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Are You ready for an African Spurred Tortoise?

The African spurred tortoise (Geochelone sulcata) is at once a highly desirable and problematical pet. One of the most engaging of all tortoises, with long-term pets exhibiting a degree of responsiveness more commonly associated with dogs, hatchlings are available for modest prices.


African Spurred Tortoise Speed Bump and FriendsSpurred tortoises are, however, the largest of all mainland tortoises, and may attain weights in excess of 200 pounds. Only one other mainland species, the yellow-footed tortoise (G. denticulata), gives the spurred any serious competition. A friend wrote me that he recently examined a 60 year old captive that weighed 190 pounds.

A harsh natural habitat – the southern fringe of the Sahara Desert – has equipped spurred tortoises with a remarkable ability to grow rapidly when food is plentiful. I weighed 2 individuals that topped 60 pounds by age 5!


Few hobbyists are equipped to properly care for a spurred tortoise. They require a great deal of room, with males being particularly active during the breeding season. Indeed, a ½ acre outdoor exhibit I over-saw proved too small for a pair of 80 pounders.

A determined spurred tortoise is also difficult to confine, and will dig under or plow through seemingly impenetrable barriers. Males may become territorial, and treat people and other pets as threats.

Stopping Traffic in Manhattan

Speed Bump the African Spurred Tortoise and FriendI took in the tortoise pictured here when its owner could no longer provide for it. He is currently at Social Tees, New York City’s premier animal rescue facility, awaiting transport to a new outdoor home in Florida.

It takes some doing to raise eyebrows in Manhattan’s East Village, but as you can see from the photo this stout fellow does so admirably. In fact, Social Tees reptile expert Robert Shapiro has dubbed him “Speed Bump” because of his traffic-stopping abilities! When not meeting new neighbors, “Speed Bump” has the run of a large outdoor yard – not easy to arrange at today’s rents!

Island Giants

The African spurred tortoise is exceeded in size only by 2 island-dwelling species, the Aldabra (G. gigantea) and Galapagos tortoises (G. elephantopus). Those on the Aldabra Islands (between Kenya and Madagascar) are the only survivors of a host of giant species that once inhabited the Seychelles and other islands in the Indian Ocean. Sadly, all were hunted to extinction by the early 1800’s.

Aldabra tortoises exceed the better-known “Galaps” in size. What may be the world’s largest terrestrial turtle was an Aldabra that resided at the London Zoo and is now preserved in the British Museum. This fellow weighed 560 pounds at the time of his death, by which point he had lost weight; he may have topped 600 pounds in his prime.

I have worked with both species, and found them to be unbelievably intelligent…Aldabra tortoises cover their food trays, backing up to expose only a bit of food at a time, so as not to draw the attention of hungry exhibit mates!

Please Plan Ahead

Despite my enthusiasm, I must advise you to think carefully before taking on even a small spurred tortoise. Please think long-term, and write in for advice.

Further Reading

I’ve recounted some interesting giant tortoise stories in the following articles:

Feisty Terrier Proves no Match for African Spurred Tortoise

How Reptiles Adjust to Novel Situations

Legendary turtle biologist Peter Prichard gives a wonderful account of living and extinct giant tortoises in the classic Encyclopedia of Turtles (TFH, 1979).

Please write in with your questions and comments. Thanks, until next time, Frank Indiviglio.


  1. avatar

    Hello, I’m a college student who picked up a hatchling African Spurred Tortoise during my travels without knowing the size it would grow to or the kind of accommodations it would need. I’ve had him for a day now and he’s living in a baking pan with a piece of lettuce and water dish, under a desk lamp. It was the best I could think of after doing research as soon as I got home. I love my tortoise very much but I do not have much money at all and now I’m reading that it will need a HUGE tank and special kinds of substrate.
    If you could give me a very basic needs list for the tortoise that would be very helpful. Also, do you know how zoos feel about adopting two or three year old tortoises?
    Thanks so much,

    • avatar

      Hello Maya, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for your interest in our blog.

      I’m glad you took the time to research and have realized just how difficult it can be to raise a spurred tortoise. There really is not an inexpensive way to care for these fellows. My best advice would be for you to contact a turtle rescue organization and ask if they might place the animal for you. Zoos never take them, they have been over-stocked for years; nature centers might be an option, but most likely not. Try Turtle Homes Of LI – they have a spurred tortoise adoption program for folks who can ship animals to them; they may be able to refer you to someone in your area as well. If that does ot work out, please write back and let me know where you are located, and I’ll try to refer you to a nearby organization.

      For now, keep the tortoise warm and offer a variety of greens, carrots, sweet potato and such – do not feed lettuce as it has almost no nutritional value. Soak the tortoise in a bucket in a few inches of arm water for 20 minutes or so once weekly – it is more likely to drink when this is done.

      I complement your foresight – many people who buy tortoises on the spur of the moment wait far too long before seeking advice.

      Please let me know if you ever decide on a smaller, more manageable species, and also if you need further help in placing this tortoise.

      Good luck and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  2. avatar

    Hi Frank,
    I have a couple of questions for you about African Spurred Tortoises. My husband and I are avid animal lovers (we have 4 indoor cats, a large inside/outside dog, and one outdoor male California Desert Tortoise). Recently, my husband, who has had tortoises his entire life, expressed a desire to add an African Spurred Tortoise to our menagerie. I would love to indulge this but I want to make sure that it will get along okay with our other tortoise. So, that is one of my questions- if you know how they get along with other species. And second, assuming it would be better to get a female, how old will it need to be for me to be sure of the sex when I am adopting/ buying a tortoise? Any help you could extend would be greatly appreciated.

    • avatar

      Hello Laura, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for your interest in our blog and glad to see you are planning ahead.

      A female would be preferable, males without mates (or with mates!) are very hard to manage. Unfortunately, its almost impossible to sex spurred tortoises until they are at least 15 inches in length (after which the standard rules apply re tail length/thickness and plastron shape). Males sometimes evert the penis spontaneously before this age (turning them upside down may encourage this), but the secondary sexual characteristics take time to appear. If fed well but not overfed, a tortoise of 15 inches or so would likely be 5-6 years of age.

      In addition to the concerns mentioned in the article, there is always a slight chance, when mixing tortoises from different continents, that a relatively benign microorganism carried by one species may prove dangerous or fatal to another. A spurred tortoise would also quickly overwhelm your desert tortoise at feeding time, might even unwittingly injure the animal when moving in bulldozer-like fashion about its enclosure.

      I hope this was of some use to you; Good luck and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  3. avatar

    hi frank
    i’m 15 years old and i just got an African spurred tortoise as an early christmas present a few days ago. it is approximately 20cm(8 inches) long. i have been constantly on the web looking for lists of food that is suitable and not suitable for it, and also for information on how to take care of it. i just want to know how old you would estimate it to be. also could you give me some advice on how to take care of it. i would really appreciate it.

    • avatar

      Hello Saisha, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for your interest in our blog.

      Well, as you can see from the article you have a big responsibility ahead of you…but also the opportunity for an interesting, life-long pet! Space will be the main concern, so after reading the information below, you’ll need to plan carefully for the future.

      Tortoise size varies allot depending upon diet, but, if it has been feeding normally, yours is most likely 2-3 years of age.

      The best general care sheet available is published by the World Chelonian Organization; please read their African Spurred Tortoise Care Sheet, and the others listed there, and then please write back and we can go over any questions you might have.

      The sheet does not mention commercial tortoise pellets, but I’ve had good luck in using Grassland Tortoise Food for up to 25% of the diet (mixed in with greens).

      The UVB and other lights mentioned on the care sheet can be found in our Reptile Bulbs Section – once you take a look at those, please write back and we can talk about which specific types would be best for your situation.

      Enjoy, good luck and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  4. avatar

    Hi again Frank
    One tiny little detail I forgot to mention was that I live in South Africa (Sorry). Do you think that the Grassland Tortoise Food would be available in South Africa?
    Also, my mother has stated, each and every time I mention that we need to get a UVB light or the vitamin/mineral supplements, that “Why do we need to get it? How do they get supplements or UVB lights in the wild?” I just want to know if its a must to get those two things because I really don’t want to end up doing something wrong.

    • avatar

      Hello Saisha, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Well, South Africa is a great place for someone who likes tortoises – lots of interesting species there (The spurred, however, lives in north Africa).

      Your mother raises a good point. Once we take animals out of the wild, everything changes, in terms of what they need to survive. Wild tortoises obtain UVB by being exposed to natural sunlight. UVB is light of a specific wavelength, which is needed by tortoises in order to manufacture Vitamin D in their skin; most cannot absorb Vit. D from their diet). Unfortunately, glass filters out UVB, so the tortoise does not receive any UVB if placed near a window. If you are able to provide outdoor, unfiltered sunlight to your tortoise during the warmer months in South Africa (taking care that it can also find shade), then you would not need a UVB light. However, if kept indoors, your tortoise will need a UVB light if it is to survive and grow.

      Supplements are needed because in captivity we can only provide tortoises with a small fraction of the variety of foods they eat in the wild. Wild spurred tortoises consume dozens of types of plants, roots, flowers and even soil in some cases (for minerals), along with the insects that might be hidden in the plants; and they eat different amounts at different times of the year – we can’t possibly match that in captivity, but supplements act as a type of “insurance”.

      At ThatPetPlace we do ship worldwide, but shipping costs would add greatly to the food’s expense. Try local suppliers – if you find something similar, send me a note and I’ll check it out for you. However, you can create a good diet without commercial food by following the guidelines on the Tortoise Trust Care Sheet that I mentioned in the last post, and you can substitute some ingredients for others – I can help with this if you need.

      Good luck and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  5. avatar

    Hi Saisha, Laura here… I asked questions recently too and have been doing a lot of research myself. I found a great website out of San Diego, California in the US. They are a tortoise and turtle rescue and they have a lot of info as well about what is needed to raise a Sulcata. Their website is http://www.sdturtle.org I hope this is helpful 🙂

  6. avatar

    I have an african spurred . she is 8 i raised her since birth , she is friendly I HIGHLY RECCOMEND ONE! great w kidss

    • avatar

      Hello Olivia, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for your interest in our blog. Yes, they are very personable, females especially as they do not get aggressive during the breeding season as males sometimes do. However, hatchlings are inexpensive and so often wind up in the hands of folks who are not prepared to handle them as they mature…but if given enough space and proper care, they certainly are wonderful pets.

      Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  7. avatar

    Hi Frank
    I’ve had an African Spurred Tortoise for about 3 years now. I knew he would get big eventually, but I didn’t think he would get so big so fast. He’s almost 10 times the size since we first got him (roughly the size of a dinner plate). I bought him a new cage because the other one was too small, but now he’s outgrowing this one! I want to eventually move him outside, but the problem is I have a pool. I have a side enclosure where I put my dogs sometimes, but it has no grass. Would an all concrete enclosure be okay for my tortoise? My backyard isn’t very big so the other option is to give him to a rescue. Rain is another problem…would a hut be adequate protection during a rainstorm?
    Also, he’s appetite is growing tremendously. His main diet is lettuce, but I also feed him “Rep Call Tortoise Food” and hay. Should I continue feeding him this? Or should I incorporate more fruits and other vegetables in his diet? He doesn’t seem to like most of the fruits I sometimes give him. I know I’m not supposed to feed him any type of meat.
    Lastly, I’ve researched how to identify the sex of African Spurred Tortoises, and I’m pretty sure mine is a male…but do you have any tricks or hints you would suggest just to make sure? Thank you!

    • avatar

      Hello Madison, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for your interest in our blog. I’m glad you wrote in, as your tortoise is not an easy animal to provide for properly. The diet you describe should be changed quite a bit, i.e. slowly remove lettuce from the diet, add plenty of wild grasses, some green produce – kale, dandelion, romaine, collards, etc is ok, but not fruit. Calcium supplements very important. Please check out this article as a starting point and then be back in touch and we can go over some specifics. Rapid growth in this species is not necessarily an indication that the diet is balanced, and can in fact be detrimental to their long-term health.

      A concrete floor will likely lead to abrasion problems; you might try covering it with a thick layer of hay; I’ve done this in the past but it takes a lot of work to keep it clean and dry. Beware also that the tortoise may try to climb the fence and injure itself. They cannot take damp conditions, so the hut will need to be water-proofed; floor drainage is extremely important…wet conditions will lead to potentially fatal lung/fungal infections.

      The tortoise is likely too young to sex accurately. Males have a noticeable depression in the plastron (to assist in mating) and the tail will be longer and thicker than that of a similarly-sized female.

      Rescues are reluctant to accept these tortoises, as most are over-stocked; please let me know if you decide to try and I’ll try to help.

      Lots to think about, I know, but worthwhile…these are magnificent animals but they are more than most can handle at home, unfortunately…

      Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  8. avatar

    Hello Frank, it’s Madison again
    Thank you so much for the advice. I will be sure to incorporate more green produce and grasses into my tortoise’s diet. I forgot to mention I give him a calcium supplement in the form of powder once a week.
    I’ve been putting him in the side yard these past few days and he seems to love it. I didn’t realize the concrete would cause problems. Would only hay in a particular section be okay? Covering the entire area with a thick layer of hay and maintaining it would be extremely expensive and I can’t afford that. This may sound silly, but there is a dog house in the area and he can almost reach it. He got his two front legs up today, but his back two couldn’t reach (It was quite cute). It has a roof and an electrical outlet to plug in his heat lamp. Maybe this could provide him with enough protection?
    We hope to keep him, but we don’t want to put him in any harm by providing him with a dangerous habitat. Thanks again for the helpful advice!

    • avatar

      Hello Madison, Frank Indiviglio here.

      My pleasure; I’m glad the info was useful.

      I think concrete would put the tortoise at risk for foot and plastron abrasions. Either, even if small, can allow bacteria to take hold; if untreated, this could be fatal. Perhaps a thick rubber mat that can be removed and cleaned? I have used these for Crocodile Monitors with foot abrasions, but perhaps not realistic for a home situation…

      Houses are useful for tortoises, but the roof and sides would need to be waterproofed. A heat lamp within worries me – tortoises are very strong, and seem unable to recognize risks inherent in hot objects; if able to reach a lamp yours will likely knock it around; fires are regularly started in this manner. Perhaps if it were protected by stout, lockable wire enclosure; I would have this built by a professional carpenter. Chewing wires is another concern; Spurred tortoises often sample such things. One owned by a friend of mine ate a sponge mop! A warm house only goes so far – if temperatures are extreme, or the weather is very damp, health problems are likely (please write in with details on this if you’d like more info). A ramp would need to be carefully sloped to minimize the danger of falling.

      Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  9. avatar

    hey fank. my name is saisha. i wrote to you more than a year ago. my totroise is doing great. it has grown to more than 30cm long. it really is big. we also acquired another tortoise. he is a bit smaller than mine, and also a different species. but they are both surprisingly tame. is it possible for them to come if they hear your voice? or is it just habit for them to come as tey know you have food? alos, we have been feeding them lettuce and cucumber and they eat the indigenous plants in our garden, so i wanted to know if that is okay for them or if i must still get supplements

    kind regards

    • avatar

      Hello Saisha, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Nice to hear from you again. Tortoises are quick to associate people and food. They can learn to respond to voice also; this is best done by calling when you are out of sight, then appearing once they respond (takes time). If they see you first, it will be vision that moves them, not voice.

      Diet varies among the species, but most do need supplements. Please let me know the other species you have, and some details as to how much of the diet is wild plants, and what types of plants (if you know…if not, let me know your location, that will help). Lettuce/cucumber is not the best food for spurred tortoises; I’ll send more info once I receive your next post.

      Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  10. avatar

    what is the current population size on african spurred tortoise?
    and past populaton numbers?

    • avatar

      Hello Kalie, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for your interest in our blog. The Spurred Tortoise occupies a huge range that extends clear across Africa, along the southern border of the Sahara, from Ethiopia to Senegal. Many of these areas are not well-studied; there are, as far as I know, no accurate population estimates. The tortoise is harvested for food in some regions, and was heavily collected for the pet trade in the past. Currently, captive populations are large, and breeding is common in private and public collections. The IUCN classifies the species as Vulnerable.

      Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  11. avatar

    hi frank
    you asked for the species of the other tortoise; the local vet said that it is a type of hinged tortoise. also, we have had them for almost two years and they still eat the same diet i told you about before. if it is possible, now that you know the species of the other tortoise, could you possibly help me to find supplements for them in south africa?
    thank you so much

    • avatar

      Hello Saisha, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Nice to hear from you again. I do not have any contacts with suppliers in South Africa, but perhaps the group Care Center South Africa can point you to a local source for supplements and UVB bulbs. They specialize in tortoise care and should be able to help…be sure to ask about local fruits/vegetables that are useful for each of the species you keep (their dietary needs differ a bit).

      Good luck, enjoy and please let me know how it works out.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  12. avatar

    hey frank, I live in northern california in a rainy and cold environment starting in early fall and into the late spring (it doesn’t snow though), I was in the pet store the other day and saw the little baby tortoises in there tank and fell in love immediately so i came home and started researching them. I realize now how much it takes to keep one, which i am up for if i have the right resources for information. My biggest question is, is there a way to keep a tortoise outdoors, or indoor/outdoors in the environment i live in after it grows to it’s larger size?, and i was wondering if i was to make it some kind of indoor/outdoor enclosure is it going to know when to go inside when the weather turns bad? (i know kinda a silly question), and for the really rainy days would i be able to make some kind of covered outdoor yard?,

    thank you so much,
    PS i have only had furry pets my whole life but my fiance has been hinting at some kind of reptile… so he has some kind of an idea of the needs of them.

    • avatar

      Hello Laurie, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for your interest in our blog and glad to see you are planning ahead; rehabbers are crowded with abandoned spurred tortoises as few people can keep them properly. Please bear in mind that pet stores often give bad advice, often advising that “youngsters can live in an aquarium, it takes many years to reach adult size” and so on.

      The tortoise will need to be locked into a warm place once temperatures drop below 60F at night, or when it is raining often…they have not evolved the means to select suitable retreats in such weather, as it is never experienced in the natural habitat. In NYC, I kept adults out through September, but locked them into an indoor room for the night beginning in early September

      Outdoor enclosures are best in summer, assuming you have a water-proof house (dog house or tool shed heated with pig blankets (electric floor pads) and lights . In summer, rain is okay, as long as substrate dries out each day; they may stay out in it or enter shed, dig below ground; but rain during cool weather will cause them to just slow down and become wet, chilled and sick.

      Unfortunately, you cannot simply lock a large tortoise into a shed for the winter, unless the shed itself provides enough room for normal activity…if too small, the tortoise will wear itself out trying to escape. Also very difficult to clean properly in this environment…adults produce an incredible amount of waste daily.

      They are very interesting, but far from ideal and not a good ‘first tortoise”. Many of the smaller species have the same personality traits and are far easier to accommodate; please check out this article on Russian Tortoises and write back when you have thought it over.

      Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  13. avatar

    Hi Frank!
    It has been a few months since I have written. My tortoise is doing great and he seems to be growing more and more every day.
    Previously I told you about the idea of putting my tortoise in a fairly large all concrete enclosure, and you warned me of abrasion problems. He’s gotten so big now that we have had no choice but to put him in the backyard during the day. He loves it out there and he hasn’t had any foot or plastron abrasions. I put down large rag he can crawl on with food and water. He even crawls into the dog house and relaxes inside. My plan is to eventually build a boxlike structure to put in the side yard to fill with dirt; we fear the rubber mat you suggested will get too hot during the day (temps can reach well over 100 degrees). What are your thoughts on the living conditions we provided for him?
    Also, we bring him in at night to his aquarium with heating and UV lamps. Once he can no longer fit into the aquarium, he will live outside 24/7. We plan to screw a heating lamp to the dog house up high so he can’t reach it or the wires. Will the lamp cause a fire if we screw it against the mantle on the side walls of the wood doghouse? We also bought a large waterproof heating pad for our cold winters. Do you think putting the heating pad on the wood floor of the doghouse will cause a fire? Overall, do you think he will do well with the area I described?
    One last thing (sorry about all the questions! haha). My family and I want to eventually get him a friend. We feel bad leaving him alone and we feel like he’s lonely. Being a male (well, I am pretty sure he’s a male), do you think he would do better with another male or a female? I realize I would have to find a tortoise his size for he’d crush a new baby African spurred tortoise. Or, are tortoises content being alone?
    Thank you for all your help! Your advice has been extremely helpful 🙂

    • avatar

      Hello Madison, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for the feedback; glad you are putting so much effort into his care.

      It’s absolutely essential that you get the advice of a licensed electrician concerning the fire-related questions and have the units you’ll use installed by a professional. I’m not competent to advise you on that, as there are just too man variables. I would not suggest using the experiences of other tortoise keepers as a guide – I have heard of too many “unlikely” fires caused by reptiles and their heating units.

      You’ll need to experiment regarding temperature, moisture and abrasions; once all is in place, keep careful records and then we can adjust as necessary.

      Tortoises are not social and really do not need company; in the case of your species, it always becomes impossible to house 2 individuals together. Males fight with each other, and if kept with a female he will harass her unmercifully throughout the long breeding season (in the wild the females leave the male’s territory after mating). Females may also fight with one another over food and territory. I was unable to keep 2 adults together even in a ½ acre zoo exhibit due to fighting, food-related aggression, etc.

      Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  14. avatar

    I have too 1 yr old spurred, an they are the beat pet ever, an its true noting can stop these too they will practically walk over anything. But they are a great deal of responsibility.

    • avatar

      Hello Edgar

      Thanks for your interest. Yes, responsibility is the key word when it comes to any pet, but especially one as sizable as this.

      Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  15. avatar

    african spurred tortoises eat veggies and fruit. they live in hot and dry regions.

    • avatar

      Hello Bryanna

      Thanks for your interest. Unfortunately, there is a great deal of misinformation out there concerning their dietary needs. Spurred Tortoises will eat just about anything, but fruit should be given only as a very rare treat. They have very specific needs…high fiber and calcium, low protein; they will grow rapidly even on a poor diet, but nutritional diseases will always develop after a time. Caging is also a concern….aquariums are not suitable even for hatchlings, and they grow very quickly; zoos and rescue centers are already overstocked, and rarely accept new animals. If this is your first tortoise, I suggest you consider a Russian Tortoise or similar species…please write in if you need more info.

      The diet information in this article applies to Spurred Tortoises as well. Please also see this article on Spurred Tortoise care.

      Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

  16. avatar

    I found a female Sulcata in the parking lot of my work place back in Oct.’11, I live in central Fla. and I love my Sulcata “Tesla”. I used to give her alot of kale, and she did not like “zoo med” so I did more research online, and now her diet consist of hibicus flowers, prickly pear cactus, a weed in our yard called broomweed(is this bad for her?)I tried a couple of leaves and tasted not too bad, and I chop up some different grasses also. Every once in a while I give her arugula and cherry tomatoes. I also give crushed up calcium with vitaminD once a week. How can I figure out how old she might be (she about 12 inches long-shell) If I take good care her and she gets out of my yard, will she want to come by? I even thought of micro-chipping her. I have an acre and Tesla stay in a garden enclosure made with field fence. I used to bring Tesla in at night (afraid of predators), but now she has made her first burrow I let her stay out. Should I still worry about predators? Thanks for you time and info.

    • avatar

      Hi Jo Ann,

      Broomweed is not listed as native to Florida (pl see here) – it’s likely a local name applied to a similar plant, so I can’t say if it is harmful. Also, we do not have much info on the toxicity of various plants, but it is likely fine to use as you have been doing so w/o incident. This article lists other varieties of useful native/introduced plants; grasses are, in general, fine. Here is an article on tortoise care in general.

      Please, please do not taste plants in an effort to determine if they are suitable for your tortoise..very dangerous! How something tastes to you has no bearing on toxicity or acceptability to any animal. Untold numbers of species, including many turtles, can consume plants and other foods that would kill us within seconds; as for taste, many tortoises avidly consume animal droppings! As we know very little about the toxicity of many plants, eating unknown species puts you at great risk…serious allergic reactions are also a possibility. Every wild plant has a wide array of chemicals that have been evolved to battle predators…I could tell you many stories….

      Age cannot be determined in captives, based on size. Wild individuals usually deposit a single growth ring on the carapace each year, but pets often grow much faster. I’ve seen 5 yr old African Spurred Tortoises that weighed 60 pounds, others that were a fraction of that size (neither extreme is healthy).

      A 12 inch long tortoise could be vulnerable to rats, coyotes, dogs, raccoons (and others that might be established in Fla, but as are yet unknown!). Much depends on burrow depth as well; the front legs of spurred tortoises form an effective defense against attacks to the head, but the possibility of injury always exists if the animal is not in a predator-proof pen.

      Enjoy, and please let me know if you need further info, Best, Frank

  17. avatar

    I have had my tortoise for two and a half years now. For the longest time we have been trying to figure out what species it was. He was dropped off at the local pet store by his previous owner in a brown paper bag (with another tortoise, who was tinier than him and had no use of its back legs and also didn’t make it!).

    Just the other day my fiancee tells me he saw a giant tortoise that looked exactly like ours and that its owner said it was an African Spur tortoise! I goggled it and there were tons of pictures of theses tortoises that look exactly like mine! My search was over!

    I’m excited to now know what kind of tortoise he is, but now I feel like I have not been caring for him correctly.

    I have him in a giant tubber ware container in my living room, with a basking light and UV light. He has Aspen bedding in it, because the person at the pet store said it would be best. I feed him Collard greens and kale mostly. He eats a store bought reptile food on occasion. He also eats bananas, pears and carrots every once in a while. He had a giant water bowl that he drinks from and goes to the bathroom in.

    I love in NYC and I was wondering if you or anyone could tell me where to find the grasses and weeds and other kinds of foods to feed him or her (cause I think its a girl based on the sexing pictures I looked at). I want to change his diet now but am worried I wont be able to find the foods here!

    • avatar

      Hi Tahisha,

      In NYC, it is best to go with produce that you buy in a store; so many of the plants we can find outdoors are introduced (not native) and so identification is a problem. Dandelion and clover grow here, and are good foods, but pesticide use and pollution from car exhaust is a concern. Please check this article on tortoise care (your tortoise fits into the “grassland” and partially in the desert category) and this on tortoise diets (the info there largely applies to Af Spurred Tortoises) and please write back with any questions. Variety is important, and as mentioned use fruit only as a rare treat.

      Aspen is not ideal for this species. A mix of sand and a bit of soil, or pure sand, is preferable. Be sure to keep it dry, or shell rot will be likely.

      Best, Frank

  18. avatar

    I have a 6cm sulcata hatcling.. I was wonderin if I bask it under the sun how long it should be?

    Also if I use UVB lighting instead how long should the lighting be on?

    Also do the tortoise just need UVB to create the necessary vit d3 or does it need the combination of UVB n heat? Cause I have UVB lamp but no heat lamp yet

    • avatar

      Hi Vincent,

      Any amount of sunlight (unfiltered by glass or plastic) is beneficial; amount of UVB delivered is vastly higher than bulbs; no real studies as to the minimum required, unfortunately; unless the animal is outdoors several hours daily (in warm seasons), a UVB bulb is likely needed. UVB should be on appx 12 hours – 16 hours/day. If florescent, it should be within 6-12 inches of the tortoise.

      A heat lamp is needed in most regions. Temp at the basking site should be 90-95F; the rest of the enclosure should be 78-85F; a dip into 70’s is ok at night. The metbolisnm will not function properly (produce D3, digest, etc) if the tortoise is not kept at proper temps.

      Please see this article for further info on care, diet, cages and let me know if you have any questions, Best, Frank

  19. avatar

    Relating to the last post, I live in Indonesia where it’s either sunny or rainy season.. Whenever there is sun I bask and soak my sulcata for about 1 hr at around 11am-1pm.. Sunny outdoor temperature is around 30-35 degrees celcius… Do you think 1 hour is enough or do they need more basking time with the sun?

    Also on the diet I’ve been feeding it romaine lettuce.. It seem to like it more than other veggies.. Is romaine lettuce ok for their diet? What do you suggest?

    Thanks again frank

    • avatar

      Hi Vincent,

      Sunlight provides a great deal more UVB than commercial bulbs, but there aren’t any studies that determine whether short exposure is enough. More would be better(be sure to provide shade also); difficult to say if 1 hour is enough; diet and age also play a role. During the rainy season, id natural light is limited, a UVB bulb should be used.

      Romaine is fine for part of the diet, but you should include as much variety (in terms of greens) as possible; the information concerning Mediterranean tortoises in this article is applicable.

      Enjoy, Frank

  20. avatar

    Hi frank..

    Does the size of the enclosure u keep African spurred tortoise affect their growth n growth rate? Would it grow bigger faster if I keep it in a bigger enclosure as oppose to a smaller one? And if I keep it in a smaller enclosure will it stay smaller/stunt it’s growth?

    • avatar

      Hello Robert,

      Stunting in tortoises is more a function of poor diet; it does not seem related to enclosure size, but a small enclosure will negatively affect health in other ways…stress, inability to provide a thermal gradient, lack of exercise, etc/ Please let me know if you need further info, best, Frank

  21. avatar

    I met a woman who had a ten year old spurred tortoise. Mine is about three years old. He seems to be growing nicely (far as I can tell, by comparing it to her huge tortoise). I keep his UV bulb on 24/7 and his heat lamp. He has a very large enclosure, with plenty of space to get away from the hear and UV when he wants to!

    Question: The woman said she lined her enclosure with timothy Hay and that was it. she said the tortoise could eat at his leisure if he wanted to. She also had a large front yard that she let him out in and he would “mow” her law for her. I have been using the hay to line my enclosure. Is this enough for my spurred tortoise? Should I add more to his diet? (I used to feed him collards and kale, but stopped after reading it was not good for him!)


    • avatar

      Hi Tahisha,

      Hay and fresh grasses (as in mowing lawn) should comprise most of the diet. Timothy hay is not a good choice…some folks report success, but the sharp edges of broken stems have caused internal injuries. Other types of hay should be offered. Kale and collards can be used as a small portion of the diet. Please see this article for further info, and let me know if you have any questions, best, Frank

  22. avatar

    Hi Frank,

    My parents have an African spurred tortoise and he’s starting to get a little too big for them to handle anymore. He’s about 20 years old and living with them in Temecula, CA (which is just about the right climate for him). We are curious about our options for making sure he ends up in a great place and possibly close enough to visit (though not imperative). What advice can you give us?

  23. avatar

    Hi kyle. I have a large sulcata enclosures. One inside for Winter 30×16, and a large 1.2 acre outdoor enclosure for the warm months. I have 2 very large sulcatas and am looking to provide homes for atleast 2 more. I have been caring for large Tortoise for quite some time. Please keep me updated on your parents situation, I’m not located close but your Tortoise would have a healthy happy forever home! Thanks

About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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