What type of enclosure do you need for an African Spurred Tortoise?
When you decide to adopt a sulcata tortoise, commonly known as an African spurred tortoise, it is important to know the amount of space they require to thrive.
Many owners who get their tortoises as hatchlings only measuring a few inches do not realize how large these tortoises will grow.
If you decide to bring a sulcata tortoise into your home, it is pertinent you are prepared to provide an indoor and outdoor enclosure to suit its needs.
Since these tortoises vary so much in size throughout their lives, the requirements of an enclosure for a baby sulcata tortoise vary greatly from one for an adult sulcata tortoise.
This guide will be broken up into two sections: indoor enclosures and outdoor enclosures.
Both sections will include the enclosures’ requirements, explain the importance and benefits associated with them, and highlight the differences between baby sulcatas and adult sulcatas.
Table of Contents
African Spurred Tortoise Enclosures
While baby African Spurred Tortoises may get away with a smaller enclosure, the adult needs a lot of space and hot temperatures. Babies will do fine in a 20-gallon and then 50-gallon space as they grow. Adults do best outside with 100′ sq. feet (30 sq. m) of space and high temperatures.
Indoor African Spurred Tortoise Enclosures
Many owners are attracted to sulcata tortoises as hatchlings because they are known as good pets and are extremely adorable.
Not all prospective owners account for these animals’ lifespan, the size and weight they will quickly grow to, or the environmental factors they will require to thrive as adults.
This section will provide all of the necessary information for keeping baby sulcatas in an indoor enclosure and the requirements for providing some form of indoor housing for the sulcatas when they reach adulthood.
Indoor Enclosure Checklist
- Sizeable (Ideally Mobile) Enclosure
- Basking Rock
- Mental Stimulation/Hides
- Shallow Water Dish
- Feeding Dish
- UVB Light
- Regulated Temperature
- Mesh/Wire Lid
This general checklist will be broken down in more detail in the following sections.
When you adopt your sulcata as a hatchling, you will start their care with an indoor enclosure.
If you are housing one sulcata hatchling, a 20-gallon tub should be large enough for the first six months.
After six months, or if you have multiple hatchlings, you will want to upgrade to a 50-gallon tub.
To cut down on cost and materials, it is a good idea to start with a 50-gallon enclosure.
Several options are available when purchasing or building your baby sulcata enclosure.
Purchasing a 50-gallon tank is acceptable; however, since tortoises like to roam, placing them in a tank with glass walls could be strenuous.
Baby and juvenile sulcata tortoises placed in glass tanks are often seen pacing along with the glass, looking for a way to explore outside of the glass walls.
If you insist on having a side view into your tank, it is suggested to have three opaque walls and one plexiglass wall to see through and display.
An easy and budget-friendly way to create your baby tortoise enclosure is by purchasing a sturdy 50-gallon tub from a home and garden supply store.
Cement mixing tubs work great for this purpose and are easy to transport.
A third option to house your hatchlings is to create a “turtle table.”
Turtle tables may be purchased, or build your own by turning an old bookshelf on its back.
If you decide to transform a bookshelf into a turtle table, be sure to reinforce the bottom, so there is no possibility of collapse.
No matter what kind of container you opt to use as an indoor home for your baby sulcata, you must fill it with the substrate.
Substrate refers to the substance you place on the floor of the enclosure.
Mixing the Repti Bark Reptile Bedding from Zoo Med with organic potting soil is an excellent choice for a substrate.
Although adult sulcata tortoises come from a dry environment, they still need to stay hydrated.
Mixing these two materials to form your substrate will help provide a mainly dry environment with the ability to retain some moisture.
This will help with hydration and will also allow your babies to burrow.
These materials will retain moisture and humidity and provide a place for your sulcata to regulate their body temperature.
These reptiles are ectotherms, meaning they rely on their external environment to regular their body temperature.
They require a moist area, such as a moist hide or covered area with damp moss, as well as a basking area.
For these desert tortoises to retain heat and regulate their body temperatures, they need to have a “hot spot” or a basking rock somewhere in their enclosure.
For an indoor enclosure, providing a basking rock such as limestone under your heat source will furnish the animal with a place to warm up.
If you are able to transport your indoor enclosure outdoors for a portion of the day, this basking area will naturally heat up from the sun.
Keep in mind; these tortoises are known to burrow during the hottest parts of the day.
When placing the enclosure outside, it is important to provide a cool, shaded area and avoid placing it in direct sunlight at the hottest time of day.
More information on transporting your enclosure outdoors will be given in the UVB light section.
Mental Stimulation and Hides
These African tortoises are very active creatures.
Like any baby, sulcatas are curious but also clumsy.
When providing them with furniture to play on and explore, be sure to eliminate any possible hazards.
Baby tortoises are prone to flipping on their backs, so be sure to check on your pet sulcata tortoises and flip them upright if needed.
Driftwood is a great choice of furniture for a baby sulcata nursery.
It will provide a place to hide in and to climb on.
Be sure your added furniture is not large enough to allow your sulcata to climb over the enclosure walls.
You also do not want the furniture to come too high off the ground to avoid flipping and other possible accidents.
A moist hide is essential when setting up your sulcata nursery.
This area will help regulate their body temperature and provide a cool place to hide during the hottest time.
Wetting sphagnum moss daily inside the hide will help keep the area moist and inviting.
Shallow Water Dish
A shallow water dish is essential for every sulcata enclosure.
This dish should be shallow enough where there is no risk of drowning and easy for the tortoises to enter and exit.
As stated previously, baby tortoises are known to flip on their backs.
Having a water dish filled too high is dangerous and may lead to a possible drowning.
A water dish not only provides a source of drinking water as well as a small pool for it to walk through.
Soaking up water through its skin will help keep your tortoise hydrated.
Be sure to change the water daily.
You want to keep the water fresh and clean.
Many pet supply stores sell shallow water dishes.
You may also use a terracotta plate as a watering dish.
These clay plates are often placed under potted plants and are the perfect size for a water dish.
They are budget-friendly, and some owners may already have terracotta plates lying around their property.
You will want to place a feeding dish in your tortoise nursery.
Ideally, a feeding dish will be rough and slightly raised out of the substrate.
A rough surface, such as the flat side of a limestone or slate rock, will provide a natural way for the tortoise’s beak to erode.
An overgrown beak may cause discomfort and lead to further issues for the tortoise.
The feeding dish needs to be slightly raised out of the substrate to prevent your tortoise from consuming it on accident.
If the food is placed directly on the substrate, the substrate may stick to the food, leading to impaction.
UVB light is essential for these tortoises to grow and thrive.
These rays help the sulcata tortoises synthesize vitamin D3 and process calcium.
To avoid shell deformities and other potential health issues such as metabolic bone disease, you should provide your sulcata with UVB light for 10-12 hours each day.
When housing your baby tortoises in an indoor nursery, you will want to place a UVB light overhead.
It is a good idea to have this light positioned to one side of the enclosure to provide various microclimates for the tortoises to choose from.
If you are able to place your indoor enclosure on wheels and easily transport it outdoors daily, you will be able to expose your growing sulcatas to natural UVB rays.
Be sure to keep approximately 50% of the enclosure out of direct sunlight to provide a cool microclimate if the sun becomes too intense.
Keep in mind, if you are placing your enclosure outdoors for a portion of the day, it is pertinent to have a wire or mesh covering over the top of the enclosure.
This covering will protect your sulcatas from predators while still allowing UVB light to shine through.
Sulcata tortoises are native to the Sahel region of the Sahara desert.
These reptiles live in an environment with average temperatures ranging from 80-95° degrees Fahrenheit (35° C).
You will need to have a heat lamp to keep your enclosure’s average temperature within this range.
Hot spots of roughly 100° degrees Fahrenheit (39°C) are great for basking, so place a heat source above the basking rock you provide.
Sulcata tortoises do not tolerate low temperatures well, so their enclosure should never drop below 70° degrees Fahrenheit (21° C) for the nighttime temperatures.
Adult sulcatas should primarily live outdoors.
However, it is essential to provide them with some form of indoor living area.
This will allow you to keep your tortoise out of bad weather.
A small shed or a heated dog house are great options for these indoor enclosures.
Since your sulcata will mainly be living outdoors, these enclosures are more basic than a sulcata nursery.
The most important aspect of this enclosure is its ability to keep out rain and retain heat.
You want to insulate the walls of your shed/tortoise house and maintain a temperature no lower than 70° degrees Fahrenheit (21° C) at all times.
Placing a suspended heat lamp inside the enclosure is a great way to regulate this temperature.
You will most likely keep everything else your adult tortoise requires outside of this enclosure.
This space will mainly serve as a weather shelter and a place to regulate body temperature.
Outdoor Enclosures for Sulcata Tortoises
Once your sulcata tortoise is over one year old and is large enough where predators have no chance of flying away with it, you will need to move it to an outdoor enclosure.
Sulcatas are known for roaming, grazing, and burrowing.
You will need a minimum of 100′ square feet (30 sq. m) of space for a single adult sulcata.
A reinforced fence or wall must surround this outdoor space.
The fence should be at least 2′ feet (.6 m) high and 12-18″ inches (45 cm) sunken into the ground.
Sulcatas are natural burrowers, so providing a barrier sunken into the ground will deter them from escaping the enclosure.
Since this enclosure is outdoors, your sulcata will get their essential UVB rays naturally from the sun.
Ideally, you live in a warm, sunny environment where your tortoise will be able to live outdoors year-round.
The outdoor enclosure should have the same features as your indoor nursery.
However, these features may occur naturally and will be on a much larger scale.
Outdoor Enclosure Checklist
- Minimum 100′ sq ft (30 sq m) Enclosure
- Reinforced Fencing/Wall
- Basking Area
- Penetrable Ground for Burrows
- Grasses/Hay for Grazing
- Shallow Water Dish or Fountain for warm water
- Feeding Dish
- Natural UVB Light
From the checklist above, we have already covered the minimum enclosure size and the requirements for the enclosure walls.
If your tortoise is living in your backyard, they will naturally get UVB rays from the sun and will be able to bask in the heat as they please.
It may be nice to add a large basking rock in the enclosure for the tortoise to heat upon during the day.
As natural burrowers, these tortoises are guaranteed to dig large holes and disrupt your landscaping.
Their burrows have a general depth of 3′ feet (.9 m), but they are known to dig as far as 10′ feet (3 m) down to reach cooler temperatures.
While burrowing is inevitable for this tortoise species, shaded areas and a regulated indoor enclosure somewhere on the property may act as alternative microclimates.
Sulcatas cover large areas of land and spend most of their time grazing grasses and hays in the wild.
They will mimic these behaviors in your yard and will provide free lawn maintenance.
Be sure the refrain from using any pesticides or fertilizers on your grass.
Aside from the reinforced wall and indoor enclosure somewhere on the property, the only other items you may need to install are a shallow watering dish and a feeding area.
Adult sulcatas will grow to be several feet and weigh upwards of 80 lbs, so they will need much larger food and drink areas.
You will need to add a shallow watering area but large enough for the sulcata to drink from.
Adding a sprinkler or fountain feature to this watering area will be highly appreciated by your tortoise, as they are not naturally exposed to still water.
Much like baby sulcatas, adults need to eat from a rough feeding dish.
This will naturally help manicure their beak.
Approximately 70% of your adult tortoise’s diet will come from its daily grazing in the yard.
You will need to feed it additional plant materials twice per week.
This may be done on a large rock.
If your enclosure contains a patio, feel free to skip the added rock and feed your sulcata.
Of all the ways you need to care for an African Spurred Tortoise, the trickiest is the enclosure setup.
These are large desert creatures, and they need space to roam while staying warm.
With these tips to help you, you’ll know where to get started on keeping your pet safe and happy.