African Spurred Tortoise Facts | Anatomy, Diet, Habitat, Behavior

The African spurred tortoise (Centrochelys sulcata) is a large turtle species. It is primarily known for its digging behavior. The turtle is mainly found in the southern part of Sahara Desert. African tortoises are powerful diggers; in captivity they make extensive burrows so much so that they can even damage walls in the backyard. They make 10 feet long burrows.

African Spurred Tortoise Facts


  • They are one of the largest tortoises in the world.
  • The length of the young tortoises is 2 – 3 inches at birth. However they will reach a length of 6-10 in (15–25 cm) in few years.
  • Adult tortoises grow to a length of about 83 cm (33 in) and weighs up to 105 kg (231 lb).
  • It is also known as sulcata tortoise.

Range & Habitat

  • African spurred tortoises are likely to survive in the northern Africa in Sahara desert.
  • They make homes in several different habitats including thorn scrublands, semiarid grasslands, and savannas.
  • African tortoise’s range extends to countries such as Ethiopia, Nigeria, Chad, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Eritrea, Sudan, Mali, and Senegal.
african spurred tortoise facts
African Spurred Tortoise
©Flickr/Jim Roger Webb


  • They spend much of their daytime digging burrows in order to reach the wetlands. By doing so, they can also survive the hottest hours of the day.
  • African spurred tortoises are thought to dig burrows as deep as 30 inches under the ground.
  • The average lifespan of the African spurred tortoise is 50 – 150 years. They are expected to live much longer than this.
  • They can also perform better in captivity provided the temperature and food are just what the doctor orders.

Feeding Ecology & Diet

African spurred tortoises have herbivorous diet. Plants and green matter form the essential part of their diet. They rely on plants that contain low protein-content but are rich in fiber.

Reproductive Biology

  • The breeding occurs in the months of September to November.
  • A female chooses the nesting site at least 2 months after the mating.
  • They take out the loose soil while urinating into the depression—signal that shows that the site is suitable for laying eggs.
  • If the ground is soft it takes a turtle 4 – 5 hours to make 60-cm deep burrow. The burrow measures about 20 cm across.
  • The ideal temperature for digging burrows is at least 78 °F (27 °C).
  • After digging the nest, a female lays an egg every 180 seconds.
  • The incubation period lasts about 3 – 4 months.
  • The clutch size is 15 – 30 eggs. Moments after laying, the female begins to cover all the eggs by burying them in sand. It takes her 60 minutes to completely cover the eggs.

Conservation Status


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