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African Spurred Tortoise

African Spurred Tortoise

The African Spurred tortoise is another type of tortoise under the testudo genus, sharing close similarities to Hermann’s torotise, and the Marginated tortoise.


Tortoises are herbivores like most other tortoises. In the wild, they consume many types of grasses, flowers and other edible plants. If fed grocery store produce, it can be mixed into a tiny salad and may include escarole, opuntia, shredded carrot, endive, kale, occasional romaine, and occasional pumpkin. Romaine should be fed sparingly because it has poor nutritional value. This mixed salad has poor fiber, so it can be helpful to mix with bermuda grass hay powder (a coffee grinder works well to turn the hay into powder). It is recommended to sprinkle calcium daily, and if the tortoise isn’t going to be kept outdoors in plentiful natural sunlight, also use a combination calcium-D3 product.  It is also good to keep a cuttlebone (with the back removed) in the enclosure so the tortoise can eat it if they feel the need for more calcium. The best diet is a natural one that allows the tortoise to graze on various greens and grasses.  Such things as dandelion, bindweed, opuntia cactus, sedum, plantains (the weed, not the fruit known as plaintain), coreopsis, hibiscus, mulberry leaves, California poppy, mallow, honeysuckle, some vetches, some clovers, bermuda grass, and many other wildflowers and weeds can be grown in an outdoor tortoise pen.  It is also possible to grow many wildflowers and weeds indoors and in greenhouses so that your tortoise does not have to rely on grocery store greens, especially in winter.  Anything the tortoise might graze on must be pesticide free.

Foods to avoid (or to use in small amounts as they interfere with the uptake of calcium):  spinach, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, beans, peas, cauliflower, collard greens, beet greens, turnip greens, mustard greens.  Fruit also should be avoided because the hermanns tortoise’s digestive system can’t process it.

Summary Information:

Adult Size: 24-32 inches.

Captive Lifespan: Short. Oldest in captivity is 54 yrs.

Nighttime Air Temperature:  65-75°F

Daytime Air Temperature: 85-105ºF

Sun Basking Temperature:  95-110°F

Humidity:  10-40%

Original Habitat

The African spurred tortoise is also called the spurred tortoise or sulcata. This used to be a rare tortoise but because of successful captive breeding it is now one of the most common tortoises in captivity.

The African Spurred can attain a very large size in a relatively short time so care for this tortoise must be thought out carefully with accommodations being the primary concern. African Spurred enjoy a temperature range of 80 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. This tortoise is best considered for warmer climates where it can be maintained in a large outdoor enclosure with the range extending into cooler climates with the use of supplemental heating. Their original habitat consists of areas in Northern Africa: Senegal, Niger, Mauritania, Mali, Chad, Sudan, and Ethiopia.

They are not only capable burrowers but frequently do dig burrows when given the opportunity which can be over 2 foot in diameter and over 15 feet in length. For this reason they should be provided with housing that they should be encouraged to use. In their native range food and water is relatively sparse with reports of them feeding mainly on succulent plants and grasses. In captivity the African Spurred is an opportunistic feeder where it readily takes almost any vegetable matter but grasses and dark leafy greens are the most common staple. Even though these tortoises are considered desert type tortoises, water should be provided at all times.

Recommended Pet Enclosure

If possible, a safe and secure outdoor habitat with plenty of sun is preferred, and it should be planted with a variety of edible weeds, wildflowers, and a little bermuda grass.  A southern exposure for basking, and bushes and rocks for hiding will be greatly appreciated.  If an indoor habitat is used, it should mimic an outdoor one as much as possible.

For a hatchling’s indoor enclosure, a large plastic-bin container filled with a mixture of organic soil, orchid bark, and play sand makes a nice habitat.  Form some hills in the dirt, put in a few rocks, and place a seed tray in one corner to grow some sedum, weeds, and wildflowers. The hills are recommended to help teach your hatchling to climb and use it’s newborn muscles. You can also accommodate an adult in a similar, but larger, rubbermaid container.  Indoor enclosures need to have UVB light from a bulb, such as a Reptisun 5.0. You will also need a heat lamp for a basking area and a hide box for some privacy.  Mercury-vapor lamps, which supply heat and UVB, are good as long as the enclosure offers a warm end and a cooler end. Adults and even babies should be outdoors, but the enclosure needs to be safe from predators, including birds.  For an adult, about 6’x4′ should be enough, but the bigger the better. If you house more than one tortoise together, the enclosure must be larger. Many tortoises, including the African Spurred are active and will dig and climb, especially if their pen is too small.  To prevent escapes, make sure the pen’s walls are placed several inches below ground surface and either makes the walls high or place a lip along the top of the wall to discourage climbing.

Clean water should be available daily, and twice-weekly soaks are not a bad idea, either.  African Spurred tortoises kept outdoors will often make a point of coming out during a rainstorm and drinking from puddles!

Other Information

You should not mix tortoise species because of the danger of transmitting parasites and other organisms to which a tortoise might not have an immunity. It’s not a good idea to mix tortoises of greatly different sizes because of the danger of injury to smaller ones. Do NOT house males together as they may fight. Females may be housed together, as well as a male and 2-3 females. Males are aggressive so keeping one male and one female together is not advised, although it may work fine in some cases. Most tortoises don’t get “lonely” (this depends on personality and how they are raised as hatchlings) so they don’t necessarily need company.

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