African Spurred (Sulcata) Tortoise Facts

African spurred tortoises, geochelone sulcata, are the third largest tortoises in the world. They measure from 26 to 36 inches long (66 to 91 centimeters) and weigh anywhere from 132 to 240 pounds (60 to 109 kilograms). Males are not only larger than females, but they also have long, thin tails while females have short, blunt tails. Both genders are yellowish-brown in color, and have short spurs lining the sides of their tails, hence the name. Actually, African spurred tortoises go by a variety of names such as the “sulcata”, “spur thigh” and “grooved” tortoise. They also have 5 toes on their front feet, and only 4 toes on their hind feet.

The African spurred tortoise can be found in a band which crosses central and northern Africa. They prefer to inhabit dry, arid regions such as desert fringes and dry savannahs, places where permanent water sources are lacking most of the time. An African spurred tortoise will dig out burrows to both rest and escape the sun when it is particularly hot. In fact, it may enter into a state of dormancy (like hibernation) during the hottest, driest, periods in order to prevent dehydration. These burrows are often shared by 2 or 3 individual tortoises, although males are often aggressive toward one another. The African spurred tortoise is most active during the rainy season (which runs from July to October), foraging for food at dawn and dusk.

The diet of an African spurred tortoise consists purely of vegetation such as dried leaves, grasses and fruits, although it may not eat every day. It especially enjoys the leaves of a morning glory, which is a flowering vine. An African spurred tortoise has very few natural predators, and for good reason. When they feel threatened, they will retreat into their hard shells, leaving only the surface of their front legs (which are covered by scales), and the soles of their hind feet showing. Due to this incredible defense, few creatures are able to successfully prey upon African spurred tortoises.

Breeding season for the African spurred tortoise takes place anywhere from June to March, although it occurs much more frequently right after the rainy season (September to November). Males will fight other males over the right to mate with the females. A female will dig up to 5 different nests during her 60 day gestation period before she finally decides on a suitable spot to lay her clutch of 15 to 30 (sometimes more) eggs. The eggs will hatch after around 8 months, and it will take them another 1 to 3 days to reach the surface of the nest. An African spurred tortoise is both independent and aggressive from the moment it hatches, ramming its siblings and trying to turn them over on their shells just like adults would do. If the little ones can survive long enough, they can live to be up to 100 years old.

The African spurred tortoise is an endangered species. Habitat loss and illegal hunting are their main threats. Many people will buy young African spurred tortoises to keep as pets and soon grow bored of them to the enormous of amount of care required. Dogs, cats, opossums and raccoons will also kill these young creatures from time to time. Hopefully, the African spurred tortoise can overcome these obstacles and rebound. After all, such a unique species of tortoise deserves to live and prosper for many years.

Works Cited

“African Spurred Tortoise (Geochelone Sulcata)” 13 April 2011

“African Spurred Tortoise” 13 April 2011

“African Spurred Tortoise” 13 April 2011

“African Spurred Tortoise” 13 April 2011