Herbivorous vertebrates of arid regions are frequently faced with inadequate food quality, quantity or both. The time and energy devoted to foraging is vital to balancing their energy budgets. For desert ectotherms, a low metabolism should be advantageous, reducing their total energy requirement, but extreme ambient temperatures can strongly constrain these animals’ activity periods. We provide the first data on the activity budgets, foraging behaviour and diet of a highly abundant, desert-dwelling, herbivorous ectotherm, the steppe tortoise Testudo horsfieldi. Extreme climatic conditions of Central Asia limit steppe tortoise's activity to only three months per year. They remain inactive most of their “active season” (90%), and spend very little time foraging (<15 min per day). This suggests that steppe tortoises can satisfy their energy requirements with modest feeding efforts. Interestingly, steppe tortoises avoid feeding on grass species and feed mostly on plant species that are usually highly toxic to mammals. This result suggests that steppe tortoises and ungulates do not compete for food.