Russian Tortoises, which also go by numerous other names such as the Afghan or Horsfield’s tortoise, are one of the most readily available species to keep as pets. So naturally, you may be considering one. But how long do they typically live for and what kind of commitment could you be taking on? Here is all you need to know about the lifespan of this particular reptile.
So, how long do Russian tortoises live? Russian tortoises typically live for at least 50 years in captivity. With good care, they live often longer. Predators, natural catastrophes, and an unbalanced diet can lead to shorter lifespans – which is why they rarely reach 50 years of age in the wild. In fact, most wild tortoises fail to make it beyond 6 months due to their vulnerability.
In reality, life is very different for a captive tortoise than a wild one.
And while it can be hard to replicate their natural habitat and environment, we can afford our tortoises much greater security and help them live a much longer life.
To the point where a Russian tortoise can actually outlive us!
So you need to be sure before you commit to one of these torts that you, and your family, have what it takes to care for them long-term.
Seriously long term.
You’ll probably need to make plans for leaving your friend to a younger family member when you get old.
Nevertheless, let us explore their longevity in much greater detail to ensure you know what you need to do to ensure they reach their life expectancy, should you decide to get one.
Life Expectancy for Wild vs. Pet Russian Tortoises
The life expectancy for wild vs. pet Russian tortoises differs in favor of pet tortoises.
A pet tortoise can live from 50 to 100 years with the right care. However, wild Russian tortoises have a much lower average life expectancy (below 50 years).
This is all due to several factors which we will now discuss:
When a tortoise is less than 6 months old, its shell is still soft and easier to crush. Predators will go after baby tortoises, as they can eat through the carapace to reach the vulnerable limbs and body inside.
Even once the shell has hardened, young tortoises can fall prey to predators if they don’t know from experience how and where to hide.
Some well-known predators for tortoises are:
- Eagles and other birds of prey
Take note that dogs and cats figure on this list, so be aware of any pets you have with strong hunting instincts, especially when your tortoise is small!
Pet tortoises are, of course, protected from natural catastrophes. In nature, the unexpected can lead to premature death for a tortoise (and many other animals).
Some examples of natural catastrophes that can have disastrous consequences for a wild tortoise are:
- Forest fires and other wildfires
- Prolonged, cold winters
- Littering (for instance, campers leaving food behind that tortoises get into)
Sometimes it isn’t the catastrophe itself that affects the tortoise as much as its impact upon the environment.
For example, a hurricane that devastates vegetation can lead to less available food for the tortoises in that area.
And, of course, they can’t just dash to the next available source of food!
An Unbalanced Diet
A good diet is crucial for both wild and domestic tortoises.
In the wild, tortoises will eat whatever is available, so their diet is limited by what they can find.
If healthy food is available, they’ll eat it – but if it isn’t, they’ll go with the next best thing.
Eating food that is less than optimal will impact their overall health and can therefore shorten their lifespan.
However, your pet tortoise has its food provided, so you can help ensure their longevity by providing a varied diet (see below).
Factors Affecting Russian Tortoise Life Expectancy
Your Russian tortoise’s life expectancy will be affected by the care you give them, which means providing a suitable habitat with good food, as well as regular vet check-ups.
You’ll want to replicate a habitat that resembles what your friend would have in the wild.
The good news? It might take time to get everything in order, once you’ve got a system that works, you can focus on the maintenance, which is much simpler overall.
Wild Russian tortoises are found in arid climates such as the Mediterranean, Afghanistan, eastern and western Iran, and the north of Pakistan.
They are at home in rocky deserts or dry grasslands (called steppes) with low humidity and next to no rainfall.
The natural diet for your Russian tortoise includes dry grasses, flowers, twigs, and some fruit.
Contrary to other species of tortoises, Russian tortoises do not eat animal protein: no snails, no slugs, nothing like that.
They don’t need the extra protein – the best diet for them is high in fiber and calcium and low in protein.
What Do Russian Tortoises Need To Survive?
In order to survive, Russian tortoises need good food and fresh water.
Russian tortoises come from the drier and more arid parts of the world, without much rainfall.
They do, however, need water.
Wild tortoises will drink water as and when they find it, but for your domestic friend, you’ll want to provide a sturdy and shallow water dish.
Change the water daily, and watch when your friend is soaking – the dish should be large enough for them to climb into it fully for extra hydration.
If your tortoise doesn’t tend to soak in the water dish at least once a week, soak your friend yourself in lukewarm, clean water.
Do this once or twice a week: regular soaking helps keep the shell clean and free of bacteria that could lead to health issues later on.
Russian tortoises love their food! They will dig into their meals with gusto, eating nonstop in the summer months to prepare themselves for hibernation.
You’ll want to feed your Russian tortoise primarily greens. The bulk of your friend’s diet should be leafy plants such as:
- Turnip greens
- Dandelion greens
- Mustard greens
Remember to remove any uneaten food within a few hours so that it doesn’t spoil.
Supplement your Russian’s diet with some veggies such as:
- Sweet potatoes
- Sweet peppers
And once or twice a week, you can give them a little bit of fruit as a treat. A bit of an apple or some berries makes good treats for your friend.
Be sure that your pet gets enough calcium.
Calcium is essential for the maintenance of a healthy shell.
If you are unsure how much calcium your Russian tortoise is getting from food, check with your vet or a reptile specialist.
If you wish, you can provide a supplement in the form of calcium powder which you can sprinkle over your pet’s food once a week.
How To Tell If Your Russian Tortoise Is Getting Old
Although you won’t know your friend’s exact age unless you know their date of birth, there are some ways to tell if your Russian tortoise is getting old.
The Condition Of Their Shell
You can try counting the rings on each scute of your tortoise’s shell (the scutes are the octagonal shapes on the top of the shell).
Remember, though, that counting the rings will only give you a very rough estimate of age that can vary by as much as several decades on either side!
The rings are just part of the overall picture.
Rings don’t develop one per year: instead, they grow in times of feast and famine, which can vary from one year to the next.
Look at the overall condition of your pet’s shell.
The smoother the shell, the older your tortoise is likely to be.
Over time, the rings, bumps, and ridges on your friend’s shell will become a bit worn down due to sand and rain.
How Active Your Tortoise Is
Like people, animals tend to slow down as they get older.
If you notice your tortoise moving slower than they used to, the chances are that it’s just age.
It’s worth checking with your vet, though, to make sure there aren’t other problems such as arthritis or another illness.
Your Tortoise’s Appetite
Most tortoises will eat less as they age (again, like people).
Some tortoises can show a marked preference for more leafy greens and fewer veggies or fruit treats as they age.
If this is the case, go with your friend’s tastes: they are most likely acting on instinct.
If you do see a sudden change in diet, though, bring your pet in for a check-up.
How To Ensure A Russian Tortoise Reaches Their Life Expectancy
To ensure your Russian tortoise has the longest and happiest life possible, do your best to provide the ideal habitat, the right balance of food (see above), and regular vet check-ups.
The best habitat for a Russian tortoise is outside in a warm climate, as you can mimic their natural environment more effectively.
This doesn’t mean, however, that your friend can’t be happy indoors.
For Indoor Enclosures
Make sure the enclosure is at least 5 feet square, but make it larger if possible. The bigger, the better, as these animals are used to grazing and roaming over large stretches of land.
A glass tank or wooden terrarium both work well.
For Outdoor Enclosures
You’ll want the outdoor enclosure to be at least 3 feet by 3 feet, with walls that are 6 inches deep and at least 1 foot tall.
These tortoises enjoy digging and burrowing, and they are known to be good escape artists!
Make sure that part of the enclosure protects from the sun so that your friend can regulate their body temperature.
For Both Types of Enclosure
Make sure your pet has some form of UVB lighting for at least 12 hours a day (if you’re using a lamp indoors, put it on a timer that mimics day and night cycles).
For the substrate, these are the best ones you can get.
Provide a hide box for your friend.
Hide boxes protect tortoises from inclement weather as well as too much sun. Your pet should be able to fit its whole body inside comfortably.
Bring your friend to the vet for regular check-ups to help you ensure your pet is in the best health possible. Once or twice a year is a good idea for regular maintenance.
Russian Tortoises are long-lived. Much like their Hermann cousins!
So it would be best if you thought long and hard before you decided to get one as a pet.
Life changes, circumstances change, so do be sure that you can give the proper care to this marvelous species – not just now but well into the future.
Oh, and then there is their cost too. Don’t forget that!
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.