African Spurred Tortoise

Geochelone sulcata

Reptilian Tank

The African spurred tortoise is one of the largest tortoises in the world, with males reaching weights up to 200 pounds! They are named for the spurs on their back legs.

About the Species

These tortoises are common in the pet trade, but many owners do not realize the extreme size that they reach.

Spurred tortoises may double in size each year until they reach maturity, which is around 15 years old. These tortoises can live well over 50 or 60 years. Turtles and tortoises cannot leave their shell behind, as many invertebrates do. The back bone of the tortoise is embedded in the top of the shell, just as the ribcage is a part of the underside of the shell. The top of the shell, also called a carapace, is made up of hardened scales. These scales are called scutes, and are made up of keratin, which is what our fingernails are made of as well. The scutes have well defined growth rings. These tortoises are able to survive in the extreme heat of the desert by digging extensive burrows, where some may be as deep as 10 feet.

Words From the Experts


The African Spurred Tortoise is the third largest tortoise species living today. It is surpassed only by the Galapagos and Aldabra Tortoises. Living in a desert makes getting water hard, so these tortoises have adapted to foraging for succulents and water holding plant material, as well as spending the warmest parts of the day sleeping in dark, cool burrows.


Did You Know?

The African spurred tortoise is the largest mainland tortoise. Only the Aldabra and Galapagos tortoises, which are found on small islands, are larger.



Southern edge of the Sahara desert in Northern Africa


Desert, semiarid grasslands, savannah


2-3 feet in length, up to 200 pounds


Grass, plants, and occasionally fruit


Eggs, hatchlings, and small tortoises may be predated upon. Eventually, they are too big and their shell too thick to be preyed upon easily.

Natural Defenses

The shell and thick skin protect both from predators and the extreme temperatures of the desert


Females lay 15-30 eggs. A group of eggs is called a clutch.



Life Expectancy

Over 50 years

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