The Sulcata Tortoise is from parts of Africa, and although they start out small, they will end up turning into very large creatures that can live up to 70 years old. Make sure you can provide the proper care before taking one home. These tortoises are the third largest species in the world, but with the right care and experience, they can be a lot of fun to own.
Hatchling tortoises are small enough to hold in your hand or put in your pocket, but fully grown, they will weigh over 100 pounds and have a 25” shell in diameter on average. They are a desert species, and like most tortoises, they do not have a lot of color. These tortoises will become fully grown in 5 years, and can live to be 70 years old.
Hatchling tortoises can be handled, but they may be shy. As adults, they are generally gentle creatures, but don’t even think about lifting one up. Tortoises are no social animals like dogs, but they will not mind your presence.
The majority of your tortoise’s diet should consist of plant matter. Only a little bit can consist of fruits and vegetables like grapes and cantaloupe. Feed a mixture of dark greens like Romanian and iceberg lettuce. As adults, they will be grazers, so plenty of natural grasses and dandelion plants should be available to your tortoise. Grass hay can also be used as a staple in your tortoise’s diet. Some tortoises can be picky, so it may take a little experimenting to see what they will eat and what they won’t.
Hatchlings can eat a premade tortoise food sold at many pet stores. As they grow, introduce different plant matter and fruits to them. Switch over to a full diet of leafy greens and fruits once your tortoise has become too big for a cage.
Adult sulcata tortoises NEED to live outside for at least the majority of the year, or in a large area inside to avoid feeling trapped. If you keep them outside, they will become the planter, the mower, the fertilizer and the arranger of your yard. These tortoises are known for digging, so a deep, sturdy fence is important.
If you live in a climate that can become uncomfortably cold at night or for much of the day, a tortoise shed can be used. Inside should be food, and it should be heated to 85F.
If you do not live in a suitable climate, or your backyard will not be appropriate to house your sulcata tortoise, you can build a tortoise table. They are open top enclosures that work well, and there are plenty of building plans online. Only hatchlings can be kept in any sort of glass aquarium.
Tortoises living outside require no substrate that is not already on the ground. Juvenile and adult tortoises living inside need a substrate such as aspen shavings to dig in and use for traction.
Provide barriers and hides where your tortoise can get away from the heat or anything that threatens them. If enough shelter is not provided, sulcata tortoises will burrow to feel secure.
Whether kept inside or outside, the temperature should be 75-85F during the day. Temperatures that exceed this range are dangerous for the tortoise, and it will look to burrow to get out of the heat. During the day make sure there are places for your tortoise to get out of the sun and the heat. At night, temperatures can drop to 65F comfortably.
If your tortoise spends time outside each day, UV lighting is not an issue. If kept out of the sun you will need a UV bulb to provide enough vitamin D3. This bulb should be less than 10 inches away from your tortoise and be replaced every 6 months.
Being from the desert, only a small water bowl is required to meet their needs. Often they will get most of the water they need through the greens that they will consume.
Spot clean the enclosure or outdoors area daily, and always provide fresh water in the water bowl. Replace indoor substrates every 2-3 months.
Breeding sulcata tortoises requires a lot of work and dedication to achieve success. Only use fully-grown pair of tortoises to avoid injuries as juveniles. A pair of tortoises can be kept in the same enclosure or yard for the whole year, and will begin to show interest in the fall. When these tortoises mate, they are very loud. Only one male tortoise is needed to mate, and male tortoises should not be kept together.
Eight weeks after mating the female tortoises will begin nesting. Females will dig a pit, fill it with eggs and cover the pit up. Be careful when trying to remove the eggs to put them in the incubator because females have been known to aggressively protect their eggs for the first week. Once the eggs have been removed from the enclosure, place them in an incubator. Incubate the eggs in damp vermiculite at 85F. Eggs will hatch in 3-4 months.
Hatchling care is the same as an adult’s care requirements, but everything is smaller. Be sure to keep hatchlings hydrated and move them into bigger spaces as they grow.
Sulcata tortoises are the largest reptiles you can own, reaching 100 pounds within a couple of years. With attention to their care requirements, sulcata tortoises can be fun to own. Remember, do your research before buying any pet so that it can live happily and healthily.
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Georgia Stampley - November 25, 2011
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