When it comes to tortoises, the Russian Tortoise is the species best suited to a colder climate. The Russian Tortoise, part of the Testudo family, is known for its resilience and can hibernate in winter, aiding its resistance to the cold.
Tortoises, just like any other animal, can only survive within a certain temperature range. With that in mind, you cannot keep them in extreme temperatures and call it a day, or you’ll put their lives in danger.
If you’re planning to get a pet tortoise, or you have one already and want to create optimal conditions within its enclosure, you can learn more about their temperature requirements in particular in this article.
Can Tortoises Tolerate Colder Climates?
In general, tortoises prefer warmer climates. These animals come from warmer countries, so naturally in captivity they prefer the same type of climate they have in their natural habitat. Not to mention that tortoises are cold-blooded, or in other words, they cannot maintain their body temperature independent of the surrounding environment.
This is why tortoises need access to a heat source most of the time. Not only to be able to raise their temperature, but also because being warm is necessary to help their metabolic processes. This includes everything from the digestion of food to calcium absorption.
However, environmental temperature, and by extension, their temperature requirement varies from one species to another. Even though all species prefer warmer climates, some species can tolerate colder climates as well.
As long as the temperature doesn’t drop too much for too long, and it’s not absolutely freezing cold in their enclosure, certain species can handle lower temperatures.
What Temperature Ranges Are Right for Tortoises?
The ideal temperature is around 85 degrees F (30 degrees C), plus or minus 5 degrees. This is a warm temperature, but not excessively so.
Temperatures unacceptable for tortoises are those below 85 degrees F (30 degrees C), especially if they go towards freezing temperatures. Not all tortoises can hibernate, and for these species in particular, temperatures that are too low can put their lives in danger.
Even when it comes to hibernating species, you should still not keep them outdoors in extremely cold weather.
Temperatures that are above the 95-105 degrees F (35-40 degrees C) range should also be avoided as they might lead to dangerously high temperatures.
When they are in their natural habitat, tortoises tend to be most active when ambient temperatures range from 60 to 70 degrees F (15-21 degrees C), as the sun heats up their shell in much the same way as the ground. By this mechanism their overall temperature will still reach the ideal 80-90 degrees F (26-32 degrees C).
Most of the time, the nighttime temperatures for a tortoise should be between 65- and 75-degrees F (18-23 degrees C).
During the daytime, the best temperatures on the cooler side of their enclosure are between 75-85 degrees F (23-30 degrees C), whereas at the warmer end of their enclosure temperatures between 95-105 degrees F (35-40 degrees C) are preferable.
For species like the Russian tortoise, the ideal warm side temperature should not exceed 100 degrees F (37 degrees C).
Along With Russian Tortoises, Which Tortoise Species Can Tolerate Cold Temperatures Better?
As well as being one of the most low temperature resilient species, Russian tortoises usually prefer areas with lower humidity, as they are a desert species. But when it comes to colder weather, they can generally handle pretty low temperatures as long as these do not go below freezing point.
Having said that, if they encounter colder climates and stay outside, Russian tortoises will start hibernating. Not to mention that they can stay buried in the ground and handle temperatures that are just about freezing.
The Greek (spur thigh) tortoise can also cope fairly well in colder climates. Although it is not as cold-resistant as the Russian tortoise, it can deal with mild winters. Marginated tortoises are another species that do well in lower temperatures, as they have a pretty large cold to hot tolerance among tortoises.
Another species that tolerates colder temperatures is the Hermanns tortoise. When autumn comes, they tend to bury themselves to hibernate, and they come back in spring as if winter was nothing but a dream.
Species that are not cold tolerant include the Leopard tortoise. This species should not go below 55-60 degrees F (13-15 degrees C). When winter comes, they should definitely be kept indoors, or else their enclosures should be heated so their ideal temperature is maintained.
The Radiated tortoise also prefers temperatures above 50 degrees (10 degrees C), and it is not a hibernator.
The Indian Star Tortoise also has a very low cold tolerance and should be kept indoors in a warmer environment. Indeed Indian Stars are known to be a particularly delicate species in general, so caring for them can be challenging at the best of times.
Meanwhile, the Redfoot tortoise doesn’t like cold winters but can handle cooler temperatures in spring and fall.
How Can You Increase Temperatures in Your Tortoise’s Enclosure?
If your tortoise doesn’t like cold temperatures, you should do everything in your power to increase the temperature to a comfortable level. Fortunately, there are some things that you can, and indeed should, add to your tortoise enclosure to provide some additional heat.
In order to create a comfortable environment where the tortoise can thrive, you should add a heat bulb/lamp. These products take different shapes and forms, but regardless of which you choose, you should position it at one end of the enclosure. It should be placed at the opposite end from the humid hide (the presence of which is another must).
As for the right vertical distance, your heat lamp should be mounted about 10-12 inches (30cm) above the substrate of the enclosure. This will radiate the heat over a wide area.
Ceramic heaters are another good option because they can be used to bring some additional heat, or they can be used as a substitute for a heat bulb. They produce no visible light, so in theory can be used to provide heat at night, although nighttime temperatures are naturally low in the wild for tortoises, so this isn’t usually necessary unless temperatures are close to freezing.
If you want to use a ceramic heater as your primary heat source, then the hot plate should be at least as large as the shell of the tortoise. Ceramic heaters only emit heat in a very directional fashion.
Heat mats, as useful as they can be for other reptiles, should never be used for tortoises, as they provide very little direct heat. They may only disrupt the natural thermoregulatory system of the tortoise. Not only that, they don’t promote basking.
What Are the Temperature Requirements for Hibernation?
When a tortoise hibernates, the ideal temperature is between 39- and 41-degrees F (4-5 degrees C). Overall, it is usually fine to keep the temperature between 37- and 44-degrees F (3-7 degrees C). However, make sure the temperature never goes below 37 degrees (3 degrees C) or above 50 degrees (10 degrees C). Whether the tortoise hibernates outside or in a special refrigerator, you should always maintain the ideal temperature for it to be safe.
Whilst Russian tortoises are certainly one of the hardiest species available to pet owners (they weren’t sent to the moon before people for nothing! Yes, that really happened), they do still of course require pretty specific temperature and environmental conditions. You should endeavor to do all you can to adhere to these, regardless of which species you have.