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African Spurred (Sulcata) Tortoise Breed Info: Pictures, Facts, Diet & Care Guide

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By Nicole Cosgrove

African Spurred (Sulcata) Tortoise

The African Spurred Tortoise, also known as the Sulcata Tortoise, is a remarkable creature that imposes itself with its immense size and endearing personality. As the third-largest species of tortoise in the world, these magnificent creatures have become popular pets and are admired for their majestic appearance and gentle nature.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the characteristics, care requirements, and fascinating facts about the African Spurred Tortoise, providing valuable insights for both experienced reptile enthusiasts and those considering these incredible reptiles as pets!

Breed Overview

Size: 18 to 36 inches
Weight: 80 to 150 pounds
Lifespan: 80 years or more
Suitable for: Owners who are willing to make the lifelong commitment to this tortoise’s care
Temperament: Gentle, docile, curious

The African Spurred Tortoise, or Centrochelys sulcata, hails from the arid regions of the southern Sahara Desert in North Africa. Renowned for their impressive size, adult specimens can reach lengths of up to 30 inches and weigh over 100 pounds. With their distinctively patterned shells and keen sense of curiosity, they have enchanted humans for centuries. The breeding process involves careful selection of compatible individuals and providing optimal environmental conditions to encourage mating and successful egg incubation.

African Spurred Tortoise Breed Characteristics



How Much Do These Tortoises Cost?

Locating an African Spurred Tortoise can be an exciting quest. While they were once relatively uncommon in the pet trade, their popularity has soared over the years. These tortoises originate from Africa’s Sahel region and are now bred in captivity by reputable breeders. Due to their size and specific care requirements, they are considered exotic pets and can come with a significant price tag. Prices for hatchlings or young tortoises can range from $200 to $500, with the cost increasing for larger, well-established adults.

Image Credit: WikiImages, Pixabay

African Spurred Tortoise Breed Behavior

Despite their large size, African Spurred Tortoises are generally docile and well-mannered. They exhibit a gentle and curious nature, often exploring their surroundings and showing a fondness for basking in the sun. These tortoises are diurnal and display interesting behaviors such as digging burrows to escape the intense heat of the day or to create a safe space for themselves. Their intelligence and ability to recognize their owners make them fascinating and interactive pets.

Do These Turtles Make Good Pets?

African Spurred Tortoises can make wonderful pets for dedicated reptile enthusiasts who can meet their specific needs. However, their size and long lifespan require careful consideration before bringing one into your home. They need ample space, proper lighting, and a controlled diet to thrive. Additionally, their long lifespan, which can exceed 80 years, means caring for these tortoises is a lifelong commitment. Their gentle nature and remarkable appearance make them rewarding companions, but prospective owners must be prepared for the responsibilities and challenges they entail.

African spurred tortoise
Image Credit: Hans, Pixabay

African Spurred Tortoise Tank Mates

While African Spurred Tortoises are typically solitary animals, they can coexist with compatible species under certain circumstances. Tortoise keepers often create mixed-species enclosures with other herbivorous reptiles such as Greek Tortoises, Uromastyx lizards, or certain iguana species.

However, it is crucial to carefully monitor interactions and ensure the enclosure is spacious enough to prevent territorial disputes or injuries. Individual temperament and size considerations should also be taken into account.

Care Sheet & Habitat Setup:

Light Requirements

Providing the appropriate lighting for African Spurred Tortoises is crucial to their overall well-being. These tortoises require both UVB lighting to synthesize vitamin D3 and basking spots to regulate their body temperature effectively. Full-spectrum UVB bulbs should be installed in their enclosure, along with a heat source to create a basking area with temperatures ranging from 90 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. It is essential to provide a day-night cycle, mimicking natural sunlight patterns, to maintain their biological rhythms and promote overall health.

Enclosure Size

Considering the African Spurred Tortoise’s substantial size, providing a spacious enclosure is vital for their well-being. Hatchlings can start in smaller enclosures, but as they grow, they will require larger habitats.

A recommended minimum enclosure size for adult African Spurred Tortoises is 8 feet by 4 feet, with a solid bottom to prevent injuries. Outdoor enclosures are ideal, as they offer ample space for exercise and access to natural sunlight, which contributes to their overall health and well-being.

African spurred tortoise lying down
Image Credit: Hans, Pixabay


Creating a natural and enriching environment for African Spurred Tortoises involves incorporating suitable plant species into their enclosure. Tortoises enjoy nibbling on various grasses, weeds, and leafy greens, such as dandelion, plantain, and hibiscus.

It is crucial to select non-toxic plants and ensure they are free from pesticides or other harmful chemicals. Adding plants not only provides a food source but also stimulates the tortoise’s natural foraging instincts and contributes to their overall mental and physical well-being.


Choosing the right substrate is essential for maintaining proper hygiene and ensuring the comfort of African Spurred Tortoises. Options include a mix of topsoil, sand, and coconut coir to create a substrate that mimics their natural habitat. This blend allows for burrowing and digging behaviors while retaining appropriate moisture levels. Regular spot cleaning and occasional full substrate changes are necessary to maintain cleanliness and prevent the accumulation of bacteria or parasites.

Things to Know When Owning an African Spurred Tortoise:

Food & Diet Requirements

Like all tortoises, African Spurred Tortoises are herbivores. Their diet primarily consists of various grasses, weeds, and leafy greens. Providing a diverse and balanced diet is crucial to meet their nutritional needs. Common food items include hay, collard greens, kale, turnip greens, and a variety of other safe greens and vegetables. Calcium and vitamin D3 supplements are also essential to prevent metabolic bone disease. It is important to avoid feeding them high-protein or high-fat foods, as these can lead to health complications.

Size & Growth Chart

African Spurred Tortoises start their lives as tiny hatchlings, measuring only a few inches in length. With proper care, nutrition, and suitable living conditions, they experience remarkable growth.

By their 1st year, they can reach sizes ranging from 5 to 7 inches, and by their 5th year, they can exceed 10 inches in length. Growth rates vary between individuals, but they typically reach their adult size of 24 to 30 inches by their 15th year.

Fully grown African Spurred Tortoises can range from 18 to 36 inches depending on a variety of factors such as age, diet, sex, and even genetics.

African spurred tortoise in front of white background eating corn
Image Credit: cynoclub, Shutterstock

Lifespan and Health Conditions

The African Spurred Tortoise has a long lifespan, often exceeding 80 or even 100 years with proper care. However, they are prone to specific health conditions that owners should be aware of to ensure early detection and appropriate treatment. Regular veterinary check-ups are highly recommended to monitor their overall health and address any potential issues promptly.

Minor Conditions
  • Shell Pyramiding
  • Eye Infections
  • Digestive Issues

Serious Conditions
  • Shell Rot
  • Bladder Stones
  • Respiratory Infections
  • Metabolic Bone Disease

Male vs Female

Distinguishing between male and female African Spurred Tortoises can be challenging, especially when they are young. As these tortoises mature, however, some sexual dimorphism becomes apparent. Males tend to have longer tails and concave plastrons, which aids in mounting females during mating.

Females, on the other hand, generally have shorter tails and flat plastrons to provide ample space for egg development. Determining the sex of African Spurred Tortoises often requires an experienced eye or professional assistance.

3 Little-Known Facts About African Spurred Tortoises

1. The African Spurred Tortoise Can Last for Weeks Without Water or Food

With adaptations honed over centuries in the arid regions of the Sahara Desert, these tortoises can survive for weeks or even months without consuming food or drinking water. Their metabolism slows down significantly, allowing them to conserve energy and water during times of scarcity. This impressive resilience is a testament to their remarkable ability to adapt to harsh desert environments.

2. The Name “Sulcata” Means “Furrow” in Latin

This name perfectly captures one of the defining characteristics of the African Spurred Tortoise—the deeply furrowed or grooved pattern on its shell. These furrows provide structural strength to the shell, allowing it to withstand pressure and protect the tortoise from potential threats. The Latin name not only reflects the physical appearance of the tortoise but also pays homage to its unique and distinctive features.

3. They Can Burrow to Survive in Extreme Heat

To survive in the extreme heat of the desert, African Spurred Tortoises have developed a remarkable adaptation—they burrow into the ground. Despite their large size, they are able to dig up to 10 feet below the ground!

Burrowing serves as a means of escaping the scorching temperatures and finding refuge in cooler, more protected subterranean environments. By digging deep burrows, these tortoises can shield themselves from the intense heat and reduce water loss through evaporation. Burrowing allows them to regulate their body temperature and avoid direct exposure to the blistering sun, enabling them to thrive in their challenging desert habitat.

African Spurred (Sulcata) Tortoise with the mouth open
Image Credit: Polbkt, Shutterstock

Final Thoughts

The African Spurred Tortoise is a captivating and rewarding reptile to own, but it requires commitment, knowledge, and resources to provide them with optimal care. Their majestic size, gentle nature, and remarkable lifespan make them a unique addition to any reptile enthusiast’s collection. By understanding their specific needs, creating suitable habitats, and ensuring a balanced diet, African Spurred Tortoise owners can experience the joy of witnessing these magnificent creatures thrive in their care. Remember, responsible pet ownership and continuous education are key to providing the best life possible for these amazing tortoises.

Featured Image Credit: poeticpenguin, Shutterstock

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