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Sulcata Tortoise Info

Sulcata Tortoise Info

Brand: Tortoise
Product Code: Info Tortoise
Availability: Find Me At Pets Available

Sulcata Tortoise 

Introduction to Sulcata Tortoise 

  • A tortoise can live to be over a hundred years old and can be very big once they reach adulthood. Out of all these tortoises, the sulcata tortoise (also known as the African spurred tortoise) is known to be the third largest (next to the Galapagos tortoise and Aldabra giant tortoise), with specimens easily reaching 24-30 inches (60-75 cm) in carapace length and 80-110 pounds (36-50 kg).  The largest on record was a male resident of the Giza Zoological Gardens (Egypt) who weighed in at 232 lb (105.5 kg) and measured 41.6 inches (104 cm) over the carapace (Flower, 1925, in Stearns). The oldest recorded specimen in captivity, also at the Giza Zoological Gardens, was 54 years of age (Hughes, 1986, in Stearns).

  • Sulcatas have broad, flattened carapaces, evenly brownish or yellowish in color. As they age, the growth rings inches on each of the scutes are strongly marked. Mature males develop reverted marginal scales in the front. The gulars on the plastron (the marginal scales just under the neck) are deeply forked; the anal scutes are also deeply divided. The skin on the legs is well blended into the shell color. Well-defined spurs, which serve no observable function, are present on the back of the rear legs. Their skin is very thick which may serve to reduce fluid loss through transpiration.

  • Sulcatas come from some of the Sahel, the hottest, driest area in Africa. Some regions may not get rain for years. To make the most of available moisture, their skin is resistant to fluid loss but, when exposed to moisture, may become highly permeable. Towards this end, they will excavate pallets or burrows in the ground to get to areas with higher moisture levels; in the wild, they may spend the hottest part of the day in these microhabitats. Burrows may average 30 inches in depth; some dig tunnel systems extending 10 feet or more underground. Sulcatas are, like most turtles and tortoises native to dry areas, extremely efficient in their use of water. A sulcata may urinate just 0.64 ml a day, significantly less than their spur-thighed cousins living in the relatively lush Mediterranean countries who may urinate 1-2 ml a day. A danger, then, in captivity is that too much water may be given or made accessible which may lead to health problems including skin and shell infections and kidney problems.


  • From the name of the African spurred tortoise itself, it is easy to tell that they are native to the African continent. They can particularly be found in the Sahara Desert, in countries across the continent including Ethiopia, Sudan, Nigeria, Mali, and Mauritania among many others. Their natural habitats are grasslands, savannahs and shrublands. They are known to burrow into the ground of these dry lands so that they may find moist areas and escape high temperatures. In fact, their burrowing ability is quite remarkable and they have been referred to as little bulldozers due to this ability. When placed in captivity such as when they are made as pets, there are some notes that should be remembered to assure that these tortoises remain away from health risks. They must also be kept in similar conditions just like in their natural habitat. That is, they must be kept in a dry and hot environment and avoid being in cold and damp temperatures. When it rains or if the nights turn out to be too cold, they can be placed indoors in temporary housing set-ups.

How To Care Sulcata Tortoise 

a) Housing and Heating Requirement

  • Providing tortoise with daytime temperatures between approximately 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit (23 to 29 degrees Celsius). DO NOT keep the tortoise's enclosure warmer than this. People mistakenly assume that sulcata tortoises must be kept at high temperatures because they are desert animals. This is NOT true! When the temperature goes above 85 degrees F, sulcata tortoises will seek shelter from the heat in their underground burrows, and they will stay underground until temperatures drop to tolerable levels. Wild tortoises stay out of the mid-day sun and heat, only coming above-ground to eat and drink early in the morning or early in the evening after temperatures have dropped.


  • Always make sure that tortoise has access to cooler areas or shade so that it can cool down when necessary. Nighttime temperatures should be lower than the daytime temperatures, but should not be allowed to drop below 60 degrees Fahrenheit (16 degrees Celsius).

  • Sulcata tortoises that live outdoors are tolerant to various temperature ranges. High temperatures are not going to be a problem provided the tortoise has a shaded area to escape to if desired. The tortoises themselves can handle surprisingly cold temperatures, as low as 45 degrees Fahrenheit, with no problems. When nighttime temperatures drop below 50 degrees, a heated hide box should be provided that maintains at least 55 to 60 degrees at night (70s is better), or the tortoises should be brought in during those times. Sulcata tortoises are kept outdoors year-round in some parts of the country where nighttime lows in the winter are 20 degrees (including here in Las Vegas). It is absolutely required that these tortoises are checked on each evening to make sure they get into a heated area and do not fall asleep out in the open and become exposed to these temperatures at night.


  • Indoors, sulcata tortoises can be maintained at normal room temperatures: 68 to 80 degrees. They should also have a basking area heated by an overhead light. This spot should be in the 100-degree range. Like most diurnal, herbivorous reptiles, they need a UVB light in their indoor enclosures to help them properly process the calcium in their diets. Keep lights on 12 to 14 hours a day, and turn off all light and heat sources at night.

b) UVB Light Requirement

  • Because they are from a very sunny, semi-arid environment, sulcata tortoises require a great deal of light to stay healthy and active; without high light levels, these tortoises can become lethargic. Sulcata tortoises also require daily exposure to UVB light to help them produce proper levels of Vitamin D3 in their bodies. Vitamin D3 is essential for the effective metabolism of calcium from food -- tortoises that lack sufficient levels of Vitamin D3 cannot build healthy bones and shells, no matter how much calcium they eat.


  • Sunlight is the single best source of UVB radiation, so the best and safest way to provide Vitamin D3 to your tortoise is to allow it to go outdoors and be exposed to sunlight for at least 20 minutes per day. If this is not possible where you live, then you must provide the tortoise with an artificial UVB light (refer to


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