Russian Tortoise cost
Russian tortoises seem to be one of the most popular tortoises sold in pet stores. They are fairly easy to care for and are hardy torts.
If you purchase your Russian tortoise (RT) from a pet store the first thing you should do is bring your new tortoise along with a fecal (poop) sample to a qualified veterinarian who works with reptiles, turtles in particular, so the tort can be checked over and the fecal checked for parasites. Most pet store RT’s are recent imports that are wild caught (WC) and are usually loaded with them. Some will fare well for a while and then suddenly their appetite and activity level drops and illness is inevitable. Best to get them checked out and treated before illness sets in.
These tortoises are shipped in crates when imported into the states. They are crammed in with no regard to their health and well-being. This tortuous method of shipping over stresses these fine torts and this is what brings parasites and illness, so it’s really important to have them checked out.
An alternative to buying from a pet store is to buy a captive bred (CB) tortoise from a reputable breeder. A CB tortoise may cost you more financially in the beginning, but over all will save you money in vet bills as they will arrive to you with a clean bill of health. WC tortoises sell for between $50 and $90 in most of the pet stores I’ve seen them in and online for about the same price. A vet visit is on average about $50, a fecal check about $25 and meds probably another $25 or so. So your inexpensive WC tortoise just from the get go has cost you at least $150 or more and its health is questionable.
If you purchase a CB hatchling they usually sell for anywhere from $150 to $175 and will arrive healthy and parasite free with minimum stress because even if shipped they will be shipped individually, not piled in a crate with hundreds of other torts. So this should all be considered before purchasing your tortoise.
The larger you can make the set up for your tortoise the happier and healthier it will be. So do your best to provide it with as much space as possible.
That being said if you can’t provide a large habitat you can keep your RT in a large Rubbermaid type tub (50 gallon or larger) or larger under bed storage box. Many people build tortoise tables, which can be raised up and built against a wall, built on table legs, or on the floor. I’ll provide some links with pictures to give you some ideas.
I find the best substrate to be a 50/50 mix of play sand and topsoil (no additives like perlite, just plain dirt) or sand and coir (sold in a brick that you expand in water). Some brand names are Flukkers, Eco Earth, Bed a Beast. It’s easy to clean up and if some is ingested it is easily passed so long as you keep your tortoise well hydrated. I’ve not had any problems with keeping either my hatchlings or adults on these mixes. No matter what substrate you use there will be somebody out there that has something bad to say about it, so you need to work with what’s best for you and your tortoise. Contrary to what some will tell you, the substrate should not be kept bone dry. It should have some moisture to it. Not enough so the torts are getting wet, but not so dry that it’s dusty either. I usually have to pour water in the area of the basking lamp every couple of days to keep that area damp. The lamp dries it up rather quickly. It should be damp enough so when squeezed it holds together but no drops of water come out.
The basking area needs to give them a good warm spot at about 95°F and the other end of their enclosure should be cool at about 70°. A regular household bulb can be used for the basking area, but a good UVB lamp must be provided. This is critical for a healthy tortoise. There are fluorescent types and there are also combination bulbs that provide both heat and uvb.I’ve found the UV/heat lamps to be most reliable and cost effective and provide the best output of both heat and uvb. Fluorescent bulbs need to be replaced about every six months because the uvb depletes over time. Avoid the screw in coil like bulbs as they DO NOT provide sufficient UVB. There are also quite a few that have caused eye problems in reptiles called photo-kerato-conjunctivitis. I like the convenience of the combo bulbs since you only need one fixture over your enclosure. To make life easy and to set a regular schedule for your tortoise set the lamp on a timer. At night all lamps should be turned off to let the temperature have a normal drop like they would have in the wild.
When setting up your enclosure keep the cost of the fixtures and bulbs in mind. A hood fixture may cost $20 - $30 or more plus a new bulb about $15 or more. Then you also need to buy a fixture to hold a heat bulb for basking, which is about another $10. You may pay $50 for a UV/heat lamp and another $10 for the domed fixture it goes in, but you get much better UVB output and you have the simplicity of one fixture and the bulb lasts longer than six months. If you’re lucky you’ll have a pet shop or herp society member that owns a solar meter to check your bulbs output for you.