Horsfield tortoise, Agrionemys horsfieldii, care sheet
Horsfield tortoises, also known as Russian tortoises or four-clawed tortoises, originate from central Asia. They typically inhabit hot, dry, arid regions close to the desert and occasionally in mountainous environments. In nature they roam harsh environments for several months of the year, slipping into brumation (reptile hibernation) during the colder season, where they bury down, remaining inactive.
In captivity, they don’t require a brumation process in quite the same way, as the temperature and food intake is controlled, although your tortoise may still eat and move a little less than usual.
Horsfield's are a terrestrial species, spending much of their day basking and foraging to satisfy their herbivorous diet. They are also capable of burrowing and have some minor climbing ability for example over rough rocky terrain. They are a solitary living species and do best when kept this way in most circumstances.
Tortoises naturally roam and forage long distances throughout their day, so it is essential that your enclosure is large enough to suit their size and activity needs. The first 10 years of your pets life is when most of their growth will occur but although this sounds like a long time period, preparation is key in keeping these species suitably.
A garden, where your tortoise can roam and forage on grasses and weeds is also a great exercise as well as nutritional opportunity, though there needs to be consideration of the weather conditions and the time periods your tortoise is away from UV and optimum basking temperature. Tortoises shouldn't be kept outside long term, even through the summer months.
Heating and lighting
Horsfield tortoises will require a basking temperature of around 32°C throughout the day. Heating and lighting for a table will be different from that of a vivarium but further advice is available from our staff for your specific enclosure type. For example, a basking D3 bulb may be used for a table, which includes heat, UVA and UVB all in one bulb.
These types of bulbs cannot be thermostatically controlled and should be attached to a bracket leaving room for movement of the bulb, and monitored with an accurate thermometer. When the heat and UV are in separate bulbs like in a vivarium, the heat bulb would be safer thermostatically controlled to prevent overheating.
Your tortoise should also always have a distinct basking area and cooler escape area, which can be mid-high 20’s. At night it is safe for your tortoise to be kept at room temperature with no bulbs used, so long as this doesn't fall below 15 - 20°C. This drop in temperature is natural in the wild habitat of your tortoise and is relevant in creating night and day periods.
UVB is also a necessity for your tortoise. Your tortoise will require a high-level UVB tube or the basking D3 as previously mentioned. This UVB is essential in metabolising key nutrients such as calcium, preventing metabolic bone disease and deterioration of shell health. UVB tubes also contain UVA which is essential in your animal’s eyesight.
Depending on your enclosure type and the brand of the bulb, your UV will need changing every 6 - 18 months, as after this period your UV will be ineffective and will not benefit your animal. UV should be used in a 12-hour cycle, being switched off at night to allow for a distinguishable day and night period.
Tortoises are often kept away from the UV bulb too long when allowed to roam all day, and this can be just as detrimental as not providing the UV at all.
Tortoises should have constant access to a shallow water dish in their enclosure. Remember their shape means they are unable to lift their heads too high or climb over the edge of a deep bowl. Tap water can be used in their dish and should be changed daily as they will often use this for bathing as well as drinking.
You can also offer your tortoise a bath every now and then for extra bathing opportunity, shedding aid and rehydration. Ensure water used for bathing is warm but not too hot, also as the water cools your tortoise will lose heat.
Feed your tortoise solely on vegetation, incorporating a good mix of leafy greens and garden weeds as well as some vegetables as an occasional treat. This kind of diet tends to be nutritionally richer and more natural to your tortoise than commercially available tortoise pellet.
Guides are readily available online and in books for tortoise safe vegetables, garden greens and fruit, and should be researched thoroughly before anything is provided as there are a few items that could be detrimental to your tortoises health.
You will also need to supplement the diet of your tortoise with calcium and multivitamin which come in the form of powders to be dusted on top of any food provided. The Calcium should be provided 5 days in a week with the multivitamin being provided for the other 2 days. Both are essential in keeping your tortoise healthy.
Cuttlebone is another great way of providing calcium and even assists in keeping down the tortoise’s beak as it chews, but providing this, however, doesn't mean the powder isn't needed.
Hides, as well as other décor, should be available to your tortoise. Although they cannot climb too high, they will benefit from tunnels, hills, foliage, rocks and bark pieces for mental stimulation and exercise. These will also help your tortoise shed and, rocks especially will prevent extensive nail growth. Changing things around every now and then keeps your tortoise interested and active.
- Vivarium / Table
- Heat source
- Thermostat (bulb dependent)
- UVB Lighting
- Water bowl
- Door lock/ wedge
- Calcium and Multivitamin
- Cleaning Equipment
- Cuttlebone / tortoise block
Species Fact File
Name: Horsfield tortoise
Scientific name: Testudo horsfieldii
Lifespan: 80 + years
Length: 7 - 10 inches
Temperament: Usually Docile, timid
Origin: Central Asia
Vivarium Size: 5ft x 3ft Minimum
Temperature gradient: 20 - 32°C
Humidity: 40 - 50%
Lighting: High-level UVB