(Agrionemys horsfieldii)


Turtles and Tortoises are beloved pets in households the world over. Is there any one of us who hasn’t wanted a shelled pet at one point in our lives? Unfortunately, most species have care requirements that make keeping them as pets unrealistic for many of us. Water turtles require aquatic setups that can be time consuming and expensive, and most of the common pet land turtles/tortoises grow to be quite large and as a result, require very large enclosures. Luckily there are a few of species out there that can live happily in a relatively small, terrestrial setup, and one of our favorites is the Russian Tortoise, which we are celebrating this month at Scales ‘N Tails!

The Russian Tortoise (Agrionemys horsfieldii) is a small, but rugged Mediterranean Tortoise. Their native range runs south from southeast Russia through Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Adults typically grow to a length of 6” to 8”. Wild Russian Tortoises will spend the majority of their lives in burrows, coming out a few months each year to feed and mate. These burrows are absolutely crucial to their survival as their native habitat is unforgiving, with extremely hot summers and bitter cold winters. The fact that these animals live in such a harsh environment makes them a very hardy pet. They are so hardy in captivity that they were actually sent into space on the Russian Zond 5 mission in 1968, where they circled the moon twice and returned safely to Earth!

Scales ‘N Tails highly recommends this species to anyone looking for a pet tortoise, even beginners with little to no experience keeping reptiles. They can happily live outdoors year round in the warmer southern parts of the U.S. like Las Vegas. When kept outdoors they will burrow and hibernate from fall through spring. Yearly hibernation is not critical to their health, so they also do perfectly well when kept indoors, at consistent temperatures year-round.


We recommend keeping them in a terrarium no smaller than a 40 breeder, which measures 36x18x18. They are happy on a variety of different substrates; however, we like to keep them on Zoo Med ReptiBark. The enclosure should include a hide spot large enough to fit the entire animal, we use the Extra Large Zoo Med Habba Hut, which will provide your tortoise a place to feel safe and secure. While they do not require daily water consumption, they should be provided a shallow water dish they can easily climb in and out of, like a Zoo Med ReptiRamp bowl.

As mentioned, Russian Tortoises can withstand an incredibly wide temperature range, but they are happiest when daytime temps are between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. A basking area should be provided during the day to give the animal the opportunity to warm up. This basking area must provide heat as well as UVB, which they absolutely require in order to process the calcium in their diet, which consists primarily of leafy greens. When kept outdoors they will feed primarily on broadleaf weeds like Dandelions. Animals kept indoors should be provided with fresh food daily. We feed them our reptile salad mix daily, which we constantly keep fresh and offer for sale in 8oz and 16oz containers.

If you provide the right environment for your Russian Tortoise, then you’ll be able to enjoy your pet for a very long time. Like most chelonians, they grow slowly and live long. Captive animals, when kept in the proper conditions, should live for 40 years or more!

Finally, we wouldn’t be doing our Animal of the Month justice if we didn’t make it an affordable pet option. So for the month of November, while supplies last, we will have Russian Tortoises available for the unbeatable price of $69.99! (At participating locations.) These guys typically sell for $120 or more, so if you’re interested in a new pet tortoise, there has never been a better time to get one!