Sulcata (African Spurred) Tortoise Care Sheet

Sulcata Tortoise Care
Sulcata Tortoise Care, photo by cliff1066™


  • Scientific Name: Geochelone [Centrochelys] Sulcata
  • Lifespan: Sulcata Tortoises can live for more than 70 years in captivity.
  • Handling: They are pretty hardy species and don’t mind being handled too much, but don’t over do it either. Like any other reptile, they can become stressed easily and should be handled only on occasion. Also, try to avoid letting little kids handle your sulcata tortoise, as many kids get scared easily when the tortoise’s head pops out or in, and on occasion accidentally drops them.
  • Size: Approximately 24 – 36 inches.
  • Care: Easy/Medium
  • Community: The answer varies, depending on the gender of the tortoises and the size of the enclosure. Normally, two females will get along fine if kept in a large enough enclosure, while two males will fight for dominance by chasing, bumping shells, and on occasion biting. Russian Tortoises do perfectly fine on their own and do not need any companionship.
  • Lifestyle: Diurnal, active during the day.


These tortoises are not your average Greek sized tortoises that stay at a manageable size, so you should think twice about getting one if you are still considering to get one or not. Sulcata tortoise’s grow a shell of approximately 24-36 inches (2-3 feet) and can weigh anywhere from 80lbs to over 100 lbs, so the size of the enclosure that you will be needing for one of these guys will be BIG! Not small, not medium, but BIG! So if you can’t manage making a big enclosure or creating one, do not get a Sulcata tortoise. You will only end up donating it somewhere to a place that won’t take care of your sulcata tortoise as much as you once did.


So as to what size enclosure you will need will be….

  1. Small sized sulcata tortoise (2-5 inches) will need an enclosure of about 3 ft by 3 ft
  2. Medium sized sulcata tortoise (5-12 inches) will need an enclosure of about 5 ft by 5 ft
  3. Large sized sulcata tortoises (anything larger than a foot/foot and half) will need an enclosure the size of your living room. Most sulcata tortoise owners will usually move their tortoise into an outdoor enclosure at this time which they can move freely and dig. But make sure the climate and weather temperatures are suitable for for housing your sulcata tortoise outside.


If kept outside (in warm weather), enclosure walls should be set into the ground at least 8 – 12 inches to avoid escapes from the holes that your sulcata tortoise(s) may dig. Having that being said, enclosure walls should also be at least 12 inches or higher above ground.


Now, if you are housing more than one sulcata tortoise outside and you notice they are starting to dig/burrow, you are going to want to mark a flag where one has already burrowed. If you don’t do this, you will most likely lose track of where they burrowed and possibly face a situation where one is trying to burrow right on top of one that is already burrowed. This can possibly endanger the one that was already previously burrowed due to the fact that it will be very hard for him/her to dig out later on.


Sulcata tortoise enclosures are pretty basic. They only need a few things to thrive….

  1. A large water dish for your sulcata tortoise to soak in and drink from. This should be deep enough that it can wet a good portion of its shell, but not so deep that it can drown itself. You are going to want to place this on the cool side of the enclosure as a heat lamp will dry it out faster and warm up the water, not allowing your sulcata tortoise to freshen up with cool water.
  2. A hide box should also be located at the cool end of the enclosure to allow your tortoise to retreat to when feeling threatened or scared. Your tortoise may even use the hide to sleep in. Make sure to use a sturdy hide. If your sulcata tortoise is on the verge of being put into what you would call a BIG enclosure, you may even use a dog house as a hide where you are keeping your tortoise.
  3. You may also include a variety of ‘toys’ that your tortoise may enjoy such as rocks, tunnels, and logs that your sulcata tortoise can climb over, under, and through.

When decorating your sulcata tortoises enclosure, it is very important that you do not over-decorate the enclosure as these types of tortoises need lots of room to move around in.

Lighting & Heating

Your sulcata tortoise will need 3 types of lights….

  1. A UVB bulb – this is very vital to their growth and health. Without this, metabolic bone disease may occur.
  2. A heat lamp (basking spot light) – this provides heat on one side of the enclosure for your sulcata tortoise to gain warmth and to bask if he/she needs to.
  3. Normal Light – this is to provide a bright light for your sulcata tortoise to see everything in the enclosure. Most of the time, if a heat lamp is only used, only one part of the enclosure is lit up. With a normal light going across the enclosure, this allows a great source of brightness throughout the enclosure for your sulcata tortoise to see and distinguish daytime.

Note: UVB bulb must be present throughout their entire life and must be replaced every 6-7 months. UVB rays are known to diminish after this time period.


If you are housing your sulcata tortoise outside, you will not be needing any of the lights mentioned above, as the sun will provide every type of lighting needed. But make sure your enclosure allows for your tortoise to burrow underground to maintain itself. He/she will burrow if it feels it needs to, usually when feeling exhausted by the extreme heat outside.  Most sulcata tortoises burrow underground to cool themselves if it is to hot outside. So if burrowing is not an option for your sulcata tortoise, whether it be you choosing to use a large pen or plastic pool bin for it’s enclosure, then I suggest to house your sulcata tortoise indoors.


When measuring temperatures, it’s best to use digital thermometers. Dial thermometers tend to give off inaccurate measurements. 

Day Time

Cool side: 70 – 75 °F

Warm side: 85- 95 °F   / 95 – 105 °F for an adult

Night Time

No lights are necessary. The temperatures should be between 60 – 72 . If you decide to house your sulcata tortoise indoors and the temperatures go extremely below 60 °F, I would suggest using a ceramic heat emitter, as this will provide enough warmth for your sulcata tortoise to sleep comfortably.

Feeding & Diet

Sulcata tortoises are leaf eaters, but don’t try feeding the leaves you find outside in your backyard to your tortoise unless you know for sure they are edible and are free of any pesticides or any other lawn care toxins. Their main diet will be made up of grass hays (orchad grass hay in particular), kale, collared greens, turnip greens, and dandelions. STAY AWAY from iceberg lettuce. Feeding iceberg lettuce to a reptile is almost every reptile owners biggest mistake.  Little do they know that iceberg lettuce has no nutritional value whatsoever and causes a reptile to have the runs.


Humidity levels should be between 40 – 55%. You can achieve this by simply choosing correct substrate to aid in humidity levels along with misting the enclosure twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. If this is not working, just mist the enclosure more often. You can easily measure the humidity percentages by using a digital hygrometer (humidity gauge). Dial hygrometers tend to give off inaccurate measurements.


Now, many people have their own opinion about putting a water bowl in their sulcata tortoises’ enclosure. The reason being is because many sulcata tortoises love to drink and defecate in the water at the same time. This is not very healthy for your sulcata tortoise any may lead to problems later on. Now, to take cautionary measures, you may decide to not use a water bowl until you can supervise your tortoise hydrating.


They need to be soaked in shallow, warm water every other day for 10 to 15 minutes to get fully hydrated. But remember, the size of the water bowl should only be deep enough for your sulcata to wet it’s shell without letting it’s head go below water. If it’s deeper, your sulcata will have a high chance of drowning.


Sulcata Tortoises need a substrate that they will be able to dig and burrow in. The best choice of substrate to use for a sulcata tortoise is a mix of 50/50 between play sand and topsoil or a mix of 50/50 coir and play sand. These two substrate mixtures allow:

1) Great burrowing substrate for your sulcata tortoise.

2) Humidity levels to increase


Note: The information on this sulcata tortoise care sheet is not a substitute for veterinary care.

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