Do Russian Tortoises Shed? The Answer Might Surprise You

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Caring for your Russian tortoise does not require much maintenance, which may be why you opted to have it as a pet.

As such, you may not know a whole lot about them, and when they start to shed, you may wonder if this is cause for concern. Let’s find out.

Russian tortoises do shed. However, you will typically see shedding on their bodies and not on their shells due to their affinity to burrow and dig, whereby they will sand their shell.

This article will detail if a Russian tortoise does shed and why it may seem as if it doesn’t or does too much in some cases.

Read on to find out the intricacies relating to the habits and factors regarding a Russian tortoise’s shedding patterns.

Do Russian Tortoises Shed?

Russian tortoises do shed, as with all tortoises. However, this will only happen in specific areas of their body and not everywhere.

russian tortoise walking shedding

Many individuals and sites claim that tortoises will shed everywhere on their bodies, including their shells (acute).

This is simply not true, and the parts of a tortoise that will shed will depend on the breed and how they sand their shell.

Although Russain tortoises are considered a small tortoise species, they still range between 5 and 8 inches (for males) and between 8 and 10 inches (for females) which is still large enough for specific portions of their body to develop substantially.

male and female russian tortoises
Female on right and Male on left

This means that the scales on their front and hind legs will grow to a prominent size. These scales, along with the tortoise’s shell, will not shed.

The only time the scales on the front and hind sections of their leg will “shed” is due to them having some sort of injury or if they have been kept in conditions that are too wet, causing a fungus to grow on these portions, essentially causing them to fall off eventually (but this is not necessarily shedding).

Next, it would help if you understood that a tortoise’s carapace shell bones are attached to its ribs and bones.

Although this is still a “living” (growing) part of the tortoise, which is made of keratin, it is unlike an exoskeleton that other anthropods have, which is made of chitin and protein.

Keratin is the same substance that is found in human fingernails and hair. Considering that a human’s fingernails and hair do not shed, nor does a tortoise’s shell.

Depending on the tortoise breed, the tortoise’s scutes (outer plates or scales) will get worn down due to them constantly burrowing, or “age” rings will develop (specifically on their shell) on the plates as they grow older.

In rare instances, if the tortoise species do not like burrowing, their shells will peel (“shed”).

a turtle resting on a tree with shedding shell

However, Russian tortoises have been known to be a species that enjoys burrowing and digging, so this will most likely not happen.

Check out this video below on how Russian tortoises love to burrow.

The only area (section of skin) that will actually shed is their body. This will happen consistently throughout the lifespan of a tortoise (in this case, a Russian tortoise).

Expert Tip: Take note that it is normal for a tortoise (Russian tortoise) to shed in bits and pieces, not all at once like anthropods.

Why Do Russian Tortoises Shed?

As with all tortoise breeds, Russian tortoises will shed their skin throughout their lifetime at various intervals as this process allows for them to grow more robust and much healthier skin underneath.

This distinguishable fresh layer of skin that is left helps to rejuvenate the body and further protects your Russian tortoise from disease.

a russian tortoise shedding skin

What Are The Signs Of A Russian Tortoise Shedding?

As stated, Russian tortoises like to dig and burrow; as such, you will most likely not see the shell (scutes) shed.

However, if you house your Russian tortoise indoors and burrowing large holes is not an option, this may occur.

These are some of the signs you can look out for to determine whether or not your Russian tortoise is indeed shedding its scutes or skin:

  • The skin will be dry and flakey
  • The skin will come off in bits and pieces
  • Its shell will become firmer
  • Its shell will become larger
  • The older scutes will appear translucent and lose their color
  • In some cases, your Russian tortoise may become more active

Expert Tip: If your Russian tortoise (which is indoors) is pealing, the scutes that come off should be long and thin and not come off in parts. If it does, this could be a sign that it is sick.

How Often Do Russian Tortoises Shed?

As stated, Your Russian tortoise will typically not shed, or rather, you will not see it shed due to its affinity to burrow and dig.

However, this process, whereby it goes through growth and shedding, will typically occur once every few months. Specifically for Russian tortoises, this will occur every 3 to 4 months.

This is because their shell is hard and in the way of their body, and for the most part, tortoises tend to grow slowly, reaching their fully grown adult size over the course of many years and even decades.

Tip: you should remove scutes from your Russian tortoise’s indoor enclosure when they have fallen off. This is because they sometimes eat them, which could lead to damaging their throat and internal organs.

How Long Does It Take For A Russian Tortoise To Shed?

The process of shedding can take anything from a couple of days to several weeks and will vary depending on specific factors.

Some of these factors that will speed up or slow down the process of your Russian tortoise shedding are:

  • Diet
  • Age
  • Habitat
  • If they are able to burrow and sand their shell
  • Disease
  • Injury

Expert Tip: No matter how long it takes, you don’t need to help or interfere when your Russian tortoise starts to shed. If you have adequately supplied it with a varied diet, a good habitat, etc, and considered the factors above, this process will occur naturally and take as long as it needs to.

Do Russian Tortoises Shed Their Shells Too?

We now know that Russian tortoises are naturally inclined to burrow and dig.

When they do this, their shell rubs against the ground or substrate, effectively sanding the scutes (plates of the shell) in this process.

Thus even though their shell will “shed,” it is more than likely you won’t see it occur unless they are kept indoors in an enclosure that does not provide an adequate supply of substrate for them to sand down their shell.

How To Help Your Russian Tortoise To Shed Their Skin

Your Russian tortoise (as with all tortoise breeds) does not particularly need your help in order for it to shed naturally.

As long as you have provided it with the proper care, food, and environment to live in, along with it being happy and healthy, you will not need to (and should not interfere) help it to shed.

Consider that you should only pay attention to how it sheds and focus if the shedding is normal and it is not due to it being ill or having a skin disease.

As such, the shedding of their body will typically be in bits and pieces, and their scutes (if visible due to them not sanding it) should be long and thin and not come off in pieces.

When Does Shedding Become Unhealthy?

As stated, the shedding of your Russian tortoise will frequently occur (every 3 to 4 months) and may last for several weeks, depending on various elements.

You should be concerned if the shedding cycle repeats itself soon after it has ended and if this turns into a pattern. This is an indication that it may be ill.

This may be further indicated if your Russian tortoise’s skin appears to be inflamed, bleeding, or discolored.

Consider the scutes (the shell); repeated shedding is also a sign, along with the scutes coming off in small pieces and not as a whole.


Is It Safe To Peel Off Flaking Skin From My Russian Tortoise?

You should now know that intervention in the shedding process is not required, and your Russian tortoise will go through this activity naturally and healthily unless it is ill.

In no circumstances is it recommended that you peel off flaking skin as this could create open wounds.

Do Baby Russian Tortoise Shed?

Baby Russian tortoises (hatchlings) do indeed shed.

Consider that the process of shedding will occur more frequently in all tortoise breeds (in this case, a Russian tortoise) when they are hatchlings and when they are younger due to growth being more rapid during these stages in their lifespan.

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Chafik Abderrahman is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of

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