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Ultimate Guide to Sulcata Tortoise Care and Breeding

Ultimate Guide to Sulcata Tortoise Care and Breeding 2 1

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Sulcata tortoises, also known as African spurred tortoises, are native to the sub-Saharan region of Africa. They are the third-largest species of tortoise in the world, with males reaching lengths of up to 30 inches and weighing over 100 pounds. These gentle giants can live for more than 70 years, making them a long-term commitment for any aspiring tortoise owner.

Habitat Setup

Creating a suitable habitat is crucial for the health and well-being of your Sulcata tortoise. Here are the key factors to consider:

  • Enclosure Size: Sulcata tortoises require spacious enclosures due to their large size. A general rule of thumb is to provide at least 10 square feet of space per tortoise.
  • Substrate: Choose a substrate that mimics their natural environment, such as a mix of topsoil, sand, and coconut coir. This will allow for burrowing and moisture retention.
  • Hiding Places: Provide hiding spots, such as half logs or large rocks, to give your tortoise a sense of security.
  • Climbing Structures: Sulcata tortoises enjoy climbing, so including sturdy branches or rocks will add enrichment to their habitat.
  • Outdoor Enclosure: If weather permits, create an outdoor enclosure to allow your tortoise access to natural sunlight and fresh air.

Temperature and Lighting

Maintaining proper temperature and lighting is essential for the health and well-being of Sulcata tortoises. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Basking Spot: Create a basking spot in the enclosure with a temperature of 95-100°F (35-38°C) using a heat lamp or ceramic heater.
  • Ambient Temperature: Maintain an ambient temperature of 75-85°F (24-29°C) throughout the enclosure.
  • UVB Lighting: Provide UVB lighting for 10-12 hours a day to ensure proper calcium absorption and prevent metabolic bone disease.
  • Light/Dark Cycle: Establish a consistent light/dark cycle of 12-14 hours of daylight and 10-12 hours of darkness to mimic their natural habitat.

Feeding and Diet

A nutritious and balanced diet is crucial for the overall health and growth of Sulcata tortoises. Follow these guidelines when it comes to feeding:

  • High-Fiber Diet: Offer a high-fiber diet consisting of grasses, hay, and leafy greens such as dandelion greens, collard greens, and turnip greens.
  • Limited Fruits: Limit fruits to occasional treats due to their high sugar content. Good options include strawberries, melons, and papayas.
  • Calcium and Supplements: Dust their food with a reptile-specific calcium supplement to ensure proper shell and bone development.
  • Variety and Rotation: Provide a variety of foods and rotate them to ensure a balanced diet and prevent boredom.

Hydration and Water Needs

Proper hydration is crucial for Sulcata tortoises’ health. Here’s what you need to know about their water needs:

  • Water Dish: Provide a shallow water dish large enough for your tortoise to soak in. Make sure it’s easily accessible and kept clean.
  • Soaking: Offer regular soaking sessions to help with hydration and aid in shedding. Fill a container with warm water that reaches their chin level and allow them to soak for 15-20 minutes.
  • Misting: Mist the enclosure daily to maintain humidity levels and provide additional moisture for your tortoise.

Handling and Interaction

While Sulcata tortoises may not be as cuddly as some pets, they can still form bonds with their owners. Here are some guidelines for handling and interaction:

  • Respect Boundaries: Allow your tortoise to approach you on their terms. Avoid picking them up forcefully or invading their personal space.
  • Gentle Touch: When handling your tortoise, support their body and limbs with both hands, ensuring a secure and gentle grip.
  • Time Outdoors: Allow supervised outdoor time in a secure and enclosed space, allowing them to explore and graze on safe vegetation.
  • Observe Behaviors: Pay attention to your tortoise’s body language and behaviors. If they retreat into their shell or show signs of stress, give them space and observe from a distance.

Common Health Issues

While Sulcata tortoises are generally hardy, they can still experience health issues. Here are some common concerns to watch out for:

  • Respiratory Infections: Signs include wheezing, nasal discharge, and lethargy. Ensure proper temperature and humidity levels, and seek veterinary care if symptoms persist.
  • Shell Pyramiding: Improper diet and lack of UVB exposure can cause abnormal shell growth. Provide a balanced diet and ensure appropriate lighting.
  • Metabolic Bone Disease: Inadequate calcium and UVB exposure can lead to weakened bones. Ensure proper supplementation and lighting to prevent this condition.
  • Parasites: External and internal parasites can affect tortoises. Regular fecal exams and proper hygiene practices are essential for prevention and treatment.

Breeding Sulcata Tortoises

Breeding Sulcata tortoises can be a rewarding but challenging endeavor. Here’s an overview of the process:

  • Age and Size: Wait until your tortoises are at least 4-5 years old and have reached a suitable size before considering breeding.
  • Courtship Behavior: Male tortoises may engage in head-bobbing, circling, and biting behaviors to court the female. Provide enough space for these rituals to occur.
  • Nesting Area: Create a separate nesting area within the enclosure with deep, well-draining soil. Females will lay eggs in these areas.
  • Egg Incubation: Carefully collect the eggs and incubate them in a controlled environment at a temperature of around 85-90°F (29-32°C) and high humidity. Monitor the incubation period, which typically ranges from 80 to 120 days.
  • Hatching and Care: Once the eggs start to hatch, ensure a safe and warm environment for the hatchlings. Provide appropriate substrate, temperature, and humidity levels. Offer a varied diet and monitor their growth and development closely.


  1. Can I keep a Sulcata tortoise as a pet in an apartment?

    While Sulcata tortoises require ample space to roam, they are not suitable for apartment living due to their large size and need for outdoor enclosure. It’s best to provide them with a spacious outdoor environment.

  2. How often should I feed my Sulcata tortoise?

    Adult Sulcata tortoises should be fed daily, offering a variety of grasses, hay, and leafy greens. Hatchlings and juveniles may require feeding multiple times a day.

  3. Do Sulcata tortoises require a heat lamp at night?

    Sulcata tortoises do not require a heat lamp at night unless the ambient temperature drops below 70°F (21°C). They can tolerate slightly cooler temperatures during nighttime.

  4. Can Sulcata tortoises live with other reptiles or pets?

    It’s generally not recommended to house Sulcata tortoises with other reptiles or pets. They have specific temperature and dietary requirements, and interactions with other animals or pets may lead to stress or aggression.

  5. How can I provide UVB lighting for my Sulcata tortoise?

    UVB bulbs specifically designed for reptiles can be installed in their enclosure. Ensure the bulb is the appropriate strength and replace it regularly according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

  6. Are Sulcata tortoises endangered?

    Sulcata tortoises are not currently classified as endangered. However, they are considered a vulnerable species due to habitat loss, illegal pet trade, and unsustainable harvesting.


Congratulations! You’ve now gained valuable insights into the ultimate guide to Sulcata tortoise care and breeding. Remember, creating a suitable habitat, providing proper nutrition, temperature, and lighting, and understanding their unique needs are key to ensuring the well-being of these magnificent creatures. If you’re considering breeding, seek guidance from experienced breeders and always prioritize the health and welfare of the tortoises. With proper care, your Sulcata tortoise can live a long, happy life, bringing joy and wonder to your reptile-loving heart.

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- Mahatma Gandhi

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

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