African Spurred Tortoise

African Spurred Tortoise, also known as the African Spur Thigh Tortoise or the Sulcata Tortoise, is a type of mainland tortoise. It is the third largest species among all tortoises. The spurred tortoises can only be found in the Sahara desert in Africa. That is why it is called the African Spurred Tortoise.

Scientific Classification

Geochelone sulcata

Table Of Content

Scientific Classification

Geochelone sulcata


These are the third largest tortoises in the world with only the Galapagos and the Aldabra Giant species preceding them. The African Spurred Tortoises are the largest in size among all the mainland tortoises (tortoises that cannot be found on islands). An African Spurred Tortoise is of 2-3 inches in size at the initial stage of its life. It grows very fast from this stage and reaches a length of 6-10 inches within the first few years. The head of an African Spurred Tortoise is moderately large. The edges of the jaws are strongly dentated. There are some differences in the way a male and a female African Spurred Tortoise look.

Male African Spurred Tortoise

The male African Spurred Tortoise can grow up to 80 cm long. They can weigh up to 100 kg. Male African Spurred Tortoise has a concaved bottom shell. They have an external shell that is hard and slightly horny. Each side has two or three strong spurs. The two front legs are covered in thick scales. The front legs are flatter than the back ones. The entire body of members of this species is of a sandy yellow color. This is due to the fact that they mainly reside in desert areas.

Female African Spurred Tortoise

The females usually do not grow longer than 50 cm. They weigh 60 kg. The bottom shell of a female African Spur Thigh Tortoise is flatter than that of a male one. Apart from these differences, the male and the female African Spurred Tortoise look alike.

African Spurred Tortoise Picture
Picture 1 – African Spurred Tortoise
Source –


The habitation range of African Spurred Tortoise is stretched across the Sahara desert and the central and northern region of Africa. They prefer semi-arid deserts, dry lands and savannas. The African Spurred Tortoise can also be found in thorny shrub-lands in countries like

  • Chad
  • Ethiopia
  • Burkina Faso
  • Mali
  • Nigeria
  • Eritrea
  • Mauritania
  • Senegal
  • Sudan


The African Spurred Tortoise is able to run. They usually stay inactive when the weather is too hot or cold. They like rain. They get excited and run around before rain. The male African Spurred Tortoises are quite aggressive. They make hissing noises if approached too closely. Male African Spurred Tortoises “converse” with each other through some grunting, croaking and whistling sounds. They often fight and keep trying to turn each other over. The females make croaking sounds to warn their enemies off.


African Spurred Tortoises dig their sleeping places, “pallets” or burrow. They live in these burrows. The African Spurred Tortoises need a lot of water in order to stay hydrated. They dig up the burrow in a way so that they can get the under-ground moisture. These burrows are an average 30 inches deep. Sometimes, a burrow may have a tunnel system that is extended 10 feet or more. The tortoises spend the hot days in these burrows. They can survive inside them even during draught.


The average lifespan of an African Spurred Tortoise is 30 to 50 years though they have been found to survive longer in some cases. The oldest African Spurred Tortoise in existence is 54 years old. The tortoise has been conserved in the Giza Zoological Gardens, Egypt since 1986.

Pictures of African Spurred Tortoise
Picture 2 – Baby African Spurred Tortoise
Source –


The African Spurred Tortoises are strictly vegetarian. It is considered that they graze for food when in the wild. They mainly eat grasses and weeds. A pet African Spurred Tortoise can live on foods like

  • Tortoise chow
  • Leaves
  • Flowers
  • Vegetables

A little fruit can also be included in the food chart of an African Spurred Tortoise.


The breeding season for the African Spurred Tortoises starts in September and continues through November. The Male African Spurred Tortoises fight with each other at the time of selecting their mates.

The female African Spurred Tortoise lays the eggs sixty days after mating. The female tortoise looks for the perfect spot to make the nest before laying the eggs. After excavating four or five nests for five to fifteen days, she selects the perfect nest.

The female African Spurred Tortoises dig the nest themselves. The process takes up to five hours to complete. When the nest is built, the female tortoise lays the eggs. The female African Spurred Tortoise lays an egg every three minutes until the clutch is complete. An average clutch contains 15-30 eggs. The female tortoise fills the nest with dirt and mud after laying the eggs. It takes approximately an hour to cover the eggs completely.

Intresting Facts

  • The African Spurred Tortoise inhabits only in desert areas and is well camouflaged by the sandy color of its body.
  • These tortoises are the largest found on mainland.
  • The African Spurred Tortoise has two or three large conical spurs on the hind surface of its thigh. The creature gained its name from these spurs.
  • The African Spurred Tortoise keeps themselves hydrated in the summer months by living in their shallow burrows.
  • They cannot survive in cold conditions.
  • The adult African Spurred Tortoises are very strong and able to knock over anything in their way.
  • A two headed African Spurred Tortoise was born in Slovakia in 2010. It also has five legs. The two heads of the tortoise has been given two different names. The left head is called Medga and the right one Lenka.
  • The African Spurred Tortoises are given the “vulnerable” status recently.
  • The United States Department of Agriculture made it illegal to import the African Spurred Tortoise on March 21, 2000. Because the African Spurred Tortoise may carry the bacteria that causes the Heartwater disease.

As a Pet

African Spurred Tortoises can be very good pets. They are quite tame and outgoing. But it is difficult to keep them as indoor pets because of their huge size. It is advisable to build them a suitable home in an outdoor environment. To domesticate an African Spurred Tortoise, you have to take care of the fact that they need certain natural conditions in order to survive. They need plenty of food and open space. But the most important thing to consider before getting an African Spurred Tortoise as a pet is that they grow very quickly and become very large. Otherwise, the African Spurred Tortoises are very desirable as pets.

African Spurred Tortoise is one of the largest of tortoises found on earth. They are not yet in the list of endangered species. But they are considered to be vulnerable. It is important to take care of this amazing creature so that it does not have to face extinction.


Images of African Spurred Tortoise
Picture 3 – African Spurred Tortoise Picture
Source –

Photos of African Spurred Tortoise

Picture 4 – African Spurred Tortoise Egg
Source –

Here are some African Spurred Tortoise photos. Check out how they look and how big they grow in size. You can also see the differences between the male and the female African Spurred Tortoise.

3 thoughts on “African Spurred Tortoise

  1. Bree Marie says:

    You should get more pictures of baby turtles 🙂

  2. Amanda says:

    Are you allowed to have theses as pets in the u.s?

  3. David Kinney says:

    I live on a 1/4 acre of property in NW Oregon. Is it advisable to raise two hatchling sulcata tortoise in the same housing for life or separate housing units? i WOULD BE RAISING TWO UNKNOWN SEX SULCATAS. I often heard that males and females can become very aggressive as adults no guarantees. Please advise ASAP.

    Thank you!


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe our newsletter

Enter your email here to stay updated with the animal kingdom