Sulcata Tortoises are popular pets among reptile enthusiasts. They’re big, slow, and usually calm and quiet. This makes them suitable pets for seniors and children alike.
Also called “The African spurred tortoise”, this species is highly adaptable to different climates and living conditions. With a bit of tweaking, you can make them feel at home anywhere. In this article, I’ll give you all the information and tips you need to give a Sulcata tortoise a healthy, happy life.
This tortoise is also known as “The African spurred tortoise” for a reason. Their signature characteristic is the thick, pointy scales covering their legs. They’re also known for their great size. Once they reach adulthood, these tortoises can weigh up to 90 pounds (40 kg) or more.
Their average adult size is around 76cm. The good news is that they tend to grow slowly. It takes about 15 years for a Baby Sulcata to grow into a fully developed adult.
Their earthy shades make for an interesting look. Their tall, blocky shell is usually yellow-brown. Their skin is also a similar yellowish-tan to brown color. This palette works best in their natural habitat, where it acts as the perfect camouflage in the desert environment.
As with other tortoise species, the male Sulcata has a longer tail than the female. Another difference between male and female Sulcata Tortoises is the shape of the plastron. Females have a flat plastron, while males have curved plastrons.
Sulcata Tortoises are great to have around. They’re easygoing and peaceful. They rarely get territorial, so you can house them together with other tortoises if you wish.
Also, the older they are, the heavier they become. This makes them slow creatures, and they certainly take their time when moving around. They sure give off stoner vibes, is what I’m saying.
These not-so-little guys are also naturally curious and eager to explore. They’ll try climbing and hiding when given the chance, but due to their size and weight, they might easily flip over or get stuck. Watch out for that!
They also have outgoing personalities, which means they like interacting with other tortoises, pets, and people. As long as you don’t handle them too much, they’re happy to keep you company.
When left on their own, they keep themselves busy playing, climbing, and digging holes. If you keep them outside, you might want to give them a specially designated area. You wouldn’t be the first Sulcata owner to end up with a ravaged garden.
If you keep your tortoise indoors, make sure their substrate is thick enough. Like any other tortoises, Sulcatas will dig holes to hide and cool off.
They live longer than many other species. In the wild, they’re known to live up to 150 or more, which is insane to imagine. In captivity, they generally live between 50-70 years, sometimes more.
While this doesn’t sound as impressive, it’s still decades longer than many other pets. If you take proper care of it, your Sulcata will grace you with its presence for a lifetime. Keep reading to learn more about proper diet and care for Sulcata tortoises!
General Care & Housing
It’s best to keep this tortoise outdoors. It’s quite large, so it needs a lot of space to explore and exercise. If you live in a colder climate or have no garden, you’ll need a lot of indoor space for this guy.
I’m talking somewhere between 7 to 9 square meters of floor space for each adult tortoise. Space is usually the main issue when preparing your Sulcata’s enclosure. Once you get that down, everything else will be easy peasy. So, let’s see, what else should you keep in mind?
Like any other tortoise species, Sulcatas need a constant source of heat to regulate their body temperature. In fact, as long as they have access to water and shade, they do just fine in temperatures of 100 °F (38 degrees Celsius) or higher.
These tortoises need a lot of heat to stay healthy. They naturally inhabit the southern part of the Sahara Desert, after all. If you live in a tropical climate, natural sunlight should offer enough heat for your tortoise.
If you live in a colder climate, you can house your tortoise indoors, or even in a greenhouse. They do best in daytime temperatures ranging from 79-95 °F (26-35 degrees Celsius). Nighttime temperatures should fall between 68-78 °F (20-26 degrees Celsius).
The temperature should never go below 68 °F (20 degrees Celsius). Without adequate heat, your tortoise won’t be able to keep its body temperature up. This makes it vulnerable to life-threatening infections.
A Sulcata Tortoise does best in humidity levels of around 40-55% during daytime. At night, a higher humidity between 70-80% is ideal. Without enough humidity and drinking water, tortoises become dehydrated quickly. Dehydration can especially affect growing baby tortoises, often leading to flaky skin, watery eyes, and loss of appetite.
To make sure that everything is within the proper range, I like using a hygrometer. Even the cheapest ones usually measure both temperature and humidity levels. If the indoor air is dry, you can use a humidifier to raise moisture levels. You can also wet your tortoise’s substrate and use a spray bottle in the enclosure to raise humidity levels at night.
– Cage Size
If someone asked me “How much space does a Sulcata need?”, my answer would be “Yes!”. These guys become huge as time goes on. Adult males can even weigh up to 155 pounds (70 kilograms). I think I know people who weigh less than that.
While you might not need a lot of space for a baby tortoise, you’ll definitely need to upgrade your enclosure as your pet starts growing. An adult Sulcata will need at least 9 square meters of floor space.
The walls should be between 12-24 inches (30-60 centimeters) tall. This doesn’t include the additional 30 centimeters height needed for the substrate. These tortoises love digging, and they need enough soil to go through.
If you keep your tortoise outdoors, the same requirements apply. You can delimit your tortoise’s space with a 60-centimeter-high fence. The fence should run at least an additional 30 centimeters under the ground.
Sulcatas need direct sun exposure to keep warm and to generate vitamin D3. Like humans, tortoises produce vitamin D3 when exposed to UVB rays. Without exposure to UVB light, tortoises develop calcium absorption issues and bone disorders such as rickets and osteoporosis.
If you keep your Sulcata indoors, keep in mind that UVB rays don’t penetrate windows or glass. Placing your tank near a window won’t cut it. You need to buy a UV lamp to replace natural sunlight in the enclosure.
Food & Nutrition
Proper nutrient intake is crucial for your tortoise’s health. You should also feed your tortoise a species-appropriate diet. While many tortoises are omnivorous, Sulcatas are herbivores. They need a low protein, high fiber, green-rich diet.
Avoid plants high in antinutrient factors. Oxalate-rich greens like spinach, kale, and mustard greens hinder calcium absorption. You can feed your pet a variety of grasses, edible weeds, and hays to reach daily mineral and vitamin requirements.
Around 75% of a Sulcata’s diet should consist of edible grasses, with the additional weeds and flowers thrown in for an extra kick. Diet variety and food quantity will greatly depend on the age and size of your tortoise, so always check with a vet for a personalized dietary guide.
Sulcatas tend to graze all day. You don’t necessarily need to establish a feeding schedule, but make sure that your pet has constant access to food.
Because they are herbivorous, you shouldn’t feed your Sulcata insects, snails, fish, or other animal sources of protein. Don’t feed your tortoise fruit or vegetables such as carrots, squash, or bell pepper.
Sulcatas aren’t used to eating high sugar foods in the wild, so these foods aren’t appropriate for them. For something extra, you can feed your tortoise wildflowers and cactus pads a few times a week.
Many Sulcata owners also include calcium and vitamin D3 supplements in their pet’s diet. Talk to a vet to ensure that your tortoise has a healthy, nutrient-dense diet. Only administer supplements if directed by a professional. Always follow the instructions and do not feed your pet supplements more often than prescribed!
Your tortoise should get most of its water intake from the food it eats. Still, you should also place a bowl of water in the tank. Sulcatas also need to drink plenty of water every day.
The bowl should be shallow and preferably buried in the substrate. This way, your tortoise won’t be able to flip it over and spill the water everywhere.
When its body temperature rises too much while sunbathing, your tortoise will drink extra water. Tortoises also soak and defecate in the same drinking water, so you must clean the bowl regularly!
Harmful bacteria can spread quickly in moist environments, predisposing your pet to shell rot and other life-threatening infections.
They reach sexual maturity at around 5 years of age. Breeding for these tortoises takes place between February and March. If you have an extra 150 square meters to spare, you should know that these tortoises breed very easily even in captivity.
Female Sulcata tortoises generally lay between 15 and 30 eggs at a time. The incubation lasts about eight months. Although they might seem adorable, Sulcata hatchlings are usually hostile towards one another and will often get aggressive.
Speaking of aggressive, you don’t want to house two male Sulcatas together during mating season. That’s when they become aggressive and territorial. When competing for the attention of a female, they bite and smash one another to establish dominance.
They get pretty vocal during breeding and if you never heard a tortoise’s sexy sounds, you’re in for a laugh.
5 Interesting Facts
- Besides the Galapagos Tortoise and the Aldabra Giant Tortoise, the Sulcata Tortoise is the third largest tortoise species in the world.
- In the wild, Sulcata tortoises leave their burrow at sunset. That’s when they go looking for food.
- Because of its natural habitat, this tortoise can last for weeks without water! When it gets access to water after a long drought, it can drink up to a quarter of its body weight, depending on its size and age.
- An unbalanced diet with an improper phosphorous-to-calcium ratio will weaken this tortoise’s bones, leading to fractures.
- Consumption of animal protein can lead to carapace deformity in a Sulcata tortoise. An excess of plant protein can cause scute pyramiding.
Sulcata Tortoises are amazing pets. They’re friendly, sociable, and always curious. They get attached to their owner quickly, and they are generally easy to care for once space requirements are met. This long-lived tortoise is generally quiet yet entertaining to watch. It loves roaming around and playing.
As long as it’s not stressed or handled too much, it’s gentle with children and other animals too. They aren’t fussy about living conditions and aren’t more predisposed to illness than any other tortoise. As long as they have a clean environment and a species-appropriate diet, they should live long, healthy lives.