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Giant Tortoises: The Sulcata Tortoise or African Spurred Tortoise

Updated on July 17, 2014
African Spurred Tortoise
African Spurred Tortoise | Source

The Sulcata Tortoise, or African Spurred Tortoise is the third largest species of tortoise and spends most of its long life continually growing.

The African Spurred Tortoise at the Monte L Bean Life Science Museum at Brigham young University weighs in at about 70 pounds and is probably in his teens (he was about 40 pounds two years ago when I first wrote this!). When he is full grown, he will be much older and could possibly weigh anywhere between 100 and 200 pounds! He's one of the most popular animals and when I work at the museum, I receive many requests to bring him out to show to people.

Most people won't have the opportunity to see a Sulcata Tortoise and get to learn more about them, so this Hub provides as much information as possible about them as well as a video of the Bean Museum's tortoise eating one of his favorite snacks!

Turtles VS. Tortoises

There are three types of turtles:

  1. Turtles
  2. Tortoises
  3. Terrapins

You can tell the difference between the three types based on their habitats, and based on where they live, you can tell what they eat. Turtles live in the ocean or sea and feed on fish and underwater vegetation. Terrapins live near ponds and small bodies of water and spend just as much time out of the water as in. They feed on similar diets as turtles, but also eat insects.

Tortoises spend their whole lives on land, mostly in desert or grassland environments. As such, they feed almost exclusively on vegetation. Because the tortoise moves about a half mile an hour, it's very unlikely that he will ever get the opportunity to eat much else.

Oatis, the giant tortoise at the museum munches mostly on a mixture of veggies and grass, but his favorite snack is crunchy lettuce or celery.

Video of a Giant Tortoise Eating

Facts about the African Spurred Tortoise

The Sulcata Tortoise has two spurs beneath his chin which he gets his name from. When he is ready to mate and finds a female, he will use those spurs to try to flip over a competing male tortoise. You can imagine how this would be effective, because it is very difficult for a large, heavy tortoise to right himself.

However, this can also be deadly, because the tortoise's lungs are located just beneath the top of his shell. If he is flipped over, all of his weight will be pressing down on his lungs and he has a high chance of suffocation.

The sulcata tortoise also has very armored-looking legs. When he is threatened, he will pull into his shell and wrap his legs around his face to protect them. The back of his shell curves down into a flap that covers and protects the back of the turtle and his back legs, which are not as protected as his front legs.

The African Spurred Tortoise is the third largest tortoise in the world, and one of the largest to live in Africa. They regularly grow over a hundred pounds, and have pretty long life spans, although the oldest in captivity is not more than 60 years old. Their shells are a part of their body, so they do not shed their shells as some people may think. Their shell is similar to bone or keratin and grows with their body.

Fun Fact About the Turtle Family: Did you know that turtles (remember they live in large bodies of water) cannot pull their heads and legs inside their shells? If they did this, they would sink and be unable to escape their predators. Instead, turtles can swim up to 12 miles an hour!

Children's Books About Giant Tortoises


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    • Jacob Wittrock profile image

      Jacob Wittrock 4 years ago from Lake Ozark, Missouri

      This article is great! I just bought a baby Sulcata a couple months ago. Love them!

    • Turtlewoman profile image

      Kim Lam 5 years ago from California

      That is one giant tortoise! What a fun amd informative article. As you can see I am obsessed with this animal.;-)

    • Matt Weeks profile image

      Matt Weeks 5 years ago from Burlington, NJ

      Interesting read. Those are some powerful jaws!

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 5 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      Thanks it was nice to read about something different

    • profile image

      KDuBarry03 5 years ago

      Wow, that loud CRUNCH was all I needed to witness what kind of power this tortoise has. I would have never guessed a tortoise's lungs are right below the top of their shell. Very interesting. Thank you for sharing this!


    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools99 5 years ago from North-East UK

      I had a tortoise when I was a little girl called Fred. He didn't do much really, other than eat lots of cabbage and poop occasionally but we seemed to like him anyway.

      Voted up and shared.

    • nifwlseirff profile image

      Kymberly Fergusson 5 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany

      It sounds like the tortoise has a really strong and sharp bite - I wouldn't want it to catch my finger!

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 5 years ago from New York

      This was very interesting. Everyone is always amazed at the size and 'lack of speed' of tortoises but we really don't know that much about them. You really explained things well and made reading interesting. Your pictures and video are great too! Voted up and interesting.