Centrochelys sulcata

Sulcata Tortoise

The Sulcata Tortoise also called the African Spurred Tortoise, inhabits the southern edge of the Sahara desert in northern Africa. It is the third-largest species of tortoise in the world and the largest species of mainland tortoise. Tortoises belong to one of the oldest groups of reptiles, the family Testudinidae, which dates back as far as 220 million years. Its shell reaches the size of a tractor tire and weighs more than 100 lbs. During the hottest part of the day tortoises will dig dens up to 30’ deep to cool off. They travel mostly at night and will travel 2 to 3 miles in search of food and water.

The term sulcata means furrow or a deep groove.So the Sulcata Tortoise is named after the deep furrows located on the tortoise’s outer shell. This tortoise obtains its other name, African Spurred Tortoise, due to the spurs located along the back of its hind legs.

Their shell is composed of two layers and the top dome-shaped upper layer is called the carapace. The bottom layer is the plastron. Their carapace is light tan to brown in color and helps them camouflage in the desert terrain.  Tortoises cannot crawl out of their shells because the shells are permanently attached to their spines and rib cages. The carapace protects the tortoise from predators by giving the tortoise a place to enclose its entire body if it senses danger. They have an ectothermic metabolism. The African Spurred tortoise must rely on external sources to acquire heat and regulate its body temperature. Their natural habitat is the Sahara desert, with temperatures of 115 degrees Fahrenheit. They  utilize their massive stubby legs and strong feet to dig deep underground dens or burrows in order to “aestivate.”

Aestivation is not hibernation. Aestivation is a type of summer sleep that helps the tortoise to maintain its body temperature by avoiding excessive water loss during extremely hot temperatures. The burrows are cooler and supply enough humidity to prevent the tortoise from dehydrating.


The Sulcata Tortoise is a vegetarian. It relies on succulent
plants for food and much of its water. In captivity, it will
eat a variety of grasses, lettuce, berseem, and morningglory


Size: 24 – 36 inches length
Weight: 100 – 200 lbs
Lifespan: 50 – 150 years in
the wild.