The Russian tortoise goes by many names. You may even have seen them referred to as the Horsefield tortoise, the Central Asian, the Afghan, or the four-toed tortoise. Either way the tortoise species is the same. But how big do they typically get and what can an owner expect in regards to their final size? I spent some time researching this fascinating reptile and will be sharing all the information and data I collected, here with you today.
So, how big do Russian tortoises get? Russian tortoises reach a maximum length of 7 to 10 inches, with an average weight of 1-3 pounds. Males are slightly smaller than females, typically only reaching 8 inches whereas females are more likely to reach 10 inches. It takes anywhere between 15 to 20 years for these tortoises to reach their full adult size. They should be kept in an enclosure no smaller than 24″x48″ (2 feet by 4 feet).
Alongside their genetic code, there are many factors that can influence their final size, with many being a responsibility of the owner.
Diet and nutrition, health status, temperature and habitat are all those that need to be carefully thought out and carefully provided.
Thankfully, Russian tortoises are relatively easy to care for and make an excellent pet for novice tortoise keepers.
That being said they are long-lived, with an average lifespan of 50 years. You have to consider this before you go out and get one. There are not many pets, outside of some parrots, that live to this ripe old age.
One of the best aspects of owning a Russian tortoise is their personality, and they have lots of it considering their small size.
They are friendly, playful, happy to be held, and responsive; which cannot be said for all pets, or all tortoises for that matter!
Let us now take a closer look at the typical size of this particular species. We’ll also be looking at their growth rate, those factors that influence their size in further detail and somewhat importantly, how much space they need!
So be sure to keep on reading if you are seriously considering this tortoise and can set your expectations and plan accordingly.
What Is The Average Size Of A Russian Tortoise?
The average size of a Russian tortoise will depend on the gender; females are typically larger than males. This actually runs against the norm and as is typically seen in other animals.
Nonetheless, its safe to say that Russian tortoises are among the smaller tortoise species. Especially if we compare them to a Sulcata (which are well over 10x the size!)
Females generally reach up to 10″ in length, whereas males commonly reach around the 7-8″ range. Either way you can expect them to weigh around 1-3 pounds, although it has been known for some to weigh as little as 400 grams.
Russian tortoises, like many other tortoises, grow gradually and quite slowly. To begin with, they are a mere 1″ in length – very cute, but very vulnerable.
Caring for a baby Russian tortoise is similar to that of an adult Russian tortoise, as they have much the same needs.
The only significant difference is that baby Russians need higher humidity and hydration.
So, if you take on a Russian tort while they are still very young, you will need to ensure that you can provide them with adequate humidity, healthy food, and UVB to grow healthy and reach their full size potential.
If they are too dry, their shell growth will be stunted, and can even result in an irregular pyramid shell. This needs to be avoided at all costs due to the complications that arise from this.
Once you a baby Russian tort reaches 2/3 years of age, or around 4″ in length, this is when you can start transitioning them over to an adult care regimen.
How Long Does It Take For Russian Tortoises To Reach Full Size?
It can take between 15 to 20 years for Russian tortoises to reach their full size, although some continue growing up the age of 30 years old. Either way, they are always considered a small-sized tortoise.
Hatchlings typically measure at 1-1.33″ in length, and their growth is slow. For instance, a Russian tortoises will not reach their sexual maturity until at least 10 years old.
One significant aspect of a tortoises nature is hibernation; a natural cycle that can impact their rate of growth.
In the wild, Russian tortoises hibernate in deep underground burrow to survive harsh temperatures and the cold winter months.
When this occurs, their metabolic rate reduces, food intake ceases, and their immune system is depressed.
As such, diseases can occur during hibernation, and if they do develop, this will deteriorate a tortoise’s health.
An owner must therefore prevent their newly-acquired Russian tortoise from going into hibernation if they present with a pre-existing health condition.
That being said, hibernation is vital to a healthy, long-lived tortoise. So, avoidance of hibernation is only ever a last resort in an emergency.
Your vet will be able to advise here.
Hibernation is a critical time in your pet tortoises life, but you must know how to care for them during this time to help them reach their full size and potential.
Make sure that your Russian tortoise has adequate substrate and housing. The temperature must be between 4-10 degrees Celsius for a minimum of two to three months.
Its important to always remember that tortoises are better suited to dwelling in controlled temperatures.
Factors That Can Influence Growth And Full Size
There are generally five main factors that impact the final size of a Russian tortoise. These are: hibernation, diet/nutrition, health, housing, heat and light.
Let us now explore each one, starting with hibernation although we have already touched on it briefly.
As mentioned above, hibernation is a critical time in a Russian tortoise’s life, and how you care for them during this time can affect their final size.
Hibernation lasts for months, usually between October and March.
Make sure that they have adequate substrate, if you have one Russian tort, make sure their enclosure is at least one square meter, so that they can dig deep into the substrate.
Ensure that your Russian doesn’t have any food in their system when beginning hibernation.
You must reduce food to a minimal amount over two to four weeks in advance and place your tortoise in warm water to detox their system.
Diet and Nutrition
These tortoises are herbivores and have a voracious appetite for grasses, flowers and dark leafy greens.
They require a high-fiber diet consisting of the like of hay, collards, kale, mustard greens dandelion greens and watercress along with others safe and pesticide free flowers.
Flowers such as cloves, hibiscus, daisy and dandelion are great options.
These tortoises should not eat any animal protein and they need a diet that contains a sufficient amount of calcium for effective bone/shell formation and development. (We will discuss further in the health section below.)
Ideally, your tortoise should be able to graze freely on grasses, hays and edible flowers in their enclosure.
Fruits like apples and berries are generally not recommended.
Tortoises require water in shallow bowls in which they can hydrate, and it should be changed daily as tortoises tend to defecate in their water bowls.
Of course, the health of your tortoise plays a large role in their growth and development. There are some particular conditions that can cause stunted growth.
While Russian tortoises are generally robust, they can suffer from gastrointestinal parasites resulting in diarrhea and weight loss; these can even be transmitted to people so you need to be careful.
Parasites’ can be contracted from food and the environment, so it is important that you maintain a high quality of care and husbandry.
Besides, failing to do so can result in further complications, such as the development of respiratory tract infections which can occur in those housed in damp conditions or through general malnourishment.
Perhaps one of the most significant minerals on the health and size of tortoises is calcium. Its an essential mineral whereby a lot of growth disorders can arise if it is not appropriately provided or is imbalanced with phosphorous and vitamin D3.
MBD (metabolic bone disease) is perhaps the most severe example, and is often the result of inadequate levels of calcium and/or or improper UVB lighting which required to utilize and use the calcium.
Heat and Light
As mentioned above, Russian tortoises need UV light in their basking area to mimic the sun.
This will enable them to make vitamin D in their bodies. Vitamin D is essential for absorbing calcium in the diet, which is a big component of bone and shell growth, formation and development.
Thus, light sources must be on 12-14 hours a day.
If a Russian tortoise lives indoors, they will also requires both warm and cool areas.
Warmth can be provided through ceramic heat lamps in the day, with temperatures no lower than 70 degrees Fahrenheit at the cool end of the enclosure, and a basking area of 90-100 degrees Fahrenheit at the warm end.
Temperatures at night must not fall below the mid 50’s degree Fahrenheit.
Weather permitting, it’s best to house Russian tortoises outside in areas that contain tortoise-safe plants.
If you are able to do so, the minimum sized outdoor enclosure they should be kept in is 2 foot by 4 foot. This is for one single Russian tort. The walls should also be at least on foot high above the ground to prevent escape from climbing.
It also needs to have sufficient sun and shade for the reasons aforementioned above.
If weather or space does not allow for outdoor living, you can keep Russian tortoises inside. Glass aquariums work particularly well which we will explore further in the section below.
Ideal substrates include peat moss, paper-based bedding, coconut fiber, and Cypress mulch.
The substrate should be spot-cleaned every day to keep it free of fecal material and food scraps.
How Much Space Does A Russian Tortoise Need?
Russian tortoises are surprisingly curious and playful. Hence they need lots of space to move around.
Ideally, you should go as large as your space can realistically allow. Although there are some general recommendations to follow, taking the tortoise size into account and being proportionally suitable.
Generally it is advised that the enclosure be:
- 10x as long as the Russian torts’ length
- 5x as wide as the Russian torts’ width,
- 3x as high as the Russian torts’ length
But what does this mean for an enclosure?
Indoor enclosures should be at least 2 feet by 4 feet, and this roughly equates to a 50 gallon terrarium.
While outdoor enclosures should be 48″ by 48″ (or 4 feet by 4 feet). Outdoor enclosures also need a a screened cover to let the sunshine in, while providing added protection. Walls should always be high enough to prevent escape, and they should be buried at least 12 inches into the ground because these tortoises like to dig.
You should expect to pay a good amount of money on a habitat and supplies for your Russian tortoise, and it’s worth buying the best products available to give your pet the best start.
However, choosing the right enclosure can be a daunting task. You must consider how many tortoises you plan to keep and judge the size accordingly.
Russian tortoises hibernate, and so they require specific conditions to support hibernation, or they will die.
Many tortoises enjoy burrowing, and Russian torts are no exception, so you must factor this in.
Russian tortoises can live outdoors and are often happier than they could ever be indoors. The only catch is that you must live in a temperate climate.
It must not be too hot or too cold, or your pet will become ill. If the environment isn’t permitting, your tort should live indoors.
So even if you house your tortoise inside for the majority of the year, just a couple of hours outside during the summer months will do your tortoise a lot of good!
That being said, if you suspect any threat or danger to their life from being housed outside, it should be addresses or avoided altogether.
It ultimately comes down to context.
Equally, a Russian tortoise should never be housed with another species of tortoise or this could cause aggression; as is often the case if you house 2 male Russian tort’s together.
So if you did want to keep more than one tortoise you will need to strategically think about your enclosure and set up. Additional room, hiding spots, breaks etc. should be considered.
Russian tortoises are small pets with big personalities; they are friendly, playful, and engaged.
Growth is slow for these tortoises, but they live a long time and are a lifelong commitment.
Be sure to handle these creatures gently; this will tame them help them to bond with you.
To help your Russian tortoise reach their full potential, be sure to provide them with a suitable diet, living situation, heating and light.
While these torts are relatively low-maintenance, they still require proper care and attention from their owners.
Other than that if you do decide to take one, or several of these tortoises in, be sure to keep an eye on them and monitor them for any health issues or complications.
You may need to take your Russian tortoise to a vet if they display any of the following symptoms:
- Discharge from the eyes, nose, or mouth
- Soft, rough, or discolored spots on the shell
- Abnormal feces
- Sneezing, runny nose, or mouth breathing
- Overgrown beak
- Bumps or spots on the skin
Other than this, with proper care, love, support and encouragement, this particular species makes for a fantastic, small-sized, pet.
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.