Russian Tortoise Stays Buried, Seldom Eats

Dec 13, 2019
Location (City and/or State)
Omaha, Nebraska
I'm new to the reptile world in general and a first-time tortoise please excuse my ignorance.

I recently purchased three new Russian Tortoise hatchlings. They were approximately one month old when I received them and are approximately 2 months old now.

All three hatchlings are from the same clutch, were housed together prior to purchase, and are housed together now.

Two of the hatchlings seem to be doing just fine. They hide themselves at night, they come out during the day to explore, bask, and eat. I can always find them and regularly see them out and about.

The third hatchling is quite the opposite. I NEVER see him out on his own. He remains buried 100% of the time. He is usually several inches deep, too, not just buried slightly under the surface like the other two hatchlings will sometimes do.

I dig him out about every two days just to check on him, to soak him, and to try to get him to eat something. Typically, when I put him by his food, he's only there for a few seconds before he heads straight back to where he was buried and burrows himself in again.

I don't know what else to do to get him to come out and eat and bask as the other two hatchlings are doing. I have provided as much information about their care and enclosure below in the hopes that someone might have a suggestion on how I can get him better acclimated to his new home.

Enclosure Details
50 Gallon Rubbermaid Storage Tote (temporary)
4-6 inches of substrate (see "recipe" below)
100W Zoo Med Repti Basking Spot Lamp (Day)
75W Exo Terra Night Heat Lamp (Blue)
24" 17W Zoo Med ReptiSun 10.0 Fluorescent UVB

Substrate Mixture
50% Coconut Fiber
25% Cypress Mulch
25% Sphagnum Moss (to keep humidity up)

Care & Handling
I have wireless temperature probes throughout the cage, hanging just above the substrate, slightly above the shell height of the tortoises. I also use a very advanced, expensive infrared temperature gun to check surface temperatures.

Ambient temperatures during the day are maintained at approximately 90ºF on the hot side, 73-75ºF on the cool side and roughly 80ºF in the middle. Surface temperatures under the basking light range from 95-105ºF.

Ambient temperatures at night are approximately 80ºF on the warm side, 70ºF on the cool side and roughly 75ºF in the middle.

The basking light and fluorescent UVB are on 13 hours per day and the night heat lamp is on the remaining 11 hours.

Understanding that hatchlings need higher humidity levels than adults, I maintain the humidity in the enclosure between 40-60% by spraying down the Sphagnum Moss several times per day. Initially, my humidity levels were far too low for hatchlings...A result of my inexperience in keeping tortoises, but this has since been corrected.

The tortoises are fed leafy greens each morning when the day lights come on and their diet varies between Collard Greens, Mustard Greens, Turnip Greens, Dandelion Greens and, occasionally Red or Green leaf lettuce (not head lettuce).

A calcium supplement with Vitamin D3 is sprinkled on the food 2-3 times weekly and Mazuri Small Tortoise Diet LS is sprinkled on the food 1-2 times weekly. A shallow water dish is available 24/7 and cleaned and washed out every 12 hours.

My children would choose to handle the tortoises constantly, were it up to them; however, realizing handling stresses them, they are only allowed to hold the tortoises once per day for a maximum of 5 minutes, per tortoise. This would be outside of the handling involved in soaking them or when I dig out "Mr. Burrower" every couple days.

I have done extensive research on Russian tortoise care to try and ensure I'm doing everything right. Given that the other two seem to be thriving, I'm assuming things must not be that bad, but it would seem I'm still missing something since the other tortoise just won't show his face. I have examined him and I don't see any signs of illness (no discharge from the nose, eyes aren't swollen, shell isn't soft, etc.)

Any advice would be very much appreciated!


Well-Known Member
Oct 7, 2019
Location (City and/or State)
I see that you haven't had any replies in a while, so I'll offer my very limited experience. Though @Tom @Yvonne G if someone used to babies could weigh in, I'm really not qualified. From what I've read, tortoises are very much solo creatures. They do not share well and they try to force out anyone they are forced to share with. The "burrower" may simply be listening to what the other two are telling him and staying away from "their space." If you set the little guy up in his own space, you may see him begin to thrive.

All that said, this reply will hopefully also bump your post up so some of the more experienced breeders will see it and hopefully offer their own insight.


The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Jan 9, 2010
Location (City and/or State)
Southern California
Sounds like you've got most of it correct. Lets try to eliminate some possibilities.

What type of UV bulb? Long tube or cfl?

What type of night bulb? What color?

The diet isn't good. All of those items are good occasionally for some variety, but broadleaf weeds are best. Along with mulberry and grape leaves, flowers and spineless opuntia pads. Since most of these aren't available this time of year in your area, try to buy mostly endive and escarole from the store. Amend the grocery store greens with herbal hay from, or with some of the many dried offerings from Will at Kapidolo Farms.

What type of moss are you using? Long fibered stuff? They usually eat that and it can cause an impaction. I would remove it ASAP. It doesn't do anything that your other substrate won't do when damp. Spraying the surface does very little. You'll need to dump water into the substrate to maintain dampness at the lower levels and humidity in the air. If this tortoise ate the moss, he might be impacted. Are you soaking daily?

Are all three around the same size?