Wannabe tortoise owner- need your opinions on my plan!

Joined
Apr 10, 2021
Messages
22
Location (City and/or State)
Wisconsin
Hi! My name is Indi and I live in Wisconsin in the US. I have dreamed of owning a tortoise since childhood and I’m thinking of making the dream a reality. I’ve been lurking on these forums and studying up for months now, so I thought it was about time to join and get all of your expert opinions on what I’m considering so far:
I will be getting either a Russian or Herman’s. I am leaning heavily towards a female. After reading tons of posts on here and other reputable sites it sounds like a female is far less likely to become aggressive than a male. Not that all males become aggressive or that it’s super common, but it’s not a chance I want to take. I can only handle one tortoise so it’s not like I could provide females for a male anyway. I am concerned about egg binding, but from what I’ve read it’s far less likely for a female to become egg bound than it is for a mature male to become aggressive.

Because of this preference, being able to tell the gender of my future tortoise is very important to me. I’ve heard you can’t really tell gender until they are around 18 months-ish old. This rules out a hatchling. There aren’t many captive breeders around me at all and the only one I can find said they ONLY sell hatchlings. I also want to meet my future tortoise in person, so that rules out ordering from an out of state breeder (which Im guessing most only sell young ones anyway 🤷🏻‍♀️) So this leaves me with 1. Pet store or 2. Rescue. Most of my pets are rescues since I volunteer for my local animal shelter so I’d love to go that route, but tortoises only come for adoption once in a blue moon in my area. I’ve read varying opinions on pet stores. Basically what I’ve surmised is the health guarantee is often better through pet stores, but the animal you are getting likely has gotten sub-par care prior to your purchasing them. And they are normally wild caught. Would this make egg binding more likely if buying a pet store female?

After lots of research I’ve determined in my climate keeping them indoors would be best, only letting them play outside when the weather is acceptable. I live in central WI. Summers can vary greatly low 70s-90s F. It’s also usually quite humid! I’ve heard for Russians too much humidity outside can be an issue. Spring and fall can be low 40s-60 at the highest and rains a lot. If it’s 40s and raining there’s really no safe way to keep them outside, right? Even in summer nights can get down to the 40s.

I have also determined that for me personally I don’t want to hibernate my tortoise, so I will have to keep it indoors in winter. At first hibernating sounded appealing to me since I like having very low maintenance pets. But after learning I couldn’t do it naturally outside in my climate, I’d need to use a fridge, and some of the inherent risks, I’ve decided against it. Would love to hear all of your opinions! Thanks!
 

Ray--Opo

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I just want to say welcome. I own a sulcata so I would not be able to give you advice.
This forum is the only forum you need. There are many members here who have done this for yrs. With the knowledge of the 2 species you are interested in.
Hang on I am sure you will get some replies.
 

Armadillogroomer

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Welcome!

When I worked directly with pet stores (retail chains, no mom-and-pop stores), I never once met an adult Russian that was aggressive to people. Most of them were curious and wanted to explore. That doesn't mean a 10+ year old Russian won't suddenly get hormonal one day, but that's the risk with any non-domesticated pet. Don't overthink it :)

Egg-binding is a valid fear with reptiles/birds. All you can do is do your best. Russians are very hardy and can take a lot of abuse before it permanently affects them. Once you get them out of a bad situation and into a good environment with proper care, Russians typically thrive.

Check Craigslist and local FB community/classifieds, not just your area but any other metro areas within a reasonable drive. Most people won't drop off exotics at rescues because they expect $$$ in return for their failed "investment" (their kid got bored of it). If you buy from a pet store, they do have a policy that is in favor of your wallet, but it's a depressing and painful process. You must return the animal as if it is merchandise, and they hold it for you to re-purchase it after it's been treated at the store for a few weeks and cleared by a vet.
 
Joined
Apr 10, 2021
Messages
22
Location (City and/or State)
Wisconsin
Welcome!

When I worked directly with pet stores (retail chains, no mom-and-pop stores), I never once met an adult Russian that was aggressive to people. Most of them were curious and wanted to explore. That doesn't mean a 10+ year old Russian won't suddenly get hormonal one day, but that's the risk with any non-domesticated pet. Don't overthink it :)

Egg-binding is a valid fear with reptiles/birds. All you can do is do your best. Russians are very hardy and can take a lot of abuse before it permanently affects them. Once you get them out of a bad situation and into a good environment with proper care, Russians typically thrive.

Check Craigslist and local FB community/classifieds, not just your area but any other metro areas within a reasonable drive. Most people won't drop off exotics at rescues because they expect $$$ in return for their failed "investment" (their kid got bored of it). If you buy from a pet store, they do have a policy that is in favor of your wallet, but it's a depressing and painful process. You must return the animal as if it is merchandise, and they hold it for you to re-purchase it after it's been treated at the store for a few weeks and cleared by a vet.
Yes good info, thank you! I do feel very torn on the pet store/rescue/private party options, there’s def pros and cons to each. As far as aggression is concerned, I understand it’s probably rare, but I was surprised at the plethora of posts by owners of males who’ve turned aggressive. I think I found a measly 1 post about an aggressive female. Just based on percentages it seems far more likely for males. Even though it may not be likely in general..
 

Grace-Sophia

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I have three torts, two males and one female, my RT male is just about one of the goofiest, sweetest, and curious things I have ever met. It depends on the tortoise, if you are planing to first meet your tortoise, and you dont want a hatching, you will be likely able to see what his/her personality is like. So I wouldn´t worry about that too much. Female Hermanns and Russians alike get much bigger than the males. Females can get up to around 9- 10¨ and males only get around 6-7¨. So a female would require more space, I currently have my female two year old Hermanns in a roughly 5 x 5 ft enclosure indoors, but she also has an outdoor enclosure for the sunny and warm days. So it is completely based on the care you are willing to give and personal preference!
 

nootnootbu

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Almost everything I've read about tort aggression problems, even with males, has been way more often towards other tortoises than towards people. As you're only planning for one tort, this shouldn't be a likely issue.

And, as others have said, in Russians and Hermann's, the females get larger and need more space.

My little male Russian is the light of my life and such a sweet and docile little thing.

I think you might not want to rule out males, especially if egg binding concerns you. I think females getting egg bound is probably more common than males turning aggressive towards people.
 
Joined
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Messages
22
Location (City and/or State)
Wisconsin
Almost everything I've read about tort aggression problems, even with males, has been way more often towards other tortoises than towards people. As you're only planning for one tort, this shouldn't be a likely issue.

And, as others have said, in Russians and Hermann's, the females get larger and need more space.

My little male Russian is the light of my life and such a sweet and docile little thing.

I think you might not want to rule out males, especially if egg binding concerns you. I think females getting egg bound is probably more common than males turning aggressive towards people.
Almost everything I've read about tort aggression problems, even with males, has been way more often towards other tortoises than towards people. As you're only planning for one tort, this shouldn't be a likely issue.

And, as others have said, in Russians and Hermann's, the females get larger and need more space.

My little male Russian is the light of my life and such a sweet and docile little thing.

I think you might not want to rule out males, especially if egg binding concerns you. I think females getting egg bound is probably more common than males turning aggressive towards people.
Thank you! Just to clarify I was speaking specifically of posts I’ve read about males becoming “aggressive” towards humans, not other torts. But I have decided not to rule males out. Its good to hear an opinion that egg binding could be more likely. Thanks!
 

harrythetortoise

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I have a marginated tortoise but mine is rather shy. I saw some Russian tortoise videos on the forum where they would come to you for food, etc, and seem to have a lot more outgoing personality. I think they are very cute!
 

nootnootbu

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Thank you! Just to clarify I was speaking specifically of posts I’ve read about males becoming “aggressive” towards humans, not other torts. But I have decided not to rule males out. Its good to hear an opinion that egg binding could be more likely. Thanks!
I'm unsure how a male russian could even hurt a person, even if they became aggressive? Mine is roughly the size of a hamburger and when held around his shell he can't reach me with his mouth, even if he did try, which he never has. Is biting what normally happens? I've been lucky so far in that none of my babies have been aggressive, but everyone other than my Russian are 2 years or younger.
 
Joined
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I'm unsure how a male russian could even hurt a person, even if they became aggressive? Mine is roughly the size of a hamburger and when held around his shell he can't reach me with his mouth, even if he did try, which he never has. Is biting what normally happens? I've been lucky so far in that none of my babies have been aggressive, but everyone other than my Russian are 2 years or younger.
Aggressive is kinda a funny term for it since who couldn’t “outrun” a tortoise trying to bite you lol. It’s mainly that they open their mouths to try to eat their hands or bite their shoes/feet. My concern is that for me personally I want mine to have a laid back personality and be friendly, not have to avoid all interactions with him or her because they just want to eat me lol
 

nootnootbu

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Aggressive is kinda a funny term for it since who couldn’t “outrun” a tortoise trying to bite you lol. It’s mainly that they open their mouths to try to eat their hands or bite their shoes/feet. My concern is that for me personally I want mine to have a laid back personality and be friendly, not have to avoid all interactions with him or her because they just want to eat me lol
I would think the best option would be to adopt an adult then. This way you already have their disposition and can meet them first as you mentioned before. Good luck in your tort search! I have found all of mine on craigslist.
 

ZEROPILOT

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Welcome.
In most species of tortoise the males will become aggressive after they are sexually mature. But only towards other tortoises. And maybe a few tortoise shaped items in the vacinity.
But choosing a male or a female simply because of that would be a mistake. Females can also be very bossy.
I have a very angry female Redfoot that has become territorial in the absence of males. I have minimal interaction with my group. They all live outdoors.
Most tortoises that you have time to interact with and form some kind of trust with will become very sociable towards you. Male or female.
 

Tom

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Hi! My name is Indi and I live in Wisconsin in the US. I have dreamed of owning a tortoise since childhood and I’m thinking of making the dream a reality. I’ve been lurking on these forums and studying up for months now, so I thought it was about time to join and get all of your expert opinions on what I’m considering so far:
I will be getting either a Russian or Herman’s. I am leaning heavily towards a female. After reading tons of posts on here and other reputable sites it sounds like a female is far less likely to become aggressive than a male. Not that all males become aggressive or that it’s super common, but it’s not a chance I want to take. I can only handle one tortoise so it’s not like I could provide females for a male anyway. I am concerned about egg binding, but from what I’ve read it’s far less likely for a female to become egg bound than it is for a mature male to become aggressive.

Because of this preference, being able to tell the gender of my future tortoise is very important to me. I’ve heard you can’t really tell gender until they are around 18 months-ish old. This rules out a hatchling. There aren’t many captive breeders around me at all and the only one I can find said they ONLY sell hatchlings. I also want to meet my future tortoise in person, so that rules out ordering from an out of state breeder (which Im guessing most only sell young ones anyway 🤷🏻‍♀️) So this leaves me with 1. Pet store or 2. Rescue. Most of my pets are rescues since I volunteer for my local animal shelter so I’d love to go that route, but tortoises only come for adoption once in a blue moon in my area. I’ve read varying opinions on pet stores. Basically what I’ve surmised is the health guarantee is often better through pet stores, but the animal you are getting likely has gotten sub-par care prior to your purchasing them. And they are normally wild caught. Would this make egg binding more likely if buying a pet store female?

After lots of research I’ve determined in my climate keeping them indoors would be best, only letting them play outside when the weather is acceptable. I live in central WI. Summers can vary greatly low 70s-90s F. It’s also usually quite humid! I’ve heard for Russians too much humidity outside can be an issue. Spring and fall can be low 40s-60 at the highest and rains a lot. If it’s 40s and raining there’s really no safe way to keep them outside, right? Even in summer nights can get down to the 40s.

I have also determined that for me personally I don’t want to hibernate my tortoise, so I will have to keep it indoors in winter. At first hibernating sounded appealing to me since I like having very low maintenance pets. But after learning I couldn’t do it naturally outside in my climate, I’d need to use a fridge, and some of the inherent risks, I’ve decided against it. Would love to hear all of your opinions! Thanks!
All of us have had different experiences. Some have had more experiences than others, and frankly, we all look at this in different ways, which "colors" our opinions and preferences. I got my first box turtle in 1979. I started working with red foots, Russians, leopards and others in pet store in 1986, and have been keep one or more tortoises continuously since then. I bought and raised babies of many species, hatched and raised many babies of several species, rescued many adults of many species, been given many tortoises of all ages and species, and I've given away many tortoises of many species to other caring homes. I've seen a lot over many years. These are my opinions based on all of the above:
1. Male or female doesn't matter. All tortoises have different personalities. I've seen as many territorial aggressive female Russians, as I have males. With hermanni and greeks, there is more of a tendency for males to become those rare "super males" that are occasionally seen. It is rare for a tortoise to become aggressive toward people. I've seen very little of that with any species in all my years. The vast majority of torotise aggression that is discussed is adult males fighting each other, or pestering females for breeding. In general, males are more outgoing, bold, unafraid and personable, which sounds like what you are looking for. Females tend to be more shy, reserved and uninterested in interaction. Exceptions abound. I've seen plenty of bold females and shy males too, but we are talking averages here.
2. Even if it did become aggressive (Which is exceedingly rare...), so what? Don't dangle your finger in front of its mouth and you have no problem. The torotise should never be loose on the floor, so it will never have access to your feet or toes. These are wild animals. Not domesticated pets. Their actions are determined by instinct, by learned responses, by habituation, and by desensitization. You'll have to find a balance between gaining trust so the tortoise isn't afraid of you, and going too far so the tortoise thinks you are food. I think what you are envisioning in your mind about tortoise behavior is quite different than the reality of what will actually be happening day to day.
3. Egg binding is rare. Almost never happens when there isn't a male present. Really not a concern.
4. Any pet store tortoise is going to be wild caught and likely harboring a host of potential diseases and problems. Some of these survive and do fine over time, and many don't. You'll also get terrible advice and sold the wrong products. I wouldn't recommend that route.
5. Rescues can be anything. Many of them will be pet store tortoises which lands you in that same pool of potential diseases. The stress of moving often brings these problems to the surface even if the tortoise's immune system was able to suppress it for years previously. Rescuing someone's unwanted captive bred adult pet may be a good way to go if the sexes matter that much to you, but I don't think they should. Again, dealing with averages and generalities, you will likely be inheriting someone else problems and suffering the consequences of mistakes they've made. Some people feel good about helping animals in need and don't mind the expenses, extra work and potential heartbreak that comes with that. You'll have to decide if you want to give yourself the best chance at success, or if you want to do some emotional gambling with a rescue. I've done both. Both can be rewarding and both can be heartbreaking.
6. Indoor housing is fine, but make sure the enclosure is at least 4x8 feet, and a closed chamber will make it easier for you to offer better conditions for a tortoise.
7. You do NOT have to hibernate your tortoise. It will be fine if you don't. However, I think you SHOULD hibernate your tortoise it is is one of the species that would hibernate annually in the wild. This is risky when it is done incorrectly. This is routine and mundane when done correctly. I've been hibernating dozens of tortoises, lizards, and snakes annually for several decades, and I've only ever had one single problem, and that is when I took the advice of a lizard keeper who didn't know my climate, and let my tegus hibernate in-ground outside. Doing it my own way has resulted in 100% success every year, year after year. I've hibernated Russians, DTs, Chersina, hermanni, and greeks. Never a problem with any of them.
8. Something else to understand is that for decades we have been caring for tortoises all wrong. Many many mistakes and misconceptions, and most of the people offering care sheets and advice are still doing it the old wrong way. Wrong lights, wrong substrate, wrong foods, wrong types of enclosures, wrong ideas, and worst of all, most breeders start babies all wrong. I used to do it the old wrong way and that's how I know this. Decades of trial and error and experimentation, along with research, study, observation, and countless conversations with experienced tortoise keepers have revealed some of these old mistakes and shown us better ways. Many of the "old guard" argue some of these points with me and others, but none of the arguers have actually tried what is begin recommended to know the difference between their way and the new ways. They have closed their minds and are unable to learn. Sad, but true. Having said all of that, here is the current and correct care info, reflecting all this new info I just mentioned, for the species you are interested in:

I hope my post will provoke some thoughts. Beg some questions. Stir some healthy arguing. Tortoise conversation is welcome. :)
 
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