Sulcata tortoises, otherwise known as African Spurred tortoises, are one of the most popular species to own as pets. But how big do they get; in terms of height, width, and weight? Besides, size can have a big impact on keeping a pet; both in terms of their care and possibilities of keeping them all together. So I spent some time researching to find out for good. I’d like to share my findings with you here today.
So, how big do sulcata tortoises get? Sulcata tortoises are considered to be the third-largest species of mainland tortoises in the world. They typically reach 15″ in height, between 24-30″ in width, 25-30″ in length, and 90-200+ pounds in weight at full adult size. It generally takes them 15-20 years to be become fully grown, with the males being slightly larger (typically wider and heavier) in size. Baby sulcata tortoises on the other hand a quite small, only reaching 7″ in width and 2″ in height by the end of the first year of life; weighing as little as 100 grams.
Sulcata tortoises experience somewhat dramatic growth in the early stages of life. They generally put on 5 pounds of weight per year beyond the ages of 1-2.
That being said, this reptile is also known to go through a slow-growing rate of growth once they get older and reach maturity.
The truth is, a baby sulcata tortoise is actually quite tiny; but they grow up to be one of the largest mainland tortoises in the world, only behind the Galapagos and Aldabra giant species’.
So, if you are serious about only one, you are going to need quite a lot of space!
It is also important to keep in mind that the size of a sulcata tortoise cannot be used to determine its exact age. They can differ quite a bit between them.
For instance, it has been known for a Sulcata tortoise to be 12 years of age but only 2 inches in length!
Let us now explore the sulcata tortoise size in further detail. We will be covering their average size, growth rate, and the factors that can influence their final size.
So, if you are serious about owning this particular species, be sure to read on the end to set your expectations, and know exactly what you are getting yourself into!
What Is The Average Size Of A Sulcata Tortoise?
The average size of a healthy adult sulcata tortoise is around 15″ in height, between 24-30″ in width, 25-30″ in length, and between 90-200+ pounds in weight once they are fully grown.
Females commonly weigh in the region of 70-90 pounds; with males often doubling this size at around 150 pounds. It has been known for them to weigh 200 pounds and more!
As for the hatchlings, the length of its carapace (the hard upper shell) is usually somewhere around 2 inches long.
The external environment of where a sulcata lives and has been raised is one of the known factors that impact and influence their final size.
For instance, observations and studies of wild sulcata’s have seen them at their largest, and beyond 200 pounds.
However, if you are looking to own a sulcata as a pet, this kind of number and weight should not be expected.
It’s absolutely the exception, with external factors involved, rather than the norm.
What Age Is A Sulcata Tortoise Fully Grown?
A Sulcata tortoise should reach its final adult size within 15 to 20 years.
They are known to grow somewhat rapidly in size, so if you plan to keep one as a pet, you need to be aware of this and have sufficient space accordingly.
They should be comfortable in such a space, as time goes on, without feeling cramped or limited in any way.
If you take on a sulcata and soon realize that they are getting too big for what you can realistically provide, then you may need to consider whether keeping them is in the best interest of all parties, including the tortoise themselves.
This is why it is so important to research this particular species ahead of time and understand their full potential final size before taking one on.
And it’s complicated further.
Because how big your sulcata tortoise will get is not going to be known from the outset. They can vary quite dramatically between one another.
This is why we can only work with averages!
This is precisely why size is not a good indicator to determine either their age or health status and other means are required.
It is not unknown for one sulcata tortoise to be 10 years old but only 10″ in length. Whereas there are others that are 5 years old and 15″ in length.
So, if you are looking at owning a sulcata, it’s best to plan for their largest size. This way, you will be able to safely and appropriately take care of them, wherever they do end up!
How Fast Does A Sulcata Tortoise Grow?
Sulcata tortoises are expected to grow extremely fast, from the moment they hatch from their egg, up until their fifth year. However, after this, their rate of growth will slow down quite dramatically, and noticeably.
For example, a sulcata tortoise at 90 days old can weigh as little as 50 grams. Whereas by the time they are 5 years of age, they will likely weigh around 12-15 pounds.
That’s a 33x growth increase in the 5 years following birth!
And while their growth rate definitely slows down, consider they still have a lot of growth to do.
It will just occur consistently over the next 10-15 years as they grow into their full adult and final size of 70 pounds and upwards.
For this reason, it is during the first 5 years you will notice dramatic and obvious changes in size. After that, 5 pounds a year is not too noticeable – especially as they are larger by this point.
Either way, you need to ensure that you provide your tortoise with the best diet and the right amount of nutrition to grow strong and remain healthy at all stages of life.
Let us now take a closer look at a growth chart of a female sulcata, looking specifically at their changes from early on in life to around 8 years of age:
|90 Days||58 grams||2.5″|
|10 Months||78 grams||3″|
|3 Years, 7 Months||4.6 pounds||10″|
|4 Years, 9 Months||8.4 pounds||10.5″|
|6 Years, 12 Months||17.4 pounds||14″|
|7 Years, 5 Months||22.6 pounds||16″|
|7 Years, 9 Months||29.8 pounds||17.5″|
How Long Do Sulcata Tortoises Stay Small?
A sulcata tortoise will be considered small up to the age of around 7 years. At this time they begin to exceed 30 pounds.
Although, what is small for one owner may differ from the next and it depends on your definition of the term.
Equally, sulcatas can differ quite dramatically from tortoise to tortoise; and does depend on a number of different factors that we will soon discuss in the next section.
Nevertheless, all baby sulcata tortoises will be considered very small; only averaging 2″ in length. Even by the end of the first year they are still small compared to their final adult size, reaching around 7″ at most.
From there, with a rate of growth of 5-10 pounds per year, they soon get to a pretty large size.
Factors That Can Influence Sulcata Tortoise Growth & Full Grown Size
There are several different factors that will influence and impact the final size of a sulcata tortoise.
Let us now take a closer look at each one and what you will need to take into account as an owner.
The first factor that can greatly influence the growth and final size of a Sulcata tortoise is its diet. Sulcata tortoises are herbivores; thriving on a variety of plant matter.
In the wild, they will consume the vegetation that is available to them but as an owner, we have to do our utmost to replicate this nutrition.
Grasses, edible flowers (including geraniums and rose petals), and shrubs are all commonly consumed.
In fact, up to 80% of the diet should come from grass sources.
Aside from this 10-15% of the diet should consist of greens such as collard greens, kale, mustard, turnip, and dandelions. But high oxalate vegetables such as spinach do need to be managed and limited.
Grasses have high levels of fiber and relatively low levels of protein; both of which this species of tortoise needs.
Fruits, high carbohydrate vegetables, and other high proteins foods can result in excessive weight gain and other issues.
In fact, tortoises can store fat deposits on their limbs and necks, which restricts their ability to move around and puts a lot of additional strain on their muscles, joints, and circulatory system.
Your sulcata tortoise should be growing appropriately for its size and age.
Generally, 1g – 4g per month is a good rule of thumb to abide by.
Many reptiles, including tortoises, need to obtain a sufficient amount of calcium in order to grow to their full size and potential.
In fact, calcium actually forms a major part of a tortoise’s body; more than any other mineral.
So, it naturally follows that insufficient calcium intake leads to shell softening and in worst-case scenarios, contributes to metabolic bone disease.
A growing tortoise simply needs a substantial amount of calcium in order to build its shell and skeleton. But it also plays a big role in muscle growth and the utilization of other vitamins and minerals too.
In the wild, sulcata’s get a lot of this mineral from vegetation that grows on calcium-rich soils (which they may also ingest when feeding).
But as an owner, you may need to consider supplementation, along with making sure their diet is calcium-rich and phosphorous poor (as these two minerals oppose one another).
UVB lighting is essential to sulcata tortoises when kept in captivity.
Naturally, they would acquire UVB from the sun, which is something, of course, they will not have the same level of access to when kept as pets.
UVB light enables a tortoise to synthesize vitamin D3, which in turn helps them to absorb and process calcium. As mentioned above, this is crucial for bone structure and growth.
UVB Lighting should be left on for up to 10-12 hours per day, only being turned off during the night.
The environment of a sulcata is another factor that can dramatically affect their growth rate. Again, you need to ensure this is optimal for them.
Sulcata tortoises are native to sunny, arid regions which are high temperatures and low humidity.
For this reason, they do not do well in damp, cold, wet or humid environments.
If they were to live in these kinds of conditions, then negative health consequences are likely; such as fungal growth and the general worsening of your tortoise’s health.
It goes without saying that an unhealthy tortoise is unlikely to grow to its potential.
Sulcata tortoises can make fantastic pets; they are typically friendly and docile, rarely being aggressive or territorial towards their owners.
Although it must be said, this is not a species for everyone. This is mostly due to their sheer size and specific care requirements.
Besides they typically live for around 80-100 years; so a prospective owner really needs to be sure this is the right pet or species for them before they proceed!
For starters, they will require access to a spacious outdoor enclosure, and its a good idea to have a fence of at least 2 feet in height that is dug well below ground to prevent any escape from burrowing!
Small sheds or greenhouses are routinely used by owners with great success; they keep them housed while also keeping them well protected from the elements.
Beyond this UVB lighting and heating should be considered. Especially if you live in a colder climate.
Unfortunately, this is not really a species that can be kept indoors. Their size makes this largely impractical unless you have an entire room you can dedicate to them.
Nevertheless, if you are willing and able to take them on; you will be rewarded. They do make for a great pet all-around when cared for accordingly.
How Big Is A 1-Year-Old Sulcata Tortoise?
A 1-year-old healthy sulcata tortoise will typically weigh between 0.5-2 pounds, measuring between 3-6″ in length. This is about the size of a baseball.
How Big Should A 3-Year-Old Sulcata Tortoise Be?
A 3-year-old healthy sulcata tortoise will typically weigh between 5-10 pounds, measuring between 10-15″ in length. However, size can vary quite considerably between tortoises, and they may be quite a bit smaller or larger than this.
Are you still researching for a tortoise species? Wondering what their respective sizes are? My following guide will be of help:
I am an experienced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets, from traditional pets like dogs and cats, to the more exotic like reptiles and rodents. I currently own a Cockapoo (pictured) called Bailey. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site dedicated to sharing evidence-based insights and guidance, based on my vast pet ownership knowledge, experience, and extensive research.