Growth and Development of Sulcata Tortoises: Everything That You Need to Know!

Growth and Development of Sulcata Tortoises
Growth and Development of Sulcata Tortoises

There is nothing more rewarding than watching the growth and development of Sulcata tortoises over time! Native to the arid regions of Africa, it is one of the most endearing giant tortoises bred in captivity. Learning about their long-term care requirements will ensure they lead healthy and fulfilling lives!

Also known as the African Spurred tortoise, their developmental milestones reflect not just the passing of time but the success of their captive care. While monitoring their weight and size regularly provides insight into their health, the steady hands-on care and optimal living conditions truly allow these tortoises to flourish!

How fast does a Sulcata Tortoise grow?

Growth and Development of Sulcata Tortoises
How fast does a Sulcata Tortoise grow?

A Sulcata tortoise can grow 2 to 4 inches in length and 1 to 2 inches in width per year. So, a hatchling of a mere 2 inches in length in the first month will turn into around 6 inches at the end of the first year. In the next 5 to 10 years, your Sulcata tortoise should be around 10 to 15 inches. And once they are more than 15 years old, they hit their maximum growth, with a size of more than 24 inches. 

In terms of weight gain rate, expect an average of 5 to 10% per year! New tortoise keepers will be surprised to know that by the end of their first year, these hatchlings can surge in weight from around 1.5 to 2,2 lbs! It’s fascinating to witness the growth and development of Sulcata tortoises at this stage. Monitoring factors such as diet, habitat, and overall health plays a vital role in this long-term growth process.

How Big Does a Sulcata Tortoise Get?

How Big Does a Sulcata Tortoise Get?
How Big Does a Sulcata Tortoise Get?

A fully-grown Sulcata can measure anywhere from 24 to 30 inches in length and can easily tip the scales between 90 and 200 pounds. I’ve watched mine grow over the years, and the weight gain is impressive. I remember comparing to the Size Age chart detailing their growth patterns, and it echoed what I’ve observed at home. 

These creatures grow fast, especially in the first decade of their lives. Males tend to be larger than females, sometimes doubling their weight. If you’re curious about the Size Age chart, check out the following section!

How to tell the age of a Sulcata Tortoise

Growth and Development of Sulcata Tortoises
How to tell the age of a Sulcata Tortoise?

You can determine the age of a Sulcata tortoise through the length of its carapace and its weight. For instance, your tortoise is 8 inches in length and around 10 lbs in weight. It may be between 2 and 4 years old. The following Size Chart will help you to roughly determine the age:

0-3 weeks1.5 to 2 inches0.08 lbs
3 months2.5 to 3 inches0.14 lbs 
6 months3 to 5.5 inches0.17 lbs
1 year6 to 8 inches1.5 to 2.2 lbs
3 to 4 years10 to 15 inches 5 to 10+ lbs
5 years old10 to 20 inches11 to 33+ lbs
10 to 15 years20 to 24 inches33 to 68++ lbs
15++ yearsmore than 24 inches80 to 150++ lbs

The following table will tell you about other methods of measuring the age of a Sulcata tortoise!

Size Age ChartBy measuring the length of its carapace (top shell), I can cross-reference with a chart to estimate its age.
Counting RingsMuch like trees, a tortoise’s shell has growth rings. I count the rings on the scutes of the shell, bearing in mind that each ring does not necessarily equate to a year.
Shell ObservationThe condition and wear of the shell can give clues, as younger tortoises have smoother, less faded shells.
Sexual MaturityMales generally mature at about 15 cm in length and females at 18 cm, which can roughly indicate they’re reaching sexual maturity, hence giving an age indication.
Veterinary ProceduresWhen in doubt, a vet can conduct a blood test or even skeletonography (essentially an X-ray) to offer more precise aging.

From my experience, adding up these clues grants a better picture of my tortoise’s age. Long-term care can influence these factors: a well-raised Sulcata in an optimal habitat may have clearer, more defined rings and a sturdier shell. Regardless, determining the age of my Sulcata tortoise presents a unique challenge, as these creatures can live beyond 70 years. 

Why is My Sulcata Tortoise Not Growing?

Why is My Sulcata Tortoise Not Growing?
Why is My Sulcata Tortoise Not Growing?

Your Sulcata tortoise will not grow properly if the enclosure is too cold (less than 85 F) during the daytime and if you don’t feed it with enough calcium. Colder temperatures will slow down its metabolism, resulting in stunted growth, while calcium deficiency will inhibit the carapace and bone growth. Ideally, for daytime, the temperature should be between 85 to 105 F and around 70 F at night! For calcium intake, you can add cattlebone, powder, or supplement! 

Other reasons why your Sulcata tortoise is not growing:

  • Incorrect temperature. Add a basking area that should be around 100-110 F, as a colder environment can slow down their metabolism and, consequently, their growth.
  • Incorrect humidity.  Ensure you maintain high humidity of up to 80% for the babies! You don’t want to dehydrate them either. Soak them once a day for 10 to 15 minutes!
  • Incorrect diet. Ensuring a variety of grasses and leafy greens supplemented with calcium has been key.
  • Small housing. A cramped housing can lead to stress and inhibited growth.
  • Health Issues. Parasitic infections or diseases could also be responsible for inhibiting your tortoise’s growth.
  • Inadequate UVB Lighting. A 10%-12% UVB fluorescent tube is essential for Vitamin D3 synthesis, which aids in calcium absorption, ultimately affecting growth rates.

I made necessary adjustments to my pet Sulcata’s environment and care routine. Consequently, improvements in its growth were soon apparent. Anyone with a Sulcata tortoise facing similar issues might find reviewing these factors helpful!

How long until a Sulcata Tortoise is fully grown?

Growth and Development of Sulcata Tortoises
How long until a Sulcata Tortoise is fully grown?

It generally takes about 10 to 15 years for a Sulcata Tortoise to reach its fully grown size. When they hatch, these tortoises are quite tiny, but they don’t stay that way for long.

Growth and development of Sulcata tortoises over time:

First Year6 to 8-inch carapace length (growth from hatchling size).
Subsequent YearsSlower pace, but a steady increase in size.
Maturity (10-15 years)The growth rate tapers off; the tortoise is nearly fully grown.

I’ve observed that their growth rate slows down after the initial growth spurt. They continue to grow throughout their lives, but the most significant changes happen in the early years. Proper nutrition and a suitable habitat are essential. I have noticed that by the time they hit the 15 to 20-year mark, growth significantly slows down. However, they can continue to grow slightly larger even after reaching maturity.

How much does a Sulcata Tortoise weigh?

Growth and Development of Sulcata Tortoises
How much does a Sulcata Tortoise weigh?

On average, female adult Sulcata Tortoise tend to weigh around 70-90 pounds, while males are generally heftier, averaging closer to about 150 pounds. It’s common in well-nourished and genetically predisposed tortoises to observe males reaching up to 200 pounds. However, it’s critical to remember that rapid weight gain could indicate health issues, such as obesity.

I’ve noted that my hatchlings, born at approximately 1.5 to 2 inches in length, put on weight at a remarkable pace, reaching nearly 1 kg within their initial year. Their growth doesn’t slow down there. It only takes about 15 years for them to be as hefty as the adult ones! By the end of their first year, they can measure about 6 to 8 inches in carapace length.

How big do female Sulcata Tortoises get?

Growth and Development of Sulcata Tortoises
How big do female Sulcata Tortoises get?

A fully grown female Sulcata can reach lengths of 18 inches, and their weight usually tips the scales at about 70-90 pounds. In my experience of raising tortoises, I’ve observed that female Sulcatas have different adult characteristics. They are typically smaller than their male counterparts. 

To keep track of their growth, I measure and weigh them during routine check-ups. Watch out signs for of eggs! This helps ensure that they are on the right track and allows me to adjust their care as needed. Providing ample space, proper nutrition, and regular veterinary care have been crucial in supporting the growth and health of my female Sulcata tortoises.

How to Make Your Sulcata Tortoise Grow Fast?

Growth and Development of Sulcata Tortoises
How to Make Your Sulcata Tortoise Grow Fast?

To make your Sulcata tortoise grow fast, you should provide a hatchling with enough room for at least an 18″ x 18″ x 12″ enclosure. It will allow them to roam free, spurring their metabolism. Upgrade the size as they grow bigger. An adult sulcata ideally needs to have a whole yard, and never be put in a cage. They need at least 80 to 100 sq foot space! Make sure that you also do the following procedures to help them grow faster:

  • Health and Veterinary Care. Regular check-ups with a reptile-savvy veterinarian can catch any potential health issues and illnesses early, ensuring your Sulcata remains on track for healthy growth.
  • Habitat Requirements. I’ve found a spacious and secure outdoor enclosure significantly beneficial for their growth. The enclosure should mimic their natural environment, offering a temperature gradient, UVB lighting, and a substrate for digging.
  • UVB Lighting. UVB is essential for bones and carapace development for babies and juvenile Suculata kept in an indoor enclosure! The light helps tortoises to absorb calcium by synthesizing vitamin D3. UVB is still beneficial to have for the sunless winter season!
  • Dietary Variations. Sulcata tortoises are herbivores, and I provide them with a diet rich in fiber and calcium while low in fat and protein. 

I’ve also compiled a list of food items that I typically rotate in their meals:

FiberGrasses, hays, and leafy greens.
CalciumDark greeneries and occasional cuttlebone or supplement.
VitaminsVegetables like cabbage, turnip greens, and fruits like watermelon, sparingly.

Remember to feed them primarily grasses and hays, as this mimics what they would eat in the wild and ensures a healthy gut. To foster quick and healthy growth, providing them with the right foods is imperative. By combining health management, a tailored habitat, and a strategic diet, I’ve noticed the growth and development of my Sulcata tortoise progress at an optimal rate!

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