdoor where there is regular rainfall and are feeding on succulent leaves and puddles, then you don’t have to provide water for them, especially during cooler times. However, if it’s dry season, offering them water is a must for their hydration.

When caged indoors, soak them outside in shallow water once or twice a week for about 30 minutes for them to hydrate. In most cases, they tend to defecate immediately you put them in the water, which is why you shouldn’t put bowls of water in their enclosure.

Russian tortoise babies and juveniles need more water than an adult tortoise. Therefore, soak them at least three times a week for 10-15 minutes.

4.     Supplementation

Russian tortoise in captivity may not get all the minerals they need for growth, so supplementation is essential once in a while. One of the most critical minerals they lack is calcium, which is why supplementing with calcium is important.

Make sure you buy calcium powder from renowned brands and ensure the product doesn’t contain vitamin D3 or phosphorus. Sprinkle the powder onto their food once daily for baby and juvenile tortoise, and 2-3 times a week for adults.

Multivitamins are important to promote good health. Find a reputable brand that sells quality multivitamins for reptiles and sprinkle them on the food once a week. Take caution not to overdose multivitamins as this can be harmful to your pets.

Common Problems Affecting Russian Tortoises and How to Keep These Pets Healthy

Russian tortoises are great beginner pet tortoises as they are hardy creatures with minimal health issues. As long as you’re providing them with a healthy environment that has basic requirements and feeding them right, you’re most likely to have an easy time keeping your tortoise healthy and happy.

However, despite their healthy nature, it is crucial to be aware of illnesses they may contract. Some of the common signs you should keep an eye on include changes in behaviors and appetite. These are the first signs that indicate an illness might be developing.

Some of the problems affecting Russian tortoise include:

1.     Chipped or Broken Beaks

A tortoise’s beak usually wears out naturally when it gnaws on a bone or flat rock. If the beak chips or breaks, it takes some time to rebuild itself. However, you may need to contact your vet if the beak is growing back abnormally.

2.     Abrasions and Cuts

Russian tortoises can suffer from cuts when trying to burrow or climb rocks, and the best way to attend to these cuts is by cleaning them using lukewarm water and mild soap. If the wound doesn’t get any better, you may want to seek veterinary help.

3.     Penile Prolapse

This is a problem male tortoise face, and the good thing is that it’s treatable at home, especially if it’s a minor issue. However, if the prolapse is severe, you may need to seek the help of your vet.

A minor prolapse can be treated by soaking the tortoise in lukewarm sugar water or saline solution. If, after several home treatments, the tortoise is not able to push the tissues back in place on its own, you may need to make an appointment with your vet as soon as possible.

4.     Long Toenails

Since a tortoise in captivity is in an environment with smooth surfaces, it is not possible for their nails to get worn down and thus grow too long. You should trim the nails once in a while, but be careful not to cut them quickly as it can be painful. Toenails on the front legs tend to be longer than those on the back leg and thus should be maintained that way.

Common Ailments Affecting Russian Tortoise

Here are some more severe health issues that majorly affect Russian tortoise:

1.     Shell Rot

This is an infectious disease that’s majorly caused by fungus or bacteria. In most cases, bacteria or fungus gets into their body through a scrape, lesion, or cut on their shell. If left untreated, shell rot can infect the bloodstream; a condition called septicemia.

Some of the indicators of shell rot include white powdery, flaking patches, or pit on the shell. If not treated early, it may eat away a major part of the shell.

2.     Respiratory Infections

Respiratory issues are majorly caused by low temperatures, bacteria, and stress, all of which lowers the tortoise’s immune system. Some of the signs of respiratory illnesses include mucous discharges from the mouth or nose, wheezing, or breathing out of the mouth (severe illness). 

If your tortoise has a respiratory illness, you need to seek veterinary assistance as soon as possible for them to get antibiotics, which may be given through injections or nose. In the meantime, raise the temperatures in its enclosure to help boost its immune system. Also, you may need to keep it hydrated.

Don’t wait until the illness has become severe. If caught early, your tortoise will recover fast instead of when the respiratory illness has become severe.

3.     Internal Parasites

The most common intestinal parasites are worms and protozoa and are most common with imported and wild-caught tortoises. Tortoise in captivity can also get intestinal parasites.

Roundworms are the most common, and signs of these worms are usually diarrhea, lethargy, vomiting, and a lack of appetite. A fecal test can easily detect roundworms, and it’s easy to treat them.

Protozoa can also attack your pet. Some signs of the presence of protozoa include vomiting, lack of appetite, diarrhea, lethargy, and dehydration.

4.     External Parasites

Russian tortoises are also susceptible to parasites such as mites, flies, and ticks, especially if their enclosure is not hygienic enough. If left untreated, these parasites can invite other diseases.

  • Ticks majorly come from imported tortoises or those that are caught in the wild. You’ll find ticks on the tail, upper legs, or neck area.
  • Flies are usually present when the tortoise has cuts and abrasions. They tend to lay eggs on the wounds. Make sure to treat the cuts to prevent flies from laying eggs on the wound.
  • Mites can also invade your tortoise enclosure and affect your pet. It can be hard to deal with mites, but if you find an effective treatment, you can easily eliminate them. Make sure to use a safe solution on your tortoise.

5.     Calcium Deficiency

Calcium is an essential mineral in the formation of strong bones and shells. If your Russian tortoise is not getting enough calcium or not absorbing enough calcium from its diet, then the problem will be visible such as having abnormal color on the legs and shell. 

Leave a cuttlebone in its enclosure to reduce the risk of the metabolic bone disease problem.

6.     Empty Gut Syndrome

After treatment with antibiotics, you may notice undigested food in your tortoise poo. This is mainly because antibiotics have wiped out good bacteria in the gut. You can rectify this by giving your tortoise probiotic supplements or yoghurt.

7.     Pyramidal Growth

Pyramiding is whereby the shell grows vertically instead of horizontally. This is common in tortoises that feed on too much protein or those suffering from calcium deficiency. Also, if there are low humidity levels in the enclosure or your pet is not hydrated enough for some time, they may develop pyramids. 

Pyramiding is a common problem for tortoises in captivity. Make sure not to overfeed your tortoise or feed it a lot of proteins.

Frequently Asked Questions About Russian Tortoise

How Does Living in Captivity Affect My Tortoise’s Lifespan?

Generally, tortoise living in captivity tend to have a longer lifespan than those in the wild. This is majorly due to optimal diet and lower stress levels.

Stress plays a major role in the mortality of the Russian tortoise. When stressed, Russian tortoises tend to suffer from a low immune system, and their bodies tend to age faster. In the wild, stress is caused by predators, harsh weather conditions, and lack of quality food, all of which are controlled and taken care of when in an enclosure at home. 

Lower stress results typically in longer life.

Diet also plays a significant role in ensuring tortoises live longer. Food is not in plenty in the wild, and there are instances when tortoises can go for days without enough food. When in captivity, tortoises will be living their best life as there is plenty of quality food available for them daily. Also, they are able to hydrate frequently.

If you feed your tortoise right, keep it in a hygienic condition, and observe all the basic requirements when raising it, your pet will be with you for a long time.

How Can I Know the Age of a Russian tortoise?

It is hard to estimate the age of a tortoise, especially when they are past the baby and juvenile stage, but if you’re getting it from a breeder or pet store, you can ask around. Otherwise, you can’t tell the age of a tortoise by just observing it.

Fun Fact – Which Are the Animals with the Longest Lifespan?

The animal kingdom has some creatures that have exceeded the absolute limit of human beings’ lifespan, which is said to be between 140 and 160 years.

Here are the five of the longest-living animals in the world today:

Hydra. These are a group of invertebrates with soft bodies resembling jellyfish. They have the potential to live forever as they don’t show signs of deterioration. Primarily made of stem cells, hydra regenerates through cloning or duplication.

Turritopsis dohrnii, also called immortal jellyfish, have the potential to live forever. They start their life as larvae, then proceed to the seafloor and later to polyps.

Glass sponge (10,000+ years). Sponges are like corals and they can for live thousands of years.

Black coral. Corals resemble underwater plants and rocks; the difference is that they are made of polyps. They continually multiply to grow bigger and have lived for over 4,000 years.

Ocean quahog clam (500+ years). Inhabiting the North Atlantic Ocean, this saltwater species can live for over 500 years.

Other long-living creatures include tubeworm, Greenland shark, freshwater pearl mussel, rougheye rockfish, and bowhead whale.


That’s all for today. To conclude this guide, we can say that a Russian tortoise can live for many years depending on how you manage their diet and stress levels.

Take good care of your tort and watch it stay with you for more than half a century.

Recent Posts