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African Spurred Tortoise

Geochelone sulcata

About the African Spurred Tortoise


Geographic Range:


Class: Reptilia  
Order: Testudines  
Family: Testudinidae 
Genus: Geochelone 
Species: sulcata

The African Spurred Tortoise is the largest tortoise in mainland Africa. It's well camouflaged in its desert home by its sandy color, from its yellow-brown skin to its brownish carapace (upper shell). The back of its thigh bears two or three large conical spurs for which the tortoise is named.

African Spurred Tortoise Facts

The African spurred tortoise is a desert-dwelling species, camouflaged by its sandy coloration, thick yellow-brown skin and brownish carapace (upper shell). Its broad, oval carapace displays serrations at the front and back margins, and growth rings on each scute become marked with age. Large overlapping scales cover the front surface of the forelimbs, while the hind surface of the thigh has two or three large conical spurs, from which the species earns its name. This species has thick skin, which helps reduce fluid loss.


  • Length: 50 – 80 centimeters  (1.6 – 2.6 feet)
  • Weight: Up to 100 kilograms (220 pounds)

The African spurred tortoise typically mates between September and December. The female toroise will lay a clutch of 15 to 30 eggs in a depression she digs in the ground, and will then cover those eggs with dirt. The eggs incubate in this nest for eight months. After hatching, the babies crawl to the surface of the nest through the dirt and emerge after a period of between 24 and 72 hours. The young continue growing until they reach they full size by 15 to 20 years of age.

Median Life Expectancy:
50 years

The African spurred tortoise is native to northern parts of Africa, ranging from the southern edge of the Sahara down through the arid countries, including Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, the Sudan, and Ethiopia, up through the dry, hot Massaua coast bordering the Red Sea. 

This tortoise species is herbivorous, and eats grasses and leaves, especially leaves of morning glory plants.

To find moisture, tortoises will excavate burrows in the ground to get to areas with higher moisture levels. In the wild they may spend the hottest part of the day in these microhabitats. Burrows may average 30 inches in depth and some dig tunnel systems extending 10 feet or more underground.

When temperatures exceed 104 F (40 C), the African spurred tortoise will begin to salivate heavily, smearing the saliva on its forearms to help cool itself down.