Sometimes overlooked as pet options, turtles and tortoises are interesting reptiles to keep in your home. They may not be as showy as a chameleon or as fun to feed as a snack, but these low-energy animals can make a great addition to your family. Between the box turtle and the Russian tortoise, which one makes a better pet?
Box Turtle vs Russian Tortoise
Box turtles and Russian tortoises are both members of the order Testudines within the class Reptilia. Even though they are closely related (as are all turtles and tortoises), these two pets have very different requirements for care and lifestyles.
About Box Turtles
While most turtles spend a majority of their lives in the water, box turtles spend most of their time on land. Some species of box turtles swim, but most just like to be near water or spend time in shallow water.
There are four species that are most commonly kept as pets:
- Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina)
- Three-Toed Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis)
- Gulf Coast Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina major)
- Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata ornata)
Box turtles are omnivores. They eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, and insects. They are best kept in outdoor enclosures, especially if the temperature remains over 50 degrees. Indoors, box turtles need a 40+ gallon tank and substrate to burrow in.
About Russian Tortoises
Russian tortoises (Testudo horsfieldii) are also called Horsfield’s tortoises or Afghan tortoises. They are native to the Middle East and Western Asia. These desert and steppe dwellers are herbivores. They thrive on grass, hay, and leafy greens.
These tortoises are obligate burrowers, especially for winter hibernation. Their front limbs feature long claws that are used for digging.
Box turtles and Russian tortoises are all able to recognize and respond to their owners. This can take some time because the animals are usually stressed after moving in. Some owners even report their box turtle or Russian tortoise “begging” for treats once they learn to recognize humans.
Many people don’t do any training with their turtles or tortoises. It takes more time and patience than training a dog, but it can be just as rewarding. Keep in mind that both animals do better with visual cues and will need time to slowly eat their rewards.
Box turtles (and all turtles) can carry salmonella. This usually doesn’t affect the turtle, but it can be transmitted to humans. If living outdoors or given access to cold temperatures in winter, box turtles will hibernate. They must be healthy enough to survive the winter or there is a risk that they will not survive until spring.
Some of the major health concerns for box turtles include metabolic bone disease, calcium and vitamin D deficiencies, stress from over-handling, respiratory infections, shell rot, parasites, vitamin A deficiency, and eye disease.
Russian tortoises require less humid environments than box turtles, and that can give them an advantage in terms of health. Drier climates can reduce the risk of shell rot and respiratory illnesses.
Even though they are more easy-going than other tortoise species, Russian tortoises can still become overly stressed by too much handling. They also require UVB lights or access to sunlight to ensure proper amounts of vitamin D for calcium absorption. Russian tortoises can also be affected by parasites, especially if they are wild-caught.
Box turtles are considered shy or scared animals. They are most active in the mornings. These reptiles are highly susceptible to stress, especially when being handled too much by people. This stress can lead to biting.
Russian tortoises have a reputation for being easy-going and active. They spend their time awake grazing on food or burrowing in the sand. Males can sometimes be territorial and aggressive, but Russian tortoises can usually be kept in pairs or groups.
Box turtles and Russian tortoises look similar. They have high-domed shells that their limbs, head, and tail protrude from.
Box turtles are mostly brown or olive-colored. They may have some red or yellow markings on their shell or body. Box turtles grow up to 7 inches long. Their heads are small and they have a hooked upper jaw.
Russian tortoises are tan with some brown markings on their shells and bodies. Their thick limbs help them walk through uneven terrain. The front legs have long claws that are used for digging burrows.They can grow up to 8 inches long.
Ease of Care
It can be very hard to care for box turtles. They are never recommended as a beginner pet, even if you have owned other reptiles before. You can house them indoors or outside, but they need a humid environment with a temperature gradient. If they are housed inside, they need at least a 40+ gallon terrarium and a UVB light. Since they are omnivores, you need to provide a varied diet of plants and insects.
Russian tortoises are fairly easy to care for once you set up their enclosure. Average humidity is plenty for them, but they do need substrate deep enough to burrow. Many reptile owners find that desert reptiles are easier to keep because they do not require high humidity and moisture levels. Russian tortoises are herbivores, so you only need to provide them grasses, hay, and leafy greens to eat.
What is the Difference Between a Box Turtle and a Russian Tortoise?
All turtles and tortoises are related, so these animals are somewhat similar. Russian tortoises are fully terrestrial animals that live in desert and steppe environments. They graze on grasses and leafy plants. Box turtles are mostly terrestrial, which is different from most aquatic turtles. Even so, they still prefer humid environments and access to shallow water. Box turtles also eat plants, but they eat a wider variety of plants and also eat insects. Box turtles have a shorter lifespan than Russian tortoises.
Pros and Cons of Box Turtles
- Can be housed in outdoor pens in a variety of climates
- Small size requires less space than other turtles and tortoises
- Does not need deep water to swim in
- Long-term commitment (25-50 year lifespan)
- Difficult environment to create indoors
- Need to provide more variety of diet
Pros and Cons of Russian Tortoises
- Easy-going nature
- Not picky about environment compared to other reptiles
- Minimal diet items needed
- Long-term commitment (50+ years)
- Do not do well indoors or in humid environments
- Very susceptible to metabolic bone disease
|Box Turtle||Russian Tortoise|
|Lifespan||25-50 years||50+ years|
|Size||Up to 7 inches||Up to 8 inches|
|Environment||Humid, forest floor||Dry, sandy|
|Temperament||Shy, easily stressed||Easy-going, active|
The better pet is… the RUSSIAN TORTOISE!
Whether you are a beginner or a veteran reptile owner, the Russian tortoise makes a better pet. They are easier to care for and they are more interactive with their owners. Since Russian tortoises are grazing herbivores, it is easier to provide them with a balanced diet of grasses and leafy greens. As an added bonus, their dry, sandy enclosures are less likely to develop pest, mold, or fungus issues.
You May Also Like: