Critter of the Week: Sulcata Tortoise




Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Reptilia

Order: Testudines

Suborder: Cryptodira

Family: Testudinidae

Genus: Centrochelys

Species: C. Sulcata

Binomial Name: Centrochelys Sulcata


Also called the African spurred tortoise, the sulcata tortoise is found in the deserts, dry savannas, and hot, arid areas of Africa. Growing up to three feet long and 100-200 pounds, it is not only the largest mainland tortoise, but also the third largest tortoise in the world!

The sulcata tortoise is sometimes called the spurred tortoise because of the cone-shaped spurs on its thighs. This tortoise got its name from the Latin word sulcus which translates to “furrow”, referring to the furrows on the tortoise’s scales. The large scales on its shell, called scutes, not only protect the tortoise from harm, but they also tell us the age of the tortoise based on how many rings each scale has. Scales can have a large number of rings as the sulcata tortoise can live more than 70 years!



Sulcata tortoises are known as a crepuscular animal, which means they are active during dawn and dusk. Their activity is also dependent on the season as they will be most active during the rainy season when food and water are more available. Sulcata tortoises like the dawn because they enjoy basking in the sun to provide them energy for their regular daily activities. Their diet is strictly herbivorous, dining on succulent plants and different grasses that are high in fiber and low in protein.





Sulcata tortoises aestivate during the dry season as the heat is unbearable. These tortoises are incredibly strong; they are known to break down walls and fences! So, digging a giant borrow to stay cool in is an easy task. They can stay in their borrows for months staying hydrated from the humidity in the tunnels.





Mating season for sulcata tortoises is around September to November, which is right after the rainy season. Sixty days after mating, female sulcata tortoises will start digging four to five nests over a few days. She will then choose one burrow to lay up to 40 eggs, which she’ll bury in soil. After 90 to 120 days, the eggs will hatch with the babies being only two to three inches long!