Welcome_Ghosts

New Member
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Aug 12, 2020
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2
Location (City and/or State)
Pennsylvania
I "adopted" a Russian tortoise (from a family who could no longer care for him) a little over four years ago. As far as I can tell, he is still fairly young (around eight-years-old). He is normally very active in the summer; however, as of the past month or so, he has been EXTREMELY lethargic. He does NOTHING but sleep 24/7. only waking up for his daily soak. I am growing more and more concerned by the day and would greatly appreciate any advice. I'll attempt to provide as much detail as possible about his lifestyle/setup below.

He is kept in a 6' x 2' open-top table (two conjoined ZooMed Tortoise Houses sans lid) in my (room temperature) finished basement. His substrate consists of ZooMed Eco Earth and Quikrete Premium Play Sand, though I am planning on replacing the sand with organic top soil.

I use a brand new 80-watt ZooMed PowerSun UV bulb in a ZooMed Deep Dome Lamp Fixture, which is hung vertically from a ZooMed Reptile Lamp Stand. It is plugged into a ZooMed ReptiCare Day & Night Timer. The timer is plugged into a surge protector, and the surge protector is plugged into a regular outlet. His light remains on from 9:00 A.M. to 9:00 P.M. The basking spot is around 95 degrees, and the cool end is around 75 degrees. I determined this by holding a Kizen LaserPro LP300 thermometer about one foot from the substrate. (It has a 12:1 distance-to-spot ratio.) The cool end has an All Living Things Reptile Hide for him to rest in.

He has access to fresh (faucet) water (in a shallow dish) at all times, and his diet consists primarily of grocery store greens, such as dandelion greens and kale. Unfortunately, I am unable to pick wild plants for him, due to the fact that I have no grass in my yard. I also reside in a development that uses chemicals on the common grassy areas and in the neighborhood park. If you have any suggestions as far as his diet goes, I'd gladly welcome them. I have a Giant (regular grocery store) nearby, as well as several organic/vegan grocery stores. He had a cuttle bone in his house for ages but never touched it. He pees regularly, but doesn't poo nearly as often.

He gets several hours of playtime in my garden every day and often munches on the plants that I have growing (cucumber leaves, tomato leaves, zinnias). I live in Pennsylvania, and the temperatures lately have been in the 80s and 90s. He usually LOVES roaming around out there and practically RUNS the entire time. Lately, he has been choosing to sleep instead.

Questions and Theories
- I frequently pour water on his substrate, in order to prevent it from getting too dry and dusty. White mold often grows on the surface, which I promptly remove. Is that making him ill?
- I occasionally spot tiny gnats(?) flying around in his habitat, despite keeping it incredibly clean. Could they be biting him?
- I switched from a 100-watt PowerSun bulb to the 80-watt one right around the time that he began showing signs of lethargy. (My 100-watts kept blowing, so ZooMed suggested that I use an 80-watt instead.) Have I been failing to measure the temperatures correctly?
- Is his diet not varied enough? Is he beginning to show signs of metabolic bone disease?
- He had a playdate with several of my friend's gigantic tortoises on June 8. Could he have caught some sort of illness from them?

I apologize for the lengthy post. As you can imagine, I'm experiencing terrible anxiety over this situation but am hesitant to call the vet. His eyes aren't watery, nor is his breathing out of whack.
 

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Minority2

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No, thank you for including as much detail as you can. Please include picture(s) of your entire enclosure as well as links to any other lighting fixtures and bulbs you're currently using besides the powersun.

Use these linked threads as a guide on how to care for your Russian tortoise:

1. Play sand is an outdated substrate option. Tortoises can and will accidentally eat part of the sand from time to time, causing impactation in their bodies which can lead to severe and lethal injuries. Get rid of your entire substrate for now and replace it only with either fir bark and or coco coir just to be completely safe. Put your tortoise into a smaller enclosure for the time being in order to complete this task without your tortoise getting in the way. Do not use top soil. The organically sold ones have ingredients that are can be as dangerous as sand is.

2. Yes the current diet you're offering your tortoise is not enough. Grocery stores do not offer enough variety or enough safe nutrents for that matter (eating too much of one type of greens such as kale can cause thyroid issues) for Russian tortoises. They need a variety broad leaf weeds, flowers, and succulents. You can buy all of these from specialty vendors online. Tortoise breeders and online retailers will usually have many varieties of cut up weeds and flower in stock including seed mixes for people to grow themselves. Mazuri tortoise diet (5m21) is also a good supplemental food for tortoises.

3. How stable would you say your temperature and humidity levels are in the open enclosure? If you're only using a single lighting fixture as heat, such as the powersun, the enclosure as a whole, may not be warm enough to encourage your tortoise to move further away from the basking area. You may want to include an additional heating source if your enclosure's 4 temperature zones aren't wide and varied enough to encourage use.

4. Mercury vapor bulbs such as the powersun are known to cause severe dryness in tortoises. The lethargic effect can be one of the symptoms the tortoises is feeling due to the usage of these types of bulbs. Not only that but these bulbs have also been shown to be one of the causes to pyramiding in growing tortoises which is why some members in the forum such as myself would usually refuse to recommend such a product.

5. No play dates with other tortoises of other species. It's neither safe nor good for your creature. They don't work well with others which is why they're generally safest when they're alone. Some tortoises of the same species can learn to tolerate others while being in the same group provided that there is a ton of space for them to get away if challenged/bullied, and that there's separate feeding dishes to prevent bullying situations.

Tortoises will actively try bite/flip/maim one another. If left alone and outnumbered, males will continually mate with females until the female either kills the male or until she gets mate to death.
 

KarenSoCal

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Hello, and welcome to the forum!

There are many things in your husbandry that need to be changed. I'm going to go paragraph by paragraph and explain each item.

His enclosure indoors is too small. Russians, as all tortoises, need ample space to walk in order to digest their food.

Sand is terrible to use because of impaction risk. I'm wondering if this is why he's lethargic. Also, topsoil should not be used. Topsoil is made by grinding up lawn cuttings, so you have no idea what was ground up. It could be toxic plants, or have chemicals in it. It's made for plants. The manufacturers did not make it for animals to live on it. Use fine grade orchid (fir) bark, coco coir, or cypress mulch instead. They hold moisture well and don't mold quickly.

The UVB bulb you are using is not good. First, they are iffy on the amount of UVB they put out. They vary widely right out of the box. Also, they are spot bulbs, which tend to dessicate the carapace. Use an ordinary incandescent flood bulb, probably 65 watts. Not a "replacement" bulb...they are LED. You want the old fashioned kind.

Grocery store greens are not ideal, but if nothing else is available they can work. Endive, escarole, and radicchio should be used as the staple diet. Then add other stuff...spring mix, dandelion, mustard greens, bok choy, red or green leaf lettuce, cilantro, kale, etc. Find a Mexican grocery and buy cactus pads. The Mexican store calls them nopales. You might be able to ask around and find people who don't use chemicals and pick mulberry leaves, grape leaves, hibiscus (the entire plant is edible), lots of different flowers. At the bottom of this post I will put a long list of foods for torts.

Playdates should never happen, especially with torts of different species. Yes, he could have caught something from them.

Minority2 and I are writing at the same time...pay special attention to that care sheet.

I'm also wondering if the enclosure is too cold., but that doesn't explain the lethargy outside. Keep an eye on poops. Watch to see if he is going at least every other day, or if he is straining at all. Hopefully we'll find what is bothering him.

The loooooong food list...
Compiled by Tom:
Good foods for tortoises are "chicories," types of lettuce that are likely to be on the far side of the more common floppy green heads of lettuce most people buy. Anything labeled as simply "chicory" is good, as are radiccio, frisee, escarole, and endive; you might even find something labeled as dandelions. You may find a bag of "Spring" or "Spicy" mix that is good, just check the label to be sure it has some of the chicories I just mentioned. The leaves (just the leaves) of turnips and radishes are also good, as are carrot tops. Collards, mustard greens, bok choy, and other dark, leafy greens are okay as well. If you have any kind of Mexican/hispanic market near you, they will sell cactus, labeled "nopales." Cactus is a great food to rotate in the diet, as it is high in calcium.

You don't need to feed all of these at one time, just make sure your tortoise is getting access to different types of food. As you get more experienced, you can find the better types of food listed on the care sheets.

Here are a whole bunch of non-grocery store suggestions.

Mulberry leaves
Grape vine leaves
Hibiscus leaves
African hibiscus leaves
Blue hibiscus leaves
Rose of Sharon leaves
Rose leaves
Geraniums
Gazanias
Nasturtium
Lavatera
Pansies
Petunias
Hostas
Honeysuckle
Cape honeysuckle
Leaves and blooms from any squash plant, like pumpkin, cucumber, summer squash, etc...
Young spineless opuntia cactus pads

Weeds:

There are soooooooo many...
Dandelion
Mallow
Filaree
Smooth Sow thistle
Prickly Sow thistle
Milk thistle
Goat head weed
Cats ear
Nettles
Trefoil
Wild onion
Wild mustard
Wild Garlic
Clovers
Broadleaf plantain
Narrow leaf plantain
Chick weed
Hawksbit
Hensbit
Hawksbeard

Other good stuff:

"Testudo Seed Mix" from http://www.tortoisesupply.com/SeedMixes

Pasture mixes or other seeds from http://www.groworganic.com/seeds.html

Homegrown alfalfa

Mazuri Tortoise Chow

ZooMed Grassland Tortoise Food

Ones that you can buy in every store:
Arugula
Lambs lettuce
Chicory
Kale
Mustard greens
Organic kohlrabi leafs
Organic carrot leafs
Organic radish leafs
Dandelions
Radiccio


Their main diet should be broad leaf weeds, succulents and grasses. Store bought foods are okay, but not the best. Collards and dandelions are a good food, but neither should be used every day. Check out the plant ID section for lots of ideas on weeds to feed. You can get spineless opuntia cactus pads from most Mexican grocery stores, or grow them yourself. You can also easily grow grape leaves, african hibiscus, regular hibiscus (if it will survive in your area), and mulberry leaves. You can try red apple, ice plant, and jade plant too. Also look into Gazania, pansies, nasturtiums, carnations, geraniums and many others. At the grocery store, favor endive and escarole, but also use cilantro, carrot tops, mustard and turnip greens, bok choy, radiccio, swiss chard, watercress, parsley, all the lettuces, etc. Lots of variety is best. There are also tortoise "weed" seed mixes that you can grow. I like the "Testudo Mix" from Tortoisesupply.com.
Buckwheat; cactus; vetch; Mohave aster; creosote bush; desert four o’clock; tacoma stans; bladderpod; globe mallow; goldenhead; burro weed; so many things!
 

Tom

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I "adopted" a Russian tortoise (from a family who could no longer care for him) a little over four years ago. As far as I can tell, he is still fairly young (around eight-years-old). He is normally very active in the summer; however, as of the past month or so, he has been EXTREMELY lethargic. He does NOTHING but sleep 24/7. only waking up for his daily soak. I am growing more and more concerned by the day and would greatly appreciate any advice. I'll attempt to provide as much detail as possible about his lifestyle/setup below.

He is kept in a 6' x 2' open-top table (two conjoined ZooMed Tortoise Houses sans lid) in my (room temperature) finished basement. His substrate consists of ZooMed Eco Earth and Quikrete Premium Play Sand, though I am planning on replacing the sand with organic top soil.

I use a brand new 80-watt ZooMed PowerSun UV bulb in a ZooMed Deep Dome Lamp Fixture, which is hung vertically from a ZooMed Reptile Lamp Stand. It is plugged into a ZooMed ReptiCare Day & Night Timer. The timer is plugged into a surge protector, and the surge protector is plugged into a regular outlet. His light remains on from 9:00 A.M. to 9:00 P.M. The basking spot is around 95 degrees, and the cool end is around 75 degrees. I determined this by holding a Kizen LaserPro LP300 thermometer about one foot from the substrate. (It has a 12:1 distance-to-spot ratio.) The cool end has an All Living Things Reptile Hide for him to rest in.

He has access to fresh (faucet) water (in a shallow dish) at all times, and his diet consists primarily of grocery store greens, such as dandelion greens and kale. Unfortunately, I am unable to pick wild plants for him, due to the fact that I have no grass in my yard. I also reside in a development that uses chemicals on the common grassy areas and in the neighborhood park. If you have any suggestions as far as his diet goes, I'd gladly welcome them. I have a Giant (regular grocery store) nearby, as well as several organic/vegan grocery stores. He had a cuttle bone in his house for ages but never touched it. He pees regularly, but doesn't poo nearly as often.

He gets several hours of playtime in my garden every day and often munches on the plants that I have growing (cucumber leaves, tomato leaves, zinnias). I live in Pennsylvania, and the temperatures lately have been in the 80s and 90s. He usually LOVES roaming around out there and practically RUNS the entire time. Lately, he has been choosing to sleep instead.

Questions and Theories
- I frequently pour water on his substrate, in order to prevent it from getting too dry and dusty. White mold often grows on the surface, which I promptly remove. Is that making him ill?
- I occasionally spot tiny gnats(?) flying around in his habitat, despite keeping it incredibly clean. Could they be biting him?
- I switched from a 100-watt PowerSun bulb to the 80-watt one right around the time that he began showing signs of lethargy. (My 100-watts kept blowing, so ZooMed suggested that I use an 80-watt instead.) Have I been failing to measure the temperatures correctly?
- Is his diet not varied enough? Is he beginning to show signs of metabolic bone disease?
- He had a playdate with several of my friend's gigantic tortoises on June 8. Could he have caught some sort of illness from them?

I apologize for the lengthy post. As you can imagine, I'm experiencing terrible anxiety over this situation but am hesitant to call the vet. His eyes aren't watery, nor is his breathing out of whack.
Hello and welcome. That was a very informative first post. Great job on that.

I agree with Karen and Minority2 on all points. Here are some possible ideas to look at for the lethargy:
1. Sand impaction. An x-ray can confirm or deny this. If you go to a vet, also have them run a fecal, and do NOT let them do any "vitamin injections" or antibiotics. If your tortoise does need something injectable, make sure the vet does NOT inject ANYTHING into the back legs. Look up "tortoise renal portal system" for more info on why not to inject anything into the back legs. Tell your vet to do the same if they don't know this. (Many don't know this.)
2. Disease from mixing species. There are a million possibilities here. Many tortoises disease are unknown, poorly understood and difficult to diagnose. Tortoises should be maintained under strict quarantine from ALL other tortoises, even their own species. Mixing species can be a death sentence for one or both. More on that here: https://tortoiseforum.org/threads/mixing-species.139808/
3. Malnutrition due to limited diet. Grocery store greens alone do not meet their nutritional needs. If you must buy greens from the store, you need to be amending them. More on that in the care sheet that was linked.
4. Incorrect temps and lighting. There are four elements to heating and lighting:
  1. Basking bulb. I use 65 watt floods from the hardware store. I run them on a timer for about 12 hours and adjust the height to get the correct basking temp under them. I also like to use a flat rock of some sort directly under the bulb.
  2. Ambient heat maintenance. I use ceramic heating elements or radiant heat panels set on thermostats to maintain ambient above 80 degrees day and night for tropical species. You'd only need day heat for a temperate species like Testudo or DT.
  3. Light. I use LEDs for this purpose. Something in the 5000-6500K color range will look the best. Most bulbs at the store are in the 2500K range and they look yellowish.
  4. UV. If you can get your tortoise outside for an hour 2 or 3 times a week, you won't need indoor UV. If you want it anyway, get one of the newer HO type fluorescent tubes. Which type will depend on mounting height. 5.0 bulbs make almost no UV. You need a meter to check this: https://www.solarmeter.com/model65.html In PA your tortoise can get its UV form the sun outside in the garden. In winter you can run a HO UV tube if your tortoise isn't hibernating.
5. Hydration. Do you soak him? What sort of water dish are you using? Ever see him drink? Ever spray the food with water?


I hope we can help you figure this out, and the problem is a minor one that is easily fixable. Between the care sheet and all this other info, hopefully we will discover and correct the problem.
 

Welcome_Ghosts

New Member
Joined
Aug 12, 2020
Messages
2
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Pennsylvania
@KarenSoCal, @Minority2, @Tom,
First of all, I would like to thank you all from the bottom of my heart for your quick and thorough replies. I wound up making an appointment with the vet shortly after posting on here and waited to reply until after my tort was examined.

I appreciate the warning in regard to the organic top soil and will instead be buying cypress mulch or fir bark. The vet took an X-ray and thankfully ruled out impaction from the sand. She also came to the conclusion that the mold (from the coco coir) is not the cause of his (possible) illness, due to the fact that he has no respiratory issues.

After reading that food list, I immediately ran out and picked up some bok choy, cilantro, parsley, and turnip greens. (The Tortoise Table lists parsley as a "do not feed." Is this incorrect?) I will make an effort to add more variety and grow my own greens, though that may take some time.

I'll do my best to alter his lighting setup, though I find this to be the most confusing and overwhelming aspect of tortoise care. I would need to purchase several new domes and stands, since his habitat has no lid to rest the domes on. I'd also be unable to suspend any lights from the ceiling. He seems to lack a preference, as far as the hot/cool ends go; he'll settle down anywhere. I have noticed that he's stopped basking ever since I switched from the 100-watt to the 80-watt a month or so ago (when he started becoming lethargic). As I mentioned in my initial post, the basking temperature is around 95 degrees, so I can't see a reason as to why he no longer has a desire to lay on his flat rock under the light. Any ideas? Perhaps this is paranoid thinking, but could the mercury vapor bulb possibly be defected and/or leaking "poison?"

The vet took a stool sample, as well, and informed me that he is parasite-free, other than pinworms (which she said are common in herbivorous reptiles). I made an appointment with another vet to get a second opinion, but the earliest he can see my tort is three weeks from now. I mean no disrespect in saying this, but I honestly feel that most vets are fairly ignorant when it comes to reptiles, despite claiming to be "reptile specialists." She told me that his diet and setup were "perfectly fine," which seemed like a bit of a red flag to me.

My tort is still unbelievably lethargic and is now barely touching his food. I haven't noticed any poop, but he has been urinating frequently. He actually peed on my bed/shirt twice within the past week, which has never happened before. He sleeps in the same spot all day/night and only wakes up for his soaks. He appears to want to be "buried" at all times. He digs deep holes in the substrate to lay in and immediately hides his head under the nearest blanket/pillow whenever I take him out to relax with me.

This is stressing me out to the point where I feel nauseous. I've heard/read so much conflicting information regarding tortoise care that I feel like my head is spinning. The fact that the vet of all people had nothing of significance to offer makes me feel so alone. I do trust the members of this forum the most, however; it's a shame that you all live so far away.
 

KarenSoCal

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@KarenSoCal, @Minority2, @Tom,
This is stressing me out to the point where I feel nauseous. I've heard/read so much conflicting information regarding tortoise care that I feel like my head is spinning. The fact that the vet of all people had nothing of significance to offer makes me feel so alone. I do trust the members of this forum the most, however; it's a shame that you all live so far away.

So you are saying that the vet has no idea what's wrong? This is not especially surprising to me. As you said, most vets are not really up-to-date on tortoise care.

But at least we know some of what is not wrong with him. That is a big step forward!

Have you looked at his eyes? Do they look sore at all? Get a 65 watt incandescent flood bulb. Not a "replacement" bulb...they are LED. You want the old fashioned kind...incandescent...and flood, not spot. Try replacing the mercury vapor bulb with the flood bulb. MVB's are harsh, do not give reliable UVB, are expensive, and finicky. It's worth a try. All the burying sounds like he might be trying to escape the light. It's a long shot, but you never know.

You mentioned parsley and the Tortoise Table. The Tortoise Table is extremely conservative. They have several "do not feeds" that members here do feed. I'm not suggesting that you do that. The Table is a valuable resource, but it's not perfect. This is why we keep saying a "widely varied" diet is essential. You can't just pick 3 or 4 items and feed them exclusively. The next time you hit the grocery store, get some endive or escarole. It can be a staple food that you feed every day, along with other items.

No eating, no walking, no pooping all goes together. At least we know he is not impacted.

I'm wondering about the frequent urination and apparent lack of control. Did you ask the vet about this? Is he swollen at all in his legs and neck? Like he's retaining water?

I know I'm rambling...thinking out loud.

I'm going to tag 2 other members who may be able to help.

BTW, where are you in PA? I was born in York, and spent my first 50 years there. Looooong story how I ended up in CA. So see? You're not all alone. 🤗

@zovick
@Pastel Tortie
 

KarenSoCal

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Low desert 50 mi SE of Palm Springs CA
I know I'm grasping at straws here, but have you done anything in the basement recently? Paint, remodel, spray for bugs? Buy anything new that you're storing there?

Is there any possibility that he was exposed to chemicals the maintenance crew uses? Overspray on a windy day?
Has the county sprayed for mosquitoes recently?

Also, check out www.kapidolofarms.com
Will is a member here and sells lots of different dried foods that are excellent amendments for the grocery store greens.

Finally, changing his lighting may not be as bad as you think, and it would make it easier on you to maintain temps and humidity. You could do something like this...
20200524_162330.jpg

This is a grow tent, available on Amazon. You see it comes with a bar across the top that you hang your lights from. Just do a search for "grow tents", or portable greenhouses.
 
Last edited:

Minority2

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Tortoise Hell
@KarenSoCal, @Minority2, @Tom,
First of all, I would like to thank you all from the bottom of my heart for your quick and thorough replies. I wound up making an appointment with the vet shortly after posting on here and waited to reply until after my tort was examined.

I appreciate the warning in regard to the organic top soil and will instead be buying cypress mulch or fir bark. The vet took an X-ray and thankfully ruled out impaction from the sand. She also came to the conclusion that the mold (from the coco coir) is not the cause of his (possible) illness, due to the fact that he has no respiratory issues.

After reading that food list, I immediately ran out and picked up some bok choy, cilantro, parsley, and turnip greens. (The Tortoise Table lists parsley as a "do not feed." Is this incorrect?) I will make an effort to add more variety and grow my own greens, though that may take some time.

I'll do my best to alter his lighting setup, though I find this to be the most confusing and overwhelming aspect of tortoise care. I would need to purchase several new domes and stands, since his habitat has no lid to rest the domes on. I'd also be unable to suspend any lights from the ceiling. He seems to lack a preference, as far as the hot/cool ends go; he'll settle down anywhere. I have noticed that he's stopped basking ever since I switched from the 100-watt to the 80-watt a month or so ago (when he started becoming lethargic). As I mentioned in my initial post, the basking temperature is around 95 degrees, so I can't see a reason as to why he no longer has a desire to lay on his flat rock under the light. Any ideas? Perhaps this is paranoid thinking, but could the mercury vapor bulb possibly be defected and/or leaking "poison?"

The vet took a stool sample, as well, and informed me that he is parasite-free, other than pinworms (which she said are common in herbivorous reptiles). I made an appointment with another vet to get a second opinion, but the earliest he can see my tort is three weeks from now. I mean no disrespect in saying this, but I honestly feel that most vets are fairly ignorant when it comes to reptiles, despite claiming to be "reptile specialists." She told me that his diet and setup were "perfectly fine," which seemed like a bit of a red flag to me.

My tort is still unbelievably lethargic and is now barely touching his food. I haven't noticed any poop, but he has been urinating frequently. He actually peed on my bed/shirt twice within the past week, which has never happened before. He sleeps in the same spot all day/night and only wakes up for his soaks. He appears to want to be "buried" at all times. He digs deep holes in the substrate to lay in and immediately hides his head under the nearest blanket/pillow whenever I take him out to relax with me.

This is stressing me out to the point where I feel nauseous. I've heard/read so much conflicting information regarding tortoise care that I feel like my head is spinning. The fact that the vet of all people had nothing of significance to offer makes me feel so alone. I do trust the members of this forum the most, however; it's a shame that you all live so far away.

Coco coir by itself will not cause mold because it's got no inherent nutritional value of it's own, however, sand and other substrates such as soil can. Bacteria and sand will grow on soil/sand. Best thing to do is to disinfect or at least give the entire enclosure a good soapy wash after getting rid of the coco coir/sand mix.

Tortoises that use require basking areas do not always spend the majority of their time in them. That spot is only used them back up to a certain degree when their core temperature is down from doing other things like exploring at the other sections of their enclosure. It is actually more of an issue in itself if a tortoise spends the majority of their time inside the basking area instead of around it. That usually may be an indication of the enclosure not having enough warmer temperature/climate zones for the tortoise to move to. If you're achieving the correct temperature zones as written by @Tom then you shouldn't be too worried about that department.

I've already covered mercury vapor bulbs as being one of the possible causes of inactivity/looking lethargic. I already said that I disapprove of using such a product. Sometimes tortoises will burrow at the sight of those types of bulbs. The links I provided should have details on what type of bulbs you should've bought. Maybe it hasn't arrived yet? Activity should slowly come back when you switch out that piece of junk.

Stop handling your tortoise. Leave your tortoise be. It is not a sociable animal. It's peeing on you because it sees you as the predator that's bullying and toying with him. That's stressing them out. Admire the tortoise at a distance and only handle them when absolutely necessary like during soakings and trips to the backyard for some supervised sun. The tortoise will overall be happier if you just leave them be and only briefly cross their paths when bringing food and or taking them to different locations to soak or get some sun. Consider yourself as being a background caretaker/janitor to your tortoise.

Burrowing is a nature instinct for Russians. They use keep warm. To cool down. To get away from blinding lights. To escape from unwanted touchings.
 

Pastel Tortie

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I'm curious... Tell me more about this play date with your friend's gigantic tortoises on June 8. Russians aren't "gigantic," so what species are we talking about? Was there anything at your friend's place that your tortoise might have been exposed to, besides the gigantic tortoises themselves (and their tortoise poop)?
 
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