The African Spurred Tortoise, also known as Sulcata tortoises, African spurred, African spur thigh, cicada tortoise, and just spurred tortoises, is the most produced tortoises in the world with origins from North Central Africa.
A couple of years back, the Sulcata tortoises were a rare pet in the United States, but they have shown an amazing ability to adapt to different habitats and climates in captivity, and their low cost combined with a curious personality makes them tortoises that are now sought after by first-time tortoise owners.
This animal is a symbol of longevity, fertility, and happiness in Senegal. Unfortunately, the number of sulcata tortoises in the wild decreases due to habitat loss, over-collecting from the wild (due to pet trade), and poaching (because of their shells and body parts). As a result, the Sulcata tortoise is listed as vulnerable, which means that it may become endangered in the near future.
African spurred Tortoise/Sulcata Tortoise Availability
Sulcata tortoises are bred by many breeders in the U.S, commonly in the Southern states, from coast to coast, where it is easier to create a Sulcata tortoise indoor habitat (and outdoor) all year round.
Captive-bred baby Sulcata are available from many sources, including reptile expos, local pet stores, and directly from breeders.
The importation of Sulcata tortoises has reduced, and any wild-caught animals would be large, older animals that are well established in captivity (most of which have found lifetime homes by now). Any young sulcatas that you come across would be captive bred in the U.S.
What is the current Sulcata tortoise price?
Pricing of young Sulcata tortoises hugely varies depending on where you get them, age and size, and even the season (when larger numbers of babies are available seasonally, prices can drop for a short time).
The moment a sulcata is big enough to be conformed to a female, the price is often higher for that tortoise because of its breeding potential.
The African Spurred Tortoise can also often be adopted from rescues or families unable to care for a giant tortoise any longer.
Sulcata Tortoise Size
African Spurred Tortoise hatchlings measure approx. 1½ to 2 inches in carapace length. The Sulcata tortoise growth rates are probably more variable than any other tortoise.
You can have a 10-inch tortoise that is three years old or ten years old. Lots of adult Sulcata tortoises break the 100-pound mark. But, most cicada tortoises we’ve met aren’t much over 100 pounds, but my cousin has seen a few.
From experience, big female sulcatas tend to be in the 70 to 90-pound range and are still growing slowly. However, these tortoises (males especially) can reach 200 pounds. Any tortoises nearing that weight would be very old. Sulcata tortoises grow rapidly for the first five to 10 years, and then their growth slows with age.
Cicada/Sulcata Tortoise Life Span
Because Sulcata tortoises haven’t been raised from birth for long periods, it’s still difficult to determine what age a well-raised sulcata born into captivity is capable of living to.
Raised on a lean, high-fiber diet, captive-raised animals in low-stress environments have higher life expectancies. Most indications are that sulcata tortoises can live more than 70 years.
Sulcata Tortoise Caging
Because of their gigantic size, African spurred Tortoise are best kept by those who have access to an outdoor area, where their pet tortoise can be kept for most or all of the year.
We keep our sulcatas in a desert-type set up outdoors with a large grass area in the center and dirt around the perimeter.
They commonly “patrol” the perimeter of their enclosures, so we leave it dirt there because any grass would just be destroyed with time.
Any Sulcata tortoise enclosure will require a sturdy wall at least 24-inches in height above ground, as well as 12-24 inches below ground to prevent (or discourage) these tortoises from digging.
Concrete masonry blocks work well when cemented in place and a well-built wood wall as a barrier.
See-through walls and fences shouldn’t be used, as the tortoises tend to try to escape through or over these walls.
African Spurred tortoises are burrowers if there isn’t a proper hide box accessible as a cool retreat during the summer months or a warm retreat during the winter.
There are exceptions to every rule, though. For example, when the tortoises make efforts to dig, these spots should be filled in with large flagstones, etc., to stop future digging.
A single tortoise can be allowed to burrow naturally, but with multiple tortoises in an enclosure, they can “stack up” in the caves, and the deepest ones will be unable to exit.
Cicada tortoises are grazers and will consume any grass and most plants in their enclosure. You can plant any of the many clump types of grass and African sumac and desert-type mesquite trees, which also make for nice cage décor. Fragile plants are likely to be destroyed by the tortoises once the animals have any size to them.
For raising young African Spurred, you can try Sulcata tortoise indoor habitat creation. While outdoor housing is preferred anytime the temperatures are in the acceptable range; many people raise their sulcatas indoors for the first few years of life.
The best enclosures we recommend are simple sweaterboxes or a “tortoise table,” which you can buy or make yourself. The container itself isn’t as big of a deal as the furnishings you put into it, including lighting, substrate, temperature gradients, and cage furniture. In cold climates, a suitable enclosure can be built in the garage for large tortoises that need to spend a few months indoors during the winter. These enclosures should be heated enough to keep the tortoises comfortable during the indoor months.
Offer humid hiding areas for your baby sulcata tortoise, so it can snuggle in and get a dose of humidity, much like a natural burrow.
This humid microclimate helps their shells to grow smoothly and helps in keeping the tortoise hydrated. Conversely, tortoises raised without proper humidity tend to dehydrate quickly and form “bumpy” shells as they grow.
For indoor enclosures building, many various substrates can be used. For all sizes of tortoise, cypress mulch has proven to be excellent bedding.
It’s safe, absorbent, and relatively low cost. Other options are various hays (timothy, orchard grass, Bermuda, alfalfa etc.), as well as peat moss or coconut coir. Outdoor enclosures don’t need fancy substrates, provided the soils that are there are mostly natural and not tainted with chemicals or fertilizers.
You can also add a couple of large, flat rocks in an indoor enclosure. They help file down the tortoises’ nails and give them a clean surface for food.
African Spurred Tortoise Lighting and Temperature
Sulcata tortoises that live outdoors can tolerate a variety of temperature changes. 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.
African Spurred 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). Therefore, it is absolutely required that these tortoises are checked 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.
While indoors, these large 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 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.
Some reptile parents have complained of the light affecting the activities of an albino sulcata big-guy.
African Spurred Tortoise Diet
Cicada tortoises are eager eaters, hardly turning down a meal. With adult tortoises, the best staple diets are various grasses and leaves, the same as their natural diet.
Generally, they will graze on the grape leaves, mulberry leaves, lawn grasses, hibiscus leaves, and flowers.
With size, most sulcata tortoises will consume grass hays (we like orchard grass hay). Baby and smaller sulcatas have a harder time eating the tougher grass and hay because of their less powerful jaws.
Use spring mixes (particularly with baby sulcata tortoises), which have several leafy ingredients in them. You supplement with kale, turnip greens, collard greens, and any of the darker lettuce types.
Cactus pads have become a big part of the diet of many tortoises. Mazuri Tortoise Diet is occasionally offered to cover any nutritional bases that the other diet may have missed.
Variety is the key. Feed tortoises from a grass surface, flat rock or concrete, or from a tray. To prevent them from eating rocks or soil, never feed tortoises directly from a dirt or gravel surface.
Sulcata Tortoise Water
Black Spurred tortoises can have a small water dish in their outdoor enclosures. Use a shallow, low-sided dish that are glazed to make cleaning easy and fun.
Cleaning must be done frequently, as most tortoises tend to soak in their dishes and defecate them. I provide water bowls during the hottest parts of the year, but I don’t during cooler times. We also provide small “mud holes” and puddle-areas where the tortoises can sit to stay cool during the hot months.
Tortoises are living in areas with regular rainfall drink from leaves and puddles. However, if you live in areas with prolonged dry periods, such as Las Vegas, offering them water helps to keep them hydrated.
When sulcata tortoises are housed indoors, I prefer not to have standing water in the bowls because they tend to defecate in them while soaking. In shallow water, the tortoises usually begin drinking immediately and flush their systems at the same time. Therefore, they need to be soaked outside the enclosure in shallow, warm water once or twice a week for fifteen to thirty minutes to get fully hydrated.
Baby and juvenile sulcata tortoises tend to dry out much quicker than larger, more established tortoises. Because of this, I soak baby sulcata tortoises in shallow, warm water up to three times a week, for 10 to 15 minutes, whether they’re housed indoors or outdoors.
Sulcata Tortoise Health
To achieve the best result, buy an alert, active sulcata tortoise with bright, clear eyes, buy one from a reputable source that will guarantee (at least) a live arrival. Unfortunately, these tortoises can suffer from the most common reptile health problems, but respiratory infections are the most prevalent.
Sulcata tortoises are prone to respiratory infections if they are kept in wet or cool enclosures. This is because they need to be able to dry out, particularly if temperatures are low.
Africa Spurred Tortoise Handling and Temperament
Contrary to what many sellers tell customers, tortoises generally should not be handled regularly. This is because they are easily stressed when overhandled, and children tend to drop them when spooked. These stress factors can lead to a decline in a tortoise’s health and activity levels.
Adult sulcata tortoise’s are generally more resistant to handling, but all tortoises should be handled carefully. Avoid pinning them down or restricting them. Instead, allow them to carry on in their intended way, especially when they’re young. Older sulcatas are usually pretty tolerant of people.
Sulcata Tortoise Facts (African Spurred)
Here are some amazing African Spurred tortoise facts, or what you can all Sulcata Tortoise facts:
|This type of tortoise can reach 24 to 36 inches in length and 100 to 200 pounds of weight.|
|These African beasts have thick skin that is usually sand-colored or golden brown. Upper part of the shell (carapace) is brown colored.|
|They have broad and oval carapace that consists of large scales called scutes. Each scute is covered with growth rings. Number of rings corresponds to the age of tortoise.|
|Sulcata tortoise is also known as spurred tortoise because of two to three conical spurs on the back side of the thighs. Front legs are covered with large scales.|
|Sulcata tortoise a plant eater. Its diet is based on succulent plants and various types of grasses.|
|Sulcata tortoise is crepuscular animal (active at dusk and dawn).|
|Depending on the season, the activity of sulcata tortoise varies. It is mostly active during the rainy season (from July to October) when water and food are available. It basks in the sun in the early morning to increase body temperature and provide energy required for regular daily activities.|
|Sulcata tortoise spends hottest part of the day and dry season in a period of dormancy during extremely hot and dry period of day or year). It digs 30 inches deep burrows or creates complex tunnels that may reach depth of 10 feet. Hatchlings use abandoned mammalian burrows to hide from the excessive heat.|
|Mating season takes place from September to November (after the rainy season).|
|Sulcata tortoises are aggressive by nature. Ramming behavior can be seen from the moment of birth and it becomes especially pronounced during the mating season.|
|60 days after mating, female begins to dig nests. She creates at least 4 to 5 shallow depressions in the ground over a period of few days. At the end, she picks one location, lays 15 to 30 eggs and covers them with soil.|
|Incubation period lasts anywhere from90 to 120 days. Hatchlings are 2 to 3 inches long at birth.|
|Sulcata tortoise grow very fast It doubles its size every three years. Sulcata tortoises reach sexual maturity at the age of 15 years.|
|Sulcata tortoises are popular, but demanding house pets.|
|Sulcata tortoise can survive from 50 to 150 years in the wild.|
They will eat any of the lawn grasses, grape leaves, mulberry leaves, hibiscus leaves and flowers. With size, most sulcata tortoises will eat grass hays (we like orchard grass hay). Smaller and baby sulcatas have a harder time eating the tougher grass and hay because of their less powerful jaws.
The African spurred tortoise is the largest mainland tortoise, easily reaching 76 centimeters (30 inches) in length and well over 45 kilograms (100 pounds) in weight. Some males even reach 200 pounds (90 kilograms)! It is surpassed only by the island dweller tortoises from Aldabra and Galápagos.
Keep fruits limited to give in occasions. Grass hay and grasses are the best diet for the tortoises. When housed indoors, it is good to soak them in a shallow water bath to their chin for 15-30 minutes once a week. Dust the greens with a calcium (without vitamin D3) powder a twice a week.
Sulcata tortoises are big tortoises and if you don’t mind their lengthy lifespan, they’d make great pets. They have very specific requirements to keep them healthy and happy and you’ll find that they make very fun companions.
Tortoises are affectionate creatures, and they readily recognise their owners.
Appropriate items include escarole, dandelions, endive, turnip greens, and small amounts of romaine lettuce (not iceberg lettuce). Spinach, kale, broccoli, beet greens, carrot tops, and especially rhubarb, contain high amounts of oxalates which bind calcium, so these should be offered in limited quantities, if at all.
The sulcata tortoise is a strict vegetarian and in wild just like sheep and goat, it gazes dry, fibrous hays and grasses, as well as occasional blossoms and fruits. Fruits like bananas, melon, berries, strawberries, and apples can be given as treats in moderation.
Yes! You can toss in a little green or yellow bell pepper, sweet potato, cauliflower or squash.
There are more nutritious leafy greens (radicchio/collard) available, but lettuce is perfectly fine as a part of a tortoise’s diet. We advise you feed them a more nutritious variety such as romaine or red leaf as opposed to iceberg lettuce.
Yes tortoise can consume cucumber, and carrots and fruit (apples, apricots, grapes, melons, peaches, and strawberries).
Tortoises like watermelon, but make sure to reserve it as a treat. Sulcatas are grass grazers, so leafy greens, grass, and hay should make up the bulk of their diet. But whenever we have watermelon ends left over at our house, the tortoises love it!
They can eat sweet potatoes, alongside other greens like pumpkin, broccoli, corn on the cob; greens such as collards, dandelions, escarole, romaine, kale.
Tortoises can and will eat the aloes leaves if they are cut from the plants and offered.
Onions aren’t bad to tortoises. I recommend feeding them small amounts mixed in with left over salads to mine for years. Green, white and red onions are great.
Dark leafy greens such as mustards, romaine, collards, and red leaf lettuce are great choices. Beet greens and carrot tops can be offered, alongside hays and grasses. These foods should make up the majority of the diet for growing tortoises.
Yes they can eat them. Not something you would want them to have every day or in a constant large percentage of their diet, but as part of a varied and complete diet, yes.
Now, we hope you liked our Sulcata tortoise/African Spurred Tortoise care sheet. We would love to hear from you via the comment box below or via emal. Cheers!