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African Spur Thigh (Sulcata) Care Sheets
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Average Rating Given To This Care Sheet Is 4.25    (1=lowest, 5=highest)    Last Updated: 02/14/2004

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Years Experience:

5 to 10 Years


African Spur Thigh (Sulcata)

Other Species or Phases this Care Sheet May Cover:

AKA African Spur, African Desert. Care is similar to Leopard Tortoise.

Sexing and Characteristics:

These guys get really, really BIG. They are beautiful babies that fit in the palm of your hand but will grow to be up to 30" in length and over 200 lbs. in some cases. They are the third largest tortoise species in the world.

Sex is hard to determine until they are sub-adult. The males may start to "flash". This is a common term used to describe when the tortoise penis comes out when the tort. is bathing.

They tend to grow 4-6 inches a year.

Mostly Active During:


Substrate and Water Needs:

50-50 sand and bed-a-beast when a hatchling is recommended. Older sulcatas must be housed outside.

Water bowls must be fairly shallow as the tort may tip over and not be able to right itself in a deep one.

I use a small rubbermaid container with a dip cut in one of the sides for access. Plastic saucers like those that go under potted plants also work.

Larger sulcatas benefit from those round plastic snow saucers that you can find at wal-mart as water pans.

It is especially important to soak hatchlings once a day to prevent dehydration.

Lighting and UVB:

Indoor hatchlings require a 75 W basking lamp and UVB.

Outdoor Sulcatas will require a much more powerful bulb in a ceramic heat emitter and a UVB in their shed for rainy days and the winter season when they canít go out much.

Temperatures and Humidity:

Daytime temps of 75-85 are good. Nighttime temps should not be allowed to drop below 60 degrees.

Heating and Equipment:

No undercage heater or heat rock is recommended.

Caging Provided:

Indoor housing is for hatchlings only. For this, a tortoise table is recommended. See for details.

Larger torts need an outdoor pen. This must be at least 30í by 30í so if you donít have that kind of space extra donít even THINK about getting one of these guys.

They will also need an outdoor shed when they get older complete with adequate heating to keep them warm during winter months.

Also, they will quickly turn your yard-turned-pen into a moonscape as they are active diggers and burrowers. You will need a strong fence--above and below ground--to keep them contained.



Description of Diet:

No meat or fruits!!! Never!! This is important. The worst thing you could do is give them too much protein. The best thing they can eat is hay. Just not alfalfa hay because it has a lot of protein in it as well. Grasses are also recommended. Just make sure you grow your own and they donít get exposed to any with pesticides in it.

NEVER give them: cheese, dog food, peas or beans, commercial tortoise diet, fruit, grains, or veggies in large quantities.

At least 75% of their diet should be:
Buffalo grass (Buchloe dactyloides)
Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon -- which actually originated in Africa!)
Orchardgrass (Dactylis glomerata)
Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii)
Little Bluestem (Andropogon scoparious)
Western wheatgrass (Agropyron smithii)
Blue Grama (Bouteloua gracilis)
Arizona Fescue (Festuca arizonica)
Lawn Fescue (Festuca arundinacea)
Sheep Fescue (Festuca ovina)
Creeping Red Fescue (Festuca rubra)

The rest should be edible weeds such as:
Dandelion -- both the yellow flowers and the leaves
Prickly Pear Cactus pads (Opuntia species) -- You can scrape off the needles with a sharp knife or burn them off by holding the pad over the flame of a gas or propane camp stove.
Broadleaf Plaintain or Buckhorn Plantain (Plantago major or Plantago lanceola)
Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea grossulariaefolia) -- flowers and leaves
London Rocket or Tumble Mustard -- leaves only; they tend to reject the flowers
Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) -- flowers and leaves
Hollyhock (Alcea rosea) -- flowers and leaves
Roses (Rosa species) -- flowers only
Hibiscus (Hibiscus species) -- flowers and leaves
Mulberry (Morus species) -- leaves only; give the mulberry fruit to box turtles.
Geranium (Pelargonium species) -- leaves and flow

Supplements, Nutrition and Usage:

Calcium should be sprinkled lightly over meals.


Just remember that they will get BIG! Regular vet bills should be in the back of your mind too when you consider purchasing one.

Some Words on this Species:

Experienced owners call these tortoises "sulcata" rather than the more common term, "African Spur Thigh" or any variation thereof. This is because this term can often be confused with a Mediterranian Spur Thigh. Care of these two species is totally different and you donít want to confuse them.
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The information contain in these care sheets represents only the opinions and husbandry care of members and therefore is not guaranteed to be 100% accurate or reflects the advice or opinions of It is always advised to seek additional information or the advice of a qualified veterinarian or qualified reptile dealer. It is also advisable for you to a good amount of research before implementing any of the ideas and care described in these care sheets. We also recommend you ask many questions in their related forums before acting on any information.

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