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African spurred tortoise

Scientific Name: Geochelone Sulcata

ARP Libby Bain

Did You Know?

Like the other giant tortoises, the African spurred tortoise has a really long life span, one tortoise in England lived 165 years!

The African spurred tortoise is big! It’s the third largest species of tortoise in the world, beaten only by the giant tortoises of the Seychelles and Galapagos Islands. That makes it the largest continental tortoise. Its carapace (shell) grows to 90 centimetres long and the tortoise can weigh up to 100 kilograms. It has a broad oval carapace that is brown to yellowish-brown and very thick skin that is light brown to grey. The front legs are covered in scale-like projections and the rear legs are spurred.


Found in Africa in the Sahara Desert and sub-Saharan regions, the tortoise favours arid areas. To escape the heat it digs large burrows, sometimes several metres long, and it can spend months in these. When temperatures get too hot, it salivates on its forearms to help with cooling.


As with other tortoises, the African spurred tortoise is vegetarian, mainly eating succulent plants but also grasses. It gets much of its moisture from plants as standing water is only around for short periods of the year.


Breeding occurs in the rainy season, from September to November. Males fight each other to mate with females, often ramming into each other. About two months after mating, the female, who is swollen with eggs, starts excavating nests in the ground. She will often make a few nests before she selects the right one. Nests are usually 60 centimetres deep and 15-30 eggs are laid and then covered them with sand. After about 8 months hatchlings emerge that are about 5 centimetres long.

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