Horsfield tortoise, Agrionemys horsfieldii

A friendly and easy to care for reptile - the Horsfield tortoise

At a glance...
  • Horsfield tortoises are an excellent first-time reptile
  • Friendly and easy to take care of
  • Stunning shells characterised by dark areas in each ring
Collection only
Price Match

Do Horsfield tortoises make good pets?

Horsfield tortoises, also known as Russian or four-clawed tortoises are one of the most popular reptiles kept as pets in the UK. They have a wide natural distribution spanning central Asia, but all of our Horsfield tortoises are captive bred in the UK. Horsfield tortoises are very tame although they don’t tend to enjoy being suspended in the air, so it is better to interact with them whilst roaming and feeding rather than traditional handling. When kept in pairs they can become competitive over resources, often leading to one individual becoming stressed due to being outcompeted, so this species is best kept alone.

What type of enclosure should a Horsfield tortoise have?

As with many other tortoise species, Horsfield tortoises are prone to developing respiratory infections in low-ventilated areas, due to this, it is recommended to keep them in an open-topped tortoise table rather than an enclosed vivarium. Vivariums can be used for them, although it is less recommended, but additional measures should be taken to increase the ventilation, such as drilling holes through the top panel.

As they naturally roam large areas, their enclosure size should be quite large, for a fully grown adult we recommend an enclosure size of 150 x 90cm (5 x 3ft), but younger individuals can be kept in smaller enclosures whilst they are still growing. At Swell Reptiles, we do not stock any tables or vivariums large enough for a fully grown Horsfield tortoise, however, we offer many tortoise tables that will suit your tortoise for years whilst they are still growing. In most instances, custom-built tables are required for fully grown individuals. We stock a range of Tortoise Starter Kits suitable for young and growing Horsfield tortoises.

What heating and lighting do Horsfield tortoises need?

Horsfield tortoises are best kept with a basking temperature between 30-32°C (86-89°F), and a cool end temperature between 22-25°C (71-77°F) to allow them to regulate their own body temperature. They also require medium-high levels of UVB, best suited to a UVI between 3-4, this will help to ensure good bone and shell growth, and without it, they can develop various health issues.

When using an open-topped table, heat and UVB can be provided from a single source, a mercury vapour basking lamp, the ideal height to produce a UVI of 3-4 can differ between brands, so it is always worth checking the product packaging or even using a Solarmeter to test this. You will usually have a bit of play with how high you can suspend the lamp, which helps to adjust the temperature as these cannot be controlled by a thermostat.

If you opt for a vivarium for your Horsfield tortoise, your heating and lighting will need to be provided from separate sources, as mercury vapour lamps are likely to overheat in enclosed spaces due to them not being compatible with thermostats. Heating is best provided with an overhead heating system such as a heat bulb and dimming thermostat or ceramic heater and pulse thermostat.

The UV lighting, however, must be tailored to the distance between the light and the top of the tortoise’s shell. If the light fixture will be between 30-40cm (12-15”) above the shell, an Arcadia ProT5 Kit - Forest 6% is a good option, however, if the fixture will be 40-60cm (15-24”) from the tortoise’s shell, an Arcadia ProT5 Kit - Desert 12% would be required.

Which substrates are good for Horsfield tortoises?

At Swell Reptiles, we recommend the use of a sandy substrate, such as ProRep Tortoise Life, or ProRep Tortoise Life Bio which is tailored to the use of live plants and bioactivity. Loose, sandy substrates such as these will assist with humidity levels whilst also providing burrowing opportunities which is part of a Horsfield tortoise’s natural behaviour.

How do I decorate a Horsfield tortoise’s vivarium?

One of the most important and functional pieces of decor required for a Horsfield tortoise is a shallow water dish that they are able to climb into for hydration and soaking, a good example of a suitable dish would be the ProRep Tortoise Pool. Along with this, a shallow feeding dish is also important to prevent ingestion of substrate when feeding. Many tortoise tables have inbuilt hiding areas, but if you do not have this, a wide-opening hiding cave or two, such as the Exo Terra Tortoise Cave will be highly beneficial to reduce stress levels.

Although Horsfield tortoises are not known for their climbing ability, they will appreciate enrichment in the form of tunnels, hills, foliage, rocks and bark pieces. The harder pieces of decor such as cork bark or rocks will also assist your tortoise during their shed cycle and to help prevent extensive nail growth which can lead to health issues. It is important to switch it up from time to time, and move around your decor adding or removing pieces to keep your Horsfield tortoise stimulated.

What do Horsfield tortoises eat?

Horsfield tortoises feed solely on vegetation, with a good mix of leafy greens, garden weeds, fruit and vegetables. There are also many commercially produced complete tortoise diets, although these do not tend to provide as much variety or nutrition as a varied diet of fresh food, so we do not recommend feeding a diet solely made up of commercial diets.

All fresh food offered to a Horsfield tortoise should be supplemented according to a schedule to ensure they are getting all of the nutrients required to be healthy. Here we recommend using a calcium-rich multivitamin such as Arcadia EarthPro-A, a calcium plus magnesium supplement on every fourth feed, such as Arcadia CalciumPro Mg and finally, a vitamin D3 supplement on every eighth feed such as Arcadia EarthPro RevitaliseD3.

How do I buy a Horsfield tortoise?

Horsfield tortoises are a hugely popular option, so we almost always have UK captive-bred tortoises. We do not ship livestock, so these must be collected from our physical superstore.

If you are interested, please come and see us in person, bringing some images of your set-up at the correct temperature with adequate lighting. We reserve the right to refuse adoption to anyone we feel is unprepared to adopt.

For more detailed husbandry information, please see our dedicated Horsfield Tortoise Care Sheet.

Common names Horsfield tortoise, Russian tortoise, Four-clawed tortoise
Scientific name Agrionemys horsfieldii
Country Central Asia
Captive-bred Yes
Adult size 12-20cm (5-8in)
Natural habitat Arid, desert habitats and mountainous areas
Housing 150 x 90cm (5 x 3ft)
Ideal temperature 30-32°C (86-89°F) (warm end); 22-25°C (71-77°F) (cool end)
UVI 3-4
Ideal humidity 40-50%
Diet Herbivorous
Average lifespan 80+ years
Personality Docile
Ease of handling Easy, more difficult with adults
Cohabitable No
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  1. Horsfield tortoise, Agrionemys horsfieldii, care sheet
    Categories: Care sheetsChelonians

    Horsfield tortoise, Agrionemys horsfieldii, care sheet

    Horsfield tortoise, Agrionemys horsfieldii, husbandry guide from the experts at Swell Reptiles, covering housing, heating, lighting and more.