Russian Tortoise question
March 24, 2013 7:23 AM   Subscribe

Hello, my wife just got a Russian Tortoise as a classroom pet for her kindergarten class. She used to have a box turtle (Shelly) and was able to leave it over the weekend witout any problems. The new turtle (Scooter) seems to eat a lot more and she's not sure if Scooter can go without food from 3:30 Fri PM until 8:00 AM Moday. Anyone have any experience with a Russian Tortoise?

He wil be in an 18"x48" pen with his UV light and heat lamp if needed. I wondered if we shut the heat and UV lights off would he go into hibernation mode for the weekend. She is figuring on bringing him home for long weekends and school vacatons. Thanks for he help.
posted by mikedelic to Pets & Animals (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Where did she get the tortoise from? If you got it from a good pet shop they might be able to answer any questions you might have. Another suggestion is to call up a specialised fish & reptile pet shop and ask them, as they usually employ knowledgeable folks and enthusiasts.

I used to have a box turtle and was getting all my care information from online sources and general pet shops and was doing fine for years, but going into one of those specialty shops and talking to the assistants there drastically changed my pet's life for the better.
posted by sundaydriver at 9:01 AM on March 24, 2013

I have a friend who has owned a Russian Tortoise for years. I'll shoot this question to her and see what she says...
posted by HuronBob at 10:36 AM on March 24, 2013

Here's your answer (note, this individual is a retired biology teacher):

"Scooter is a reptile, and can go for periods without food. Tortoises get almost all of their water from the lettuce that they eat, and so fasting would probably deprive the tortoise of water, altho they store it in their bladder for long periods. They also have to have their body temperature at certain warmth, to digest their food. At cooler temps, the food just sits in the gut and decomposes (not a good thing). The UV light and the heat lamp should be on a timer, set to come off and go out. About 10 hours a day is good. It would not be a good thing to skip weekends. The timer will cover those times when the teacher is not present. I have a friend that got a Sulcata tortoise (a bigger species) for a Kindergarten pet. Pokey went back and forth to school in a carrying box, and had two homes, one in the house, and one in the classroom. When a tortoise is young, it is a good idea to give it a weekly soak in tepid water, up to the chin. It helps to regulate the bowels, too.

Whereas Box turtles must eat meat, and have protein...such as canned cat food, and berries and earthworms, Russian tortoises are vegetarians and thrive on veggies and healthy lettuce, such as Romaine. A tiny amount of fruit is appreciated, but fruit has a lot of sugar, which is bad for digestion. A calcium supplement, sprinkled on the lettuce leaves about 3 times a week, is important for shell growth.

An Easter bunny is a ten year commitment, a tortoise is an 80 year commitment, including weekends. I hope this helps."
posted by HuronBob at 1:05 PM on March 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Don't most classroom pets get taken home over the weekends and breaks by the lucky student whose turn it it? My kids always did.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:19 PM on March 24, 2013

I am a bit concerned that she used to have a box turtle. What happened to it? They have long lifespans, 50+ years, so I'm hoping it was rehomed, not that it passed, otherwise I'm concerned the weekend thing is not a great idea. However, you can leave hay, and water over the weekend. I have a different species of tortoise, so I had to look up info on Russian tortoises, and it sounds like they are prone to overeating, which might be what your wife is seeing.

Russians do hibernate, but you can't expect them to hibernate over the weekend like that. It takes time to prepare going in and out of hibernation; the idea of leaving it lights out for the weekend is not good for the tortoise and teaches kids a poor lesson about animals being neglected for a short time.

Make sure the UV light is up to spec for what tortoises need; many times the little fluorescent ones don't put out nearly the amount of UV they need, and have a very short distance before the UV light drops off too much to be useful. I use mercury vapor UV bulbs, which work at a further distance, and provide heat for a basking area. If she does use fluorescent lights, she should have an incandescent pointing in the same place so it basks in the UV. And check the recommended UV amount for the tortoise along with the distance the light should be from the shell. It matters alot. Deformed tortoises because of poor lighting, supplements, and feeding are way too common. This one always horrified me:

Then she will have to consider if she is going to put it through hibernation. It sounds like it's a pretty hotly debated topic on whether or not it's needed. Some people hibernate them in refrigerators (!), but without any specific experience, I can't comment, only that most tortoises that naturally hibernate do best when their natural conditions are reproduced.

This article seemed pretty comprehensive:

Because of their size, can she just have a duplicate setup at home and bring it home for the weekend? I wouldn't send it home with students becausenofnthe environmental requirements.

One final note, Russian tortoises really don't make good pets for most people. They're so common because of their small size, but aren't really well suited for captivity. The ones you see in stores are captured from the wild and some don't adjust well to life in captivity. They are being decimated in the wild because of the pet trade. And most only live a few years in captivity because they are sold to people completely unprepared for taking care of them properly.

Which, she should get him to a good help vet to do any deforming of parasites from the wild.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 10:35 AM on March 25, 2013

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