Sulcata Tortoise Care Guide

This article will show you how to care for sulcata tortoises, one of the most popular species of tortoise in the world. I have provided several care videos from my YouTube channel that will be linked throughout this care guide or here for those that prefer to learn from videos. I also have sulcata tortoises for sale available here or on the bottom of this page.

Centrochelys sulcata

Sulcata Tortoise Size

Sulcata tortoises (Centrochelys sulcata) also known as African spurred tortoises are the third largest species of tortoise in the world. They usually weigh anywhere between 80lbs - 150lbs and measure between 18-30 inches when full grown.




Sulcata Tortoise Enclosure

The most important thing to ensure a healthy and happy sulcata tortoise is the enclosure, without a proper enclosure your baby sulcata will become sluggish and loose their appetite.

For the enclosure itself anything from a wooden tortoise house, glass tank or plastic tote works as long as you can get the proper conditions inside of them. For a baby sulcata tortoise I recommend a minimum enclosure size of 2ft by 3ft, with an enclosure this size you'll probably need to begin upgrading your tortoise between 1 and 2 years old or when it's 8 inches. For a full grown sulcata an enclosure of 10ft by 10ft will suffice but the more room the better.

After you have decided what you will use for your enclosure, the next step is the substrate. My favorite substrate for my tortoises and most of my other reptiles is cyprus mulch. I usually lay an inch of organic top soil under the cyprus mulch to hold humidity a bit better. Another great addition although not necessary is sphagnum moss or any other type of reptile safe moss available to you. I always put a moist ball of moss on the cooler side of the enclosure, to raise humidity for all the tortoise.

Tortoises need a place or two for hiding to feel comfortable in their homes. There are many options to use as hides. I've used roof tiles, plastic reptile hides, boxes, plant pots and pretty much anything that creates a low roof over the torts.


The last 2 things you'll need inside of your enclosure other than your baby sulcata tortoise is the food and water bowl. For a food bowl any low bowl or flat surface will work. I like to use tiles, or flat rocks as food bowl for tortoises because its easiest for them to get on to. For the water a shallow bowl is important because you won't want your baby tortoise to be able to drown in it. For my larger tortoises I use ceramic plant pot saucers and for my babies I prefer to soak them, more on that later.

Now that you have your enclosure set up with the correct substrate, hides, and bowls you'll need to set up the correct lighting and heating. Directly under the heating lamp you'll want it to be between 95°-100° Fahrenheit. Place the lamp off to one side of the enclosure, away from the hide and water. This is the cool side that you'll want between 75°-80° Fahrenheit. I recommend a ceramic bulb for heating because it does not create any light and can be left on at night if your home is too cold for your baby tortoise. The lights should be on 12 hours a day, if you could use a timer to automatically turn them on and off that works great. Red lights and night lights are not recommended. Other than heating you'll only need the UVB bulb (UVB tube lights are better than regular UVB bulbs) UVB is a light naturally provided by the sun that a lot of reptiles including sulcata tortoises need in order to produce vitamin D3. If weather permits your sulcata tortoise to have access to natural sunlight it is better than UVB but constant direct exposure to the hot sun even for a few minutes can kill them so lots of shade must be provided while outdoors. The best time to let a baby tortoise bask outside will be in the morning or evening when the sun is low and not too hot. UVB does not pass through glass so having them by a window unfortunately does not work.


The last thing you'll need to maintain is proper humidity. This is very important for good health and development of a baby tortoise. I always keep the enclosure for a baby sulcata between 70%-80% humidity and the sphagnum moss is off to one side and is constantly moist for the baby tortoise to hide in as they please. For larger tortoises humidity is not as important but you still need to keep them well hydrated.


Sulcata Tortoise Hydration

Sulcata tortoises are from the Sahel, a semi-arid grassland region in the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. This gives people the common misconception that they do not drink or need any type of water and that is very incorrect. As babies hydration is most important for a sulcata tortoise, they may be from a semi-arid region but they are born during the monsoon season and spend a lot of time in underground burrows where its warm and humid.

Soaking is very important in order to keep your tortoise well hydrated, for babies it is best to do it every day for at least 15 minutes. This video explains it best. You'll want to fill a container with a very shallow amount of warm water, you do not want it passing the bottom of their neck where the skin meets the shell. I then place the container with the baby tortoise inside somewhere half in the shade and half in the sun. Keep them supervised or provide a mesh cover to keep predators away. No glass or plastic to cover them.

I do not keep any water bowls in my baby sulcata enclosure because tortoises like to pee and poop while they drink so with 15-20 babies in an enclosure it will become a health risk rather quickly for the baby tortoises. With one or a few tortoises a water bowl is a good idea but you must clean it daily.


I also mist down the enclosure with a spray bottle 3 times a day, in the morning, noon and evening. This keeps humidity up in the enclosure, gets the tortoise active and keeps them hydrated.

Sulcata Tortoise Diet

A Sulcata tortoises diet should consist of mainly grasses and weeds roughly 80%. I keep my 11 adult sulcatas in a quarter acre enclosure with grass and plants for them to graze on naturally. I give them a tortoise diet twice a week (Available Here) and sometimes left over fruits and vegetables. For my babies I am more strict with their diet. The main things that I offer them is Opuntia cactus, hibiscus leaves and flowers, homegrown wheatgrass with no pesticides, mulberry leaves, collard greens, romaine lettuce and tortoise diet. With the tortoise diet no additional supplements are needed however you can sprinkle reptile vitamins and calcium powder on their food in place of the tortoise diet.

Handling Your Sulcata

A sulcata tortoise like any tortoise should not be handled too often and too roughly. They do not like being off the ground for too long, and constantly carrying it can cause it to get stressed. You can tell a tortoise is stressed if they are peeing and pooping themselves, trying to get away, or hiding in

its shell and hissing. High stress especially in younger tortoises can be lethal. The best way to interact with a tortoise and provide a positive experience for both you and the animal is by taking it outside when weather permits and letting them graze in a safe pesticide free lawn but remember to stay out of direct hot sunlight. It is important to supervise your tortoise while outdoors if they are not in an enclosure, they can easily get away, stolen or eaten by a predator. Hand feeding your tortoise is another great experience for you both, it may be difficult at first but they can easily come around. The first step in taming them is just being around them and letting them do their natural thing. Once they feel comfortable eating and moving normally around you, you can begin to get closer until eventually it'll eat right out of your hand. It may take time but they can all be tamed and will eventually lose their fear.

 

Sulcata Tortoises for Sale

If after reading the care guide you still think sulcata tortoises are the pet for you click the button below

If not check out what other reptiles I have available by clicking here

 

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