Of all the tortoises in the world, the Sulcata tortoise has a reputation for being amongst the most popular – and it is easy to see why; these strange, curious creatures have an undeniable charm about them, and their long life spans mean that many become lifelong companions and very loved members of the family.
One of the main things to remember about Sulcata tortoises is that they will continue to grow for a number of years throughout the course of their lives – and with lifespans that can reach up to 150 years, this is something to bear in mind before you bring your first Sulcata tortoise home.
Fortunately, we have put together the ultimate guide to ensure that you have all the information that you need about these curious creatures – including the speed with which they can grow, their rate of growth, and estimated final sizes.
What Are Sulcata Tortoises?
Sulcata are one of the largest sub-species of tortoise on Earth – and because of this, they are often kept as pets by people who love exotic animals but don’t want to commit to more involved species such as larger lizards or even saltwater turtles.
With a lifespan that can easily exceed 100 years, they make excellent pets in large indoor enclosures where they have plenty of space to roam around.
The majority of Sulcatas live in captivity today – but some exist outside in the wild, which adds another layer of intrigue to this fascinating animal.
What Is Their Life Span Like?
The average adult Sulcata can be anywhere between 30 cm (12in) to 70 cm (28in) in length, and weigh between 2 kg (4lb 6oz) to 5 kg (9lb).
If the pet has been well looked after it should be in good health at all times, looking relatively robust with strong bones and sturdy shells.
They tend to reach sexual maturity aged around 10 to 12 years old, and although they do not reproduce until age 15, they can still get pregnant and give birth if they encounter suitable conditions.
Where Are Sulcata Found In The Wild?
Today, these tortoises live primarily in Northern Africa, although there are also some populations living in Europe (mainly in Portugal, Spain, Hungary, and Romania).
Most of the Sulcata tortoises found across Western Europe today come from captive breeding operations, meaning that their numbers tend to be small and fragile compared to those of other European tortoise subspecies.
Unfortunately, the species is classified as “Vulnerable” under CITES regulations, so trade in wild-collected specimens should be prohibited.
The exact size range within which it lives varies widely depending on its environment.
For example, Sulcata tortoises are known to exist in both desert regions and temperate forest areas, and may well be able to survive between temperatures ranging from -40C to 60C.
What’s more, they are known to thrive in habitats that include steep slopes, rocky outcrops, and river banks.
They are particularly suited to arid environments, which allow them to absorb water through their skin rather than breathing and eating water from the air like most other reptiles do.
When Do Sulcata Tortoises Hatch?
The timing of hatching will vary depending upon the temperature at any given time – and Sulcata hatchlings in the summer in northern latitudes tend to emerge when the daytime temperature reaches 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) or above.
They are usually born after three months of gestation, and during this period the female will lay anywhere between six and 12 eggs each year, depending upon environmental conditions.
When the mother thinks she is ready to begin incubating her clutch, she will carefully bury the nest and cover it with soil, grass, or leaves, ensuring that it remains cool and moist over the winter.
Each egg takes approximately 60 days to complete the process of hatching, and once laid, the shell is left soft enough to allow it to be broken open by the baby tortoise inside.
It is not uncommon for Sulcata hatchlings to spend several weeks hatching, and if you check back later in the season, then you might find that some babies have already hatched, leaving only empty shells behind!
Size Of Sulcata Tortoises
If you’re looking at buying a Sulcata tortoise, then you should be aware that the overall eventual size of the animal will depend largely upon the age, breed, and general health and health status of the individual itself.
For example, the average length of the body of a male adult tortoise can range from around 7 inches (18 cm) to around 9.5 inches (25 cm).
And depending upon how well the tortoise was bred, its shell coloration could vary considerably too: some Sulcatas may have black shell plates, while others may have yellow, pink, or white ones.
The speed at which Sulcata tortoises can grow is also important: while there isn’t any exact scientific data available on this, it’s generally accepted that the fastest growing Sulcata tortoise takes around three months from hatching to reaching full maturity, whereas the slowest growers tend to take longer than two years to reach adulthood, which is around four years old.
In nature, these animals live up to 25 years, so you can see how important a healthy diet and regular exercise regime are going to be as the tortoise ages.
What Can Impact The Growth of A Sulcata Tortoise?
There are a number of factors that can have a huge impact on the growth of a Sulcata tortoise, and the main factors include:
Genes or the maternally inherited effects of the Sulcata Tortoise often decide the growth rate of the creatures. There are two main considerations, including:
The gravid Sulcatas lay different-sized eggs in each hatch, and the size of an egg depends on the amount the mother invests into it, including the yolk, shell material, water, and lipids.
Inside the egg, the embryo uses all these components for its development.
The elements inside an egg are partly responsible for the growth of an embryo; in addition, the initial burst of energy for the baby tortoise to emerge from the shell comes from these components, and so they are crucial for its health, safety, and initial survival.
Different studies indicate that bigger hatchlings come from bigger eggs and that the size of the tortoise when it is born offers an indication as to the rate and scale of growth throughout the life of the reptile; smaller Sulcata hatchlings will not reach the same levels of growth or sizes as larger Sulcata hatchlings.
However, the theory doesn’t guarantee a fast growth for tortoises. Studies have shown a vague link between the size of an egg and the later growth rate for Sulcata tortoises, but further research is required.
The Incubation Temperature
Another major impact on the growth rate and size of Sulcata tortoises is the incubation temperature while the eggs are growing, and after they hatch.
Wild Sulcata tortoises will choose the appropriate nesting place, and the environment and weather of the area that they choose will have a direct impact on the incubation of the eggs.
Breeders must take charge of this when raising Sulcata’s tortoises in captivity, so a suitable, consistent temperature must be retained for eggs during the incubation process.
Sex plays a key role in the size and growth rate of Sulcata tortoises – the males of the species are typically heavier and larger than the females.
While both male and females experience similar growth rates and patterns during their early years, and particularly during the juvenile and baby stages, the males of the species will experience faster and more rapid growth during their later years.
It is important to note that growth and development in both sexes will reduce once the reptile has reached sexual maturity, in order to ensure that energy is diverted to reproduction.
Even at this stage, however, males tend to still be much larger.
Diet is another major factor in the size and growth rate of Sulcata tortoises, and this needs to be a key priority for owners.
Sulcata tortoises are herbivorous, and this is the case for animals in the wild, as well as those in captivity.
Their primary diet is typically made up of leaves, vegetables, plants, hays, flowers, grasses, fruits, stems, and shrubs – in fact, around 80% of their diet consists of leaves and grasses, with green veggies making up the remaining 20%.
Items such as turnips, dandelions, kale, and collard greens are especially popular.
That is not to say, however, that Sulcata tortoises will eat anything you throw at them; it is important to focus on avoiding foods that are rich in protein, carbohydrates, and oxalates, as these can be major causes of obesity.
Too much protein can also cause major health issues while including too much fruit in the diet can cause stomach upsets.
It is important to get your tortoise into a regular, consistent feeding schedule, and this will depend largely on the age of your tortoise.
While hatchlings are ok to eat every day, this should be reduced to every other day during the juvenile stage.
Once your tortoise hits adulthood, you can cut feed down to around three times a week. Focus on foods that are high in fiber and low in protein, such as plants, grasses, and vegetables.
Calcium levels are amongst the most important elements in growth and body development for your Sulcata tortoises – it is crucial that your tortoise has ample calcium to help build a strong structure for their bone and shell.
If your tortoise does not receive enough calcium, its shell can become soft, and they may be more susceptible to metabolic bone diseases and other unwanted medical conditions.
A solid, secure body structure will impact the rate of growth of Sulcata tortoises – insufficient minerals will cause growth to be delayed, and your tortoise is unlikely to reach its full potential length and size.
While most of the calcium needs of Sulcata in the wild are met through diet, these may need to be supplemented with calcium-rich foods and other options to ensure that your Sulcata tortoise is reaching its full growth potential.
Calcium powder bowls are a great addition to the enclosure and will help your tortoise stay healthy.
Sulcata tortoises boast a strong position as the third-largest species of tortoise in the world and can reach between 25 and 35 inches in size, as well as up to 100 pounds in weight.
It is important, therefore, that you make sure that you have an enclosure that is spacious enough to facilitate your tortoise and to ensure that you scale this up as your reptile grows.
As a general rule, an enclosure that measures 18 x 18 x 12 will be ideal while your hatching is a baby, and up to 2 years juvenile.
As your pet grows, however, you need to ensure that their enclosure grows with them; if your tortoise is kept in an enclosure that is too small, they can become stressed and anxious, and this can have a negative impact on growth.
All turtles and tortoises require UVA and UVB light to stay healthy – and Sulcata tortoises are no exception to this rule, as exposure to UVA light helps keep them calm, balanced, and healthy, as well as boosting activity levels.
UVB rays will help activate the Vitamin D3 synthesis in the body of every tortoise – this is crucial for helping your tortoise absorb the right levels of calcium from the food they eat.
And the UVB rays activate the Vitamin D3 synthesis in the tortoise body.
We have already mentioned the importance of ensuring that your tortoise obtains adequate calcium; without the right levels, your pet may face bone disease, as well as shell softness and deformities.
Both of these can also impact the size and weight of your tortoise; without UV light, your pet is unlikely to reach the right body development and rate of growth.
While the sun offers natural UV light to Sulcata tortoises in the wild, this needs to be replicated by owners in captivity.
Artificial UV lamps must be set up in your pet’s enclosure, and these should be kept running for around ten to twelve hours each day to allow your tortoise to reap the full health benefits.
Sulcata tortoises do not require huge levels of water, and they tend to avoid swimming and water wherever possible.
Despite this, it is crucial for your pet to retain good hydration levels to keep them healthy and happy – they will enjoy a drink of water, and appreciate having their shells wetted.
Over time, extended periods of dehydration can result in a number of long-term health issues and concerns, including issues with growth and gaining weight.
Make sure that your tortoise has ongoing access to a steady and clean water supply at all times.
As we have mentioned, Sulcata tortoise species are native to arid environments.
This means that they prefer living in areas with hot weather and low humidity, and this needs to be replicated when you are raising a Sulcata tortoise in captivity.
A cold, damp environment is not ideal for Sulcata tortoise eggs and, in some cases, can result in pets becoming fatigued or losing their appetite.
In some cases, the hatchlings can suffer from fungal infections or other unwanted health conditions, which can have an impact on the final size of the tortoise as it grows.
As we mentioned, a tortoise that is small when it is first hatched is unlikely to be able to make up the size later on in its life, and will likely always remain on the smaller side.
Sulcata tortoises are also vulnerable to a number of different health conditions, and these can include pneumonia, respiratory infections, pyramiding, shell deformation and damage, fungal infections, and metabolic bone diseases.
These conditions, as well as other serious medical conditions and ailments, can have a serious negative impact on the growth of your tortoise.
Is There Anything I Can Do To Make My Tortoise Grow Faster?
To help your tortoise grow faster, you need to provide a balanced diet with supplements, a spacious enclosure with proper arrangements for your tortoise, a suitable habitat environment, and frequent medical checks.
Each tortoise has its own rate of growth, and ultimately, size is much less important than overall health and wellbeing.
You can try different tips to faster your tortoise growth only if any external factor is responsible for it.
Some top tips include:
Feeding Your Tortoise Properly
The food that you feed your tortoise is very important. The food that you give to your tortoise should be rich in protein and vitamins.
It should contain high-quality ingredients like fresh fruits and vegetables, with plenty of high fiber options, and low protein foods.
Plenty of vitamins, and in particular, calcium, are essential for tortoises living in captivity; a deficiency in these areas can cause serious health issues and have a negative impact on growth.
Provide Plenty Of Space
Your tortoise needs plenty of space to move around in. They should be given enough room to stretch out, walk around and exercise in comfort.
You can use terrariums, aquariums, or even plastic boxes to house your tortoise.
You can also buy a larger enclosure for your tortoise, and focus on creating an environment that is suitable for your tortoise’s growth.
You can do this by providing a large enclosure with lots of natural light, and adding plenty of plants and trees inside the enclosure to increase the amount of oxygen available to your pet.
Ensure Regular Medical Checks
Regular medical checks are extremely important for tortoises.
This includes checking their weight and height regularly, making sure they don’t get too hot or cold and ensuring that they are healthy and happy.
If you notice any changes in your tortoise’s behavior or appearance, then contact a vet immediately.
Keep Them Safe From Predators
Tortoises are naturally curious creatures and often explore outside their enclosures.
This means that they are vulnerable to attack from predators such as cats, dogs, foxes, snakes, and birds.
You can keep your tortoise safe from predators by keeping them safely indoors at night and using secure fencing to prevent access into the enclosure.
You can also make sure that there are no holes in the fence that could allow your tortoise to escape.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Fast Does A Sulcata Tortoise Grow?
The growth rate of Sulcata tortoises can vary from 1.25 inches per annum to 2.1 inches annually. During the first 5–10 years of life, the species grows at an unimaginably fast rate.
Hatchlings of Sulcata tortoises are usually 1.5 to 2 inches big, whereas juveniles of Sulcata tortoise species can be up to 20 inches long.
Some studies claim that Sulcatas experience around 33x growth in their first five to ten years.
After that, the pace of development and growth slows down. After reaching adulthood at 15 to 20 years old, the Sulcata tortoises no longer grow in length.
A Sulcata tortoise may grow up to 25 to 32 inches long. There is no specific way to measure the tortoise’s growth rate.
A 16-inch long Sulcata tortoise shell can be a 5-year-old juvenile or 10-year-old sub-adult – as a result, size alone cannot tell you anything about the age of a Sulcata tortoise.
The growth rate of this species varies depending on various factors.
What Can Impact The Growth of A Sulcata Tortoise?
The growth rate of a Sulcata tortoise can be impacted by diet, enclose size and space, lighting, calcium intake, environment, and the sex of the tortoise.
Ultimately, the speed at which your tortoise grows depends on a variety of factors.
However, all tortoises benefit from regular feeding, high-quality nutrition, and appropriate housing and care.
As long as your tortoise is getting sufficient nutrients and good care, it will continue to grow steadily.