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What is the African Spurred Tortoise?

K. K. Lowen
K. K. Lowen

The African spurred tortoise is the third largest type of tortoise in the world, and is the largest mainland tortoise. Also called an African spur thigh tortoise or a sulcata tortoise, its formal scientific name is Geochelone sulcata. The creatures can be difficult to care for when kept in captivity and may be hard to keep as a pet once they grow to their full size.

Found exclusively in Africa, the spurred tortoise lives in the various vegetated sub-regions of the southern Sahara desert. It prefers grasslands and semi-desert areas. Although living in a hot climate, the African spurred tortoise avoids the heat of the sun by burrowing into the ground.

African tortoises are more heat and drought tolerant.
African tortoises are more heat and drought tolerant.

The size and lifespan of the reptiles may vary. A male African spurred tortoise usually will be bigger than a female. The largest male specimens reach about three feet (90 cm) in length and females may be over two feet (61 cm) long, but the average size for most African spurred tortoises is a bit smaller. An African spurred tortoise may live beyond 50 years.

African spurred tortoises are herbivores and like to eat green leafy plants. It also feeds on grasses, hay, cacti, and fruits. When kept as pet, their diets may require the addition of a calcium supplement. Vitamin D3 is also a common supplement for those kept indoors.

Mating takes place in the fall months and begins with male tortoises fighting each other over females. Approximately 60 days after mating, the female African spurred tortoise seeks out an area to make a nest, where it will lay between 15 and 30 eggs. The eggs are buried for an extended incubation period that may last 200 days.

Many people keep African spurred tortoises as pets because they are usually kind and tame. After adopting a young tortoise, some pet owners find themselves ill-prepared to care for the tortoise as it grows to maturity. People who care for these reptiles as pets must be prepared to meet dietary and medical requirements. It may be best to keep the animal outdoors, but many people choose to keep them indoors despite their large size.

A number of health issues can arise when the African spurred tortoise is kept in captivity without proper maintenance. If the reptile eats foods that it does not eat in the wild, gastrointestinal problems can develop. The animal does not live naturally in cold or wet environments, and health issues may occur if the African spurred tortoise receives exposure to excessive dampness or cold conditions.

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    • African tortoises are more heat and drought tolerant.
      By: vladischern
      African tortoises are more heat and drought tolerant.