The Ultimate Care Guide For Sulcata Tortoises

 The Ultimate Care Guide For Sulcata Tortoises

Are sulcata tortoises easy to keep?


Sulcata tortoises are also known as the African Spur Thighed Tortoise. They start off small and take many years to grow to their full size. They can be easy to keep for someone who has a large yard or a designated burrowing area for their tortoise. 

Weight and Lifespan 


Baby sulcatas are typically around 2 inches when they hatch. The growth rate for each tortoise depends on their diet and environment. Some tortoises can be almost 10 inches in five years or maybe it’ll take them 10 years to be that size. Either way, it takes them many years to grow to be over 100 pounds.


As they get older, their growth will slow down. If you see a tortoise that is reaching a weight of over 100 pounds, it is most likely very old. 


Sulcatas are able to live for more than 70 years. Having a proper diet will allow them to have a better life expectancy. 


Since they can live for so long, it is important to have a plan for who can take care of them in the event that they outlive you. This is something to keep in mind before bringing home a sulcata.  



When baby sulcatas are small, indoor housing is appropriate. However, as they grow larger, they are going to need a lot of space. Outdoor enclosures are going to be inevitable if you have a sulcata. The space you set aside for your tortoise will definitely lose a lot of grass and other plants. Be prepared to have a dry dirt patch in your yard from your tortoise. 


Sulcatas love to dig and make burrows. Whether their enclosure is indoors or out, they will need soft sod or dirt to burrow in.  They need a place to go when it is too hot or too cold. A box or compartment large enough to fit your tortoise will work. 


As I mentioned before, they love to dig. This can be damaging to your yard and you need to have the proper materials to keep them from trying to escape the yard as well. Provide a designated burrowing space for your tortoise. You can place cement blocks or stones a few inches in the ground to prevent them from digging too deep. 


They also need a barrier wall around their enclosure. The wall needs to be about two feet above and below the ground. The sturdy wall will give the tortoises a sense of protection and minimize burrowing. A wood fence will not keep a tortoise in for too long. They will find a way to break through if the wall is not sturdy enough. 


Indoor enclosures for babies will require substrate, heat, and materials to hold in humidity. A small rabbit house or tortoise table is the appropriate housing for baby sulcatas. They need to have soft cypress mulch or soil without fertilizers to burrow in as well. Hay is also great to have in their enclosure because they can graze it and it will hold in some moisture for humidity. 



Sulcata tortoises can survive in very high temperatures as long as a hide is provided to cool off. They can also survive temperatures as low as 50 degrees Fahrenheit as long as their hide is heated. If you keep your tortoise outside full-time, you need to make sure they fell asleep in their box so they are not exposed to temperatures that are too cold. 


For indoor enclosures, keep the temperatures around 65-85 degrees Fahrenheit. This can be achieved by using a heat lamp. A UVA/UVB light is important as well because it will mimic light that they get from the sun and help them digest the calcium. The lights need to be on for about 12 hours a day and completely off at night. 



Sulcatas love to eat. Their diet consists of hay, grass, different types of leaves, and collard greens. Their food needs to be dusted twice a week with calcium powder as well. 


I would recommend feeding your tortoise daily when it is a baby and then three times a week once it has grown several inches. Sulcatas should not be overfed in captivity. 


Provide a flat dish or surface for your tortoise to eat off of so it does not accidentally ingest any substrate. Eating too much substrate could create health problems that would require intervention from a vet. 



Your sulcata tortoise needs a shallow dish to soak in like the one shown above. The dish should be an inch deep at the most. They need to be able to get in and out of their bowls. They also defecate in their bowls or carry in substrate. Their water will need to be changed out almost every day. 


Indoor tortoises should be given a bath twice a week for about half an hour so they can defecate, drink, and to help prevent their shells from pyramiding. 



Sulcata tortoises are very curious creatures, but they can easily be spooked. Babies can become stressed easily and this can put a strain on their health. Try handling them as little as possible. 


As they become larger, they may become used to their owners and follow them around. They will even eat out of your hand if they are used to you. Just let them wander around their enclosure and they may come by to greet you. 



One of the most common problems with tortoises is pyramiding. Pyramiding is when their shell raises at the scutes and becomes very pointy. Scutes are the little boney plates on a tortoise that you see on their shell. Those scutes will raise to look like a pyramid. 


The scutes need to grow horizontally, but pyramiding causes them to grow vertically. A healthy tortoise should have a shell that is very smooth. Pyramiding happens during big growth periods and lack of proper humidity. 


One way to help make the pyramiding less noticeable during growth is to feed your tortoise three times a week. Dust their food with calcium powder twice a week and provide a UVA/UVB light. Bathe them twice a week for about 20 minutes as well to keep them hydrated. The water is good for their shells as well to prevent pyramiding. 


Low humidity will lead to pyramiding and lack of a proper diet. Keep their substrate a little moist as well so they can burrow in the moisture to prevent pyramiding.

Wrapping Up


Sulcatas are easy to keep if you have enough yard space, food, and fresh water daily. They are very docile and learn to tolerate people as they get older. Whether they are inside or outside, they need a place to burrow. They can live for a very long time and it is important to have a plan for them if they start outliving you. 

Jade Messieh

Proud bearded dragon, tortoise, crested gecko, and green tree python mom. I've always been passionate about animals and hope to help other reptile & amphibian enthusiasts along their journey!

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