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Turtles/russian tort exercise


QUESTION: I let my russian tortoise(Ivan)walk around the house/sunroom. He walks costantly for hours. When I put him back in his habitat he claws to get back out. He just takes off for the sunroom and begins his pacing(10' laps) again.  Is this normal?  Am I doing anything wrong? or do I just have an active tort?

ANSWER: Hi Julie,

I really can't answer your question that well because I need much more information.  Can you tell me how his enclosure is set up--what type of enclosure, how big, what substrate you're using, the exact basking and cool temperatures, type of UVB bulb, etc.?  If the sunroom floor is bare, with nothing for him to hide in or burrow into, the most likely reason he is constantly moving is because he feels exposed and is looking for an area with more cover.  Tortoises generally don't like being out in the open.  Normally, they will bask, then wander about for a while, stopping to graze here and there, and then when they've had enough to eat will find a bush, bunch of grass, or something similar to hang out under and rest.  They do cover quite a bit of territory in the wild, but don't walk nonstop for hours, as this is not generally a good use of energy.  It would actually be better if you can build an outdoor pen for him during the warmer months (spring to fall), plant it, and let him roam and graze there.  It would be more natural for him, plus he would be getting the UVB benefit from the sun.  If you can post back with more information about his enclosure, I can tell you if you have him set up correctly as well.  

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QUESTION: Ivans habitat is 2' by 3.5' tub.  I have coconut husk as his bedding, a basking light (zilla) and an uvb light (zilla.  He also has shelter and a shallow h2o dish.  he eats organic baby kale and tort food.

In the sunroom, is a bare floor, but he has furniture to hide under and plenty of sun.  His habitat is also in the sunroom.  I do have a "play pen" for him outside.  I am also planning an outside enclosure for him too.

I just got him 2weeks ago and he had no heat lamp or sunlight offered to him and his living conditions were dire. In the short amount of time that I've had him he has really "bloomed"

Hi Julie,

OK, I understand the situation better now.  Let's see what I can do to help.

The enclosure is pretty small, but if you can build an outdoor pen it would be adequate for winter.  The coir substrate is good, but get playsand and mix the two together so you have a 50/50 mix.  This will be more natural and also help to keep dust down.  The substrate should be slightly damp all the way through to help with moisture so he doesn't dehydrate from the basking light.  I'm afraid the Zilla UVB bulb is worthless--it gives off almost no UVB.  I have friends who test various bulbs and at this point the only one I'd recommend is the ZooMed Powersun.  It gives heat and UVB in one bulb, and the UVB level is pretty decent.

The kale is fine, but ditch the prepared diet.  None of them are really good for tortoises (ingredients include wheat, soy, etc.).  Russians are broad-leafed weed eaters, so you want to feed a good variety of leafy greens (turnip, mustard, kale, collards, spring mix, dandelion, etc.) and weeds (dandelion, chicory, mallow, sow thistle, plantain, etc.), along with things like prickly pear cactus, hibiscus flowers, nasturtium, and so on.  As much variety as you can.  Not too much lettuce, and avoid anything like bok choy, chard, veggies, and fruit.  When you have the outdoor enclosure done, planting it with weeds and edible plants will give him a chance to graze on his own.  

Generally speaking, roaming a house isn't such a good idea, because for one thing, tortoises tend to get stuck in small places, and for another, the floor is usually too cool for them.  Letting him roam in one room that's fairly warm and safe isn't too bad, though, and if the weather is bad is a decent way for him to get some exercise.  Putting something in there that he can hide in (whether an actual hide or a pile of towels, etc.) is probably a good idea, too.

Thanks for helping him out!  If I can answer any more questions for you, please ask.


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Questions regarding husbandry of Russian tortoises and other Mediterranean species, sulcata, and redfoot tortoises; general tortoise and turtle care; box turtle care. If I can't answer a specific question, I can provide sources for further research. Disclaimer: My advice is not a substitute for vet care. If I think your tortoise/turtle has a specific medical condition or injury that warrants a vet visit, I'll tell you so, and if possible I'll help you locate a vet. It is neither legal nor ethical for me to provide veterinary advice.


I have kept and bred Russian tortoises for over ten years and have other Mediterranean species plus redfoots and box turtles. I've worked with other tortoise and turtle species while doing volunteer rescue work; mostly sulcata but some leopards, California desert tortoises, yellowfoots, all box turtle species, red-eared sliders, etc. I don't personally keep aquatic species, but have access to a wealth of information and research to help you with any questions you might have.

My knowledge is based on hands-on experience keeping, breeding, and working with tortoises and turtles.

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