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The primary food of your Russian Tortoise should be a variety of high fiber, low protein broad leaf plants; they prefer vegetables, weeds, succulents, and flowers, with an occasional herb or shrub. Try for five or more food sources each day.
Weeds include clover, timothy hay, stinging nettle, bergamot, young dandelions (not too much), salsify, and others. Tasty flowers include marigold, roses, coreopsis, cornflower leaves, echeveria, livingstone daisy, honeysuckle, evening primrose, hollyhock, viola and pansy. Rosemary, thyme, sage, wild marjoram, sweet woodruff, and bay are all safe herbs, but you may find limited interest. This makes them good to grow for shade if you have an outdoor habitat. Mulberry leaves are a good choice in the shrub category.
As a desert animal they also enjoy of succulents like sedum (except Sedum Acre), aloe vera, aptenia, and prickly pear. Succulents will have a laxative effect, so a little goes a long way. If you find them eating lawn grass it’s fine, but low value, so take another look to see what is missing in their diet.
You will find Cucumbers are welcomed as a healthy treat. The darker leafy greens have good nutrition but see the warnings below. Popular items include kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, collard greens, and such.Avoid the pale lettuces like Iceberg, as they contain little nutrition.
While your Russian Tortoise may enjoy fruit, it should not be a regular menu item. A small piece of strawberry, banana, or melon is fine to disguise medicine or once a month as a special treat.
The flowers and leaves of fruit, like strawberries, count as greens.
Unlike many other species of turtle, tortoise, or terrapin, your Russian Tortoise is a strict plant eater. Never provide meat in their diet.
Your pet should get a lot of water from all the juicy vegetables and greens that you provide, but, a shallow dish of clean water should always be available.
Its environment should have moderated humidity, but just because your tortoise is native to the deserts of central Asia, doesn’t mean its water dish can be dry. They will drink safely, so don’t worry about overwatering.
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A well rounded diet should provide all the vitamins your tortoise needs, but additional calcium is recommended for shell health. This is easily accomplished with a little calcium carbonate powder sprinkled on their food, plus a cuttlebone continuously available in the habitat.
Where To Get Tortoise Food
You can affordably grow fresh organic food outdoors or in containers. Many tortoise-friendly foods may also be growing nearby in parks and vacant lots. It is nice to grow safe plants inside of your habitat if there is enough room, but a tortoise will often eat the plant down to the ground and kill it; protecting the base of the plant with a cage might give it a chance to rebound. You can also grow containers of food right next to the habitat so the leaves and flowers can be accessed by your tortoise, but the stem and roots remain intact. In either case, it should not be the only food source.
An organic farmers market is great place to shop.
Be sure to wash grocery store vegetables thoroughly for waxes and chemical residue.
If you decide on adding a small amount of packaged food, consult with an experienced reptile professional and stress that you want a high fiber food designed specifically for a dry land herbivorous tortoise. General pet stores may have good intentions, but, poor information. Your tortoise food should primarily be in the form of fresh plants, not paste or pellets.
How to Feed Your Russian Tortoise
Feed your pet food from a dish. Dirt, sand, or gravel is unpleasant to their digestive system causing problems.
Chop the food into manageable pieces.
Remember you are feeding a small desert reptile. Your little buddy should eat happily for about twenty minutes once a day. You can tell your tortoise has the right amount of food when it feels heavy, like a rock (not lead or feathers).
Keep a healthy temperature for your tortoise. If it gets too hot or cold your dry land tortoise eats much less, due to hibernation or aestivation.
Plants that are high in oxalic acid will block calcium absorption. While nutritious, limit spinach, parsley, cabbage, celery, kale, collards, beet greens, escarole, watercress, dandelion leaves, and such.
Avoid canned foods due to the sodium. Bread, dairy products, or frozen foods are also inappropriate. Foods with more than 15% protein can cause organ and shell damage.
Your Russian Tortoise should live at least 50 years, and possibly up to 100. Food is a large factor to longevity. Be certain that the food your friend eats does not contain hazardous garden chemicals like fertilizer, bug spray, or weed killer. Other dangers can be found in runoff from roads and driveways like gas, motor oil, or anti-freeze.
Some hazards produce instant symptoms and some build up to dangerous levels over time. Buy or grow organic food whenever possible. You can also post “no spraying” signs at your property line if your community does roadside maintenance with chemicals.
Just because a plant is natural, doesn’t mean it’s safe. Typically your tortoise will avoid poisonous plants, or nibble to a non-toxic level, but, better safe than sorry. Rhododendrons, rhubarb, hydrangea, foxglove, mistletoe, toadstools, and many others, can bring tragedy to your tortoise. In general, if it grows from a bulb, corm, or tuber, it is best avoided. Evergreens that grow needles or cones should also be excluded.
The Russian tortoise is a reptile with many other names so when you read articles or food packaging be certain that the dietary issues addressed are for the correct type of tortoise.
• Agrionemys horsfieldii (formerly: testudo horsfieldii)
• Horsfield’s tortoise
• Central Asian tortoise
• Four-toed tortoise
• Afghan tortoise
Food for a box turtle, a water or forest tortoise, or just generic types of cryptodira (necks that go in shells) or pleurodira (necks that go sideways) are not appropriate.