How to Succeed with Your New Sulcata Tortoise

Aqualand's inside scoop on Geochelone sulcata

 
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Sulcata Tortoise Factoids

Origin

Sub-Saharan Africa

Temperature

75o to 85o days.  Cooler at night.

Habitat

Loves lotsa sunlight (with shade) and low humidity

Lighting

Basking light for heat plus UVB

Attitude

Friendly.  Strong.  Good eater.

Biggest Threats

Rich foods, cool temp, high humidity, dehydration

Schedule

Day shift

Security

Lives in own mobile home but needs a hide box

Size

45# in 15 years  Record size: 240#

Foods

100% vegan.  Grasses and edible weeds best.

Supplements

Calcium with vitamin D

Water

Large, flat water bowl and daily soakings

 

 


LA
Is this a disguise?  Not all sulcatas look exactly alike.

LA
Similar but not identical.

Origins:  Sulcata tortoises come from a dry, arid location in Africa.  They still need daily access to water.  Babies need a daily soak.

LA
Freshly arrived sulcatas especially need a good soak.

LA
Here's six more soaking.

LA
Make sure your sulcata can get in and out of his or her water bowl.

LA
Tortoise, not a turtle.  Sulcatas get too big for most people.  They grow BIG.

LA
Way bigger than this yearling.

LA
You can't get much cuter than hatchling sulcata tortoises.

LA
Well, maybe a baby leopard tortoise is just as cute.

Appeal:  Baby sulcatas are cute.  They beg for food.  And trundle after you in search of a snack (just like little kids).

 

No Glass Lids:  Unlike computer game turtles, your sulcata tortoise cannot jump.  And they hate humidity.  If you need a cover to protect them from your other pets, use a screen.

LA
Another too biggie.  At 300 pounds, this Aldabra tortoise wants the same food -- just more of it.

LA
Big but still almost cute.  We watched him eat grass. Not much left here.

LA
Sulcata tortoise about a year old.

LA
Same guy.

LA
Another yearling.

LA
Off to a good start.  At least 1.5 year's old.  Sulcatas just keep on growing.

LA
This guy is four-year's old.

LA
Same guy.

LA
Those tiles are 9-inch squares.  This sulcata weighs 20 pounds.

LA
Trent found this guy wandering the streets on the Southside of Des Moines.

LA
Not exactly a world record sulcata.  And he never stops moving.  He just keeps on trucking.

LA
Here's some idea of their potential size.

Size:  As the world’s third largest tortoise, sulcatas grow plenty big.  The largest sulcata ever recorded was 240 pounds.  Yours won’t get that big.  Still, they grow fast – 45 pounds in 15 years.  (Fifteen years is fast to a tortoise.)

LA
Always hungry describes baby sulcatas.

LA
Feel free to feed your sulcata tortoise the more nutritious foods occasionally.

Best Foods:  You can’t feed your sulcata tortoise high nutrient foods.  They’ll eat it readily but do poorly on it.  Too much nutrition makes their shells grow funny.  This weird growth pattern is called pyramiding where they grow “hills” on the patterns on their shells. They need lots of fiber in their diet – grasses and weeds.  They love dandelions.  But limit their intake of treat foods.

LA
Sulcatas stomp around their perimeter and wear a path like fenced-in German shepherds.

Roaming Range:  Let your sulcata romp (well, as much as a tortoise can romp) in your grassy (or weedy) backyard.  He’ll enjoy the grassy “eats” and the sunshine.  Don’t do this if you just nuked your lawn for weeds.  Limit his romping time so you don’t bake his brains out.

LA
This sulcata shows up well over a dark substrate.

Substrate:  Any substrate too large to swallow will probably work.  Use a contrasting color and your sulcata will show well.  Aspen is also good but they blend into it.  Your sulcata will dig and/or burrow.

Grazing Areas:  Got a little garden space in your backyard?  You can buy “tortoise grazing mixes” for your sulcata.  Or throw out a couple handfuls of bird seed on the area and rake it in.  Bird seed grows amazingly fast (and tasty).

LA
Most tortoises eat the same basic diet.  These little guys cannot reach this water bowl.

Non-Foods.  Do not feed cat or dog foods – way too nutrient rich.  Do not feed fruits except as an occasional treat.

LA
16 years old.  Too rich in nutrient foods causes this shell "pyramiding."

LA
Same guy.  Not unheathy  Pyramiding just looks a little strange.

LA

 

Housing:  Your sulcata tortoise needs lots of room.  You can start a baby in a little lizard setup but he really needs room to roam.  He’s not fast but like the turtle that out-ran the hare, your sulcata keeps on trucking.  Give him plenty of roaming room.

LA
Sulcatas like shredded carrots

LA
All tortoises like greens. 

LA
Tortoise,
but we can't identify this species -- cute anyway.

The species is a leopard tortoise.  I have three of them in my backyard and they are about 90 lbs or so.  Don't let anyone tell you that the big tortoises don't have personality, when I go out to prune my rose bushes, they follow me through the fence.  Mike (No last name)

Temperature:  Keep your sulcata tortoise warm and dry -- 75o to 85oduring the day and a bit cooler at night.  Put your heat bulb at one end so he has a choice of temps.  Sulcatas cannot tolerate cool or damp conditions.

Hide Box:  In the wild, these guys burrow or dig under something to keep out of the hot sun.  Give him a hide box in his cool area.

Lighting:  You need a reptile bulb with UVB for your sulcata tortoise.  You probably also need a basking bulb to keep him warm.

LA
Make sure your sulcata tortoise can get in and out of the water.

LA
The sulcata below is helping the guy on top get into their water bowl.

LA
Pyrex pie plates make excellent non-tippable water dishes for your sulcata tortoise.

Water:  Sulcata tortoises need a flat water bowl they can get in and out of.  Babies (under a year old)  need a daily soak.  They prefer tepid water.  Change it daily.  Bigger guys just need an occasional dip.

LA
Warm sulcatas like to walk around.

LA
Hatchling sulcata just arrived and ready to start his new life in Des Moines.

Turtle Vet:  You really need to vet your sulcata tortoise.  He’s an expensive and long-term commitment.  As soon as you get yours, call Dr. Harmon for a general checkup.

LA
Not too much lettuce, although they do love Romaine lettuce.

LA
Your sulcata will eat from your hand from day one.

LA
Sulcatas like dandelions and other yard weeds.

LA
Another baby sulcata grazing on dandelions.

LA
He was given timothy to eat but mixed it with his aspen sustrate.

LA
Sulcatas that tip over often seem to give up.

LA
Sulcatas seem to tip over more often when you keep more than one.

LA
You can easily see (and hear) when sulcatas breed.

Breeding:  We've never bred them ourselves.  You will need plenty of room -- and patience.

Last Word:  Your sulcata tortoise could care less about décor.  Decorate to your own preference.  LA.

Here's a link to a very informative site.  Maybe not the humblest:

Sulcata Station - The best site on the web for sulcata tortoises!

© 2004, © 2005, © 2006, © 2008  LA Productions

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