Best Substrate for Sulcata Tortoise

Like most tortoise breeds, taking care of a Sulcata tortoise is a lifetime commitment and requires hard work and dedication. One of the most important aspects of a Sulcata Tortoise’s habitat is the substrate. Today’s article will cover everything you need to know about the best substrate for Sulcata tortoises.

Best Substrate for Sulcata Tortoise

The best substrate for a Sulcata tortoise is a mixture of sand and soil. Soil is good because it is warm and enables the tortoises to dig, while sand helps retain humidity.

If you prefer to buy substrate for your Sulcata online, I suggest checking out the following substrates:

Exo Terra Plantation Soil

substrate for sulcata tortoise

This substrate is great for a Sulcata Tortoise. It is very good at retaining humidity, and is really easy to dig through. It is also a good option if you plan on having live plants.

Natural Sand

sand for sulcata tortoise

This is a good choice if your turtle is less of a digger. It is also better for big enclosures, as it comes in bags that are 10 pounds.

  • Forest Floor
  • EcoEarth
  • ReptiSand

Each of these brands will make a great substrate for the enclosure of Sulcata tortoises. If you want to know more about their diet, you should check out my list of the best food for a Sulcata tortoise. If you need help building an enclosure, check out how to make a Sulcata tortoise enclosure.

What not to use for substrate

You should not use the following for a substrate for your Sulcata tortoise:

  1. Pellets: They are hard for tortoises to walk on.
  2. Fiber: Easily gets moldy and dusty; being exposed to these conditions can lead to health problems.
  3. Paper: Bad substrates because they are weaker and also get stale fast.
  4. Wood: They give tortoises splinters, and if they are ingested, this may cause severe damage.
  5. Sand: Sand on its own is not suitable for Sulcata tortoises! They can cause infections and damage to the eyes. Therefore, be sure to mix them with soil for better bedding.
  6. Soils with fertilizers and pesticides.
  7. Pine shavings contain a toxic substance that is not good for tortoises.

Be sure to watch what you are using as a substrate. It is vital to do proper research before using something for your tortoises’ bedding. Remember that replicating the climate conditions they are used to is highly influential in ensuring healthy growth for your Sulcata Tortoise!

How much substrate for a Sulcata tortoise?

You should have around 2 to 5 inches of substrate for your Sulcata tortoise. This will give them enough room to dig and burrow themselves in the ground. This is the same depth needed for a Russian tortoise substrate.

What else to consider when choosing a substrate for a Sulcata?

The moisture level of the substrate needs to be in the range of 30% to 50%. The humidity level helps significantly regulate the tortoises’ body temperature and retention of water. Having it too low may cause dehydration, and too high may cause an infection in their shell. When choosing a substrate, you should consider:

  • Buying a moisture meter can help you monitor the humidity level of the substrates.
  • You should change the substrate when it begins to smell or retains too much water.
  • Cleaning their enclosures often will reduce the frequency that you need to change the substrate.

We should remember while choosing our substrates that Sulcata tortoises are used to Africa’s hot and dry climates. Being in a hot and dry environment would be more suitable for them because their bodies are accustomed to the atmosphere in those conditions.

To learn more, check out my adult Sulcata tortoise care guide.

Other recommendations for a Sulcata tortoise habitat:

  1. Sulcata tortoises prefer to live in outdoor enclosures with spacious areas (preferably with a fence to prevent them from wandering off). Being outdoors gives them a larger space to roam freely, and more natural light from the sun.
  2. Sulcata tortoises belong in temperatures that do not fall below 80 Fahrenheit
  3. Keeping a Sulcata tortoise in indoor enclosures may also be an option as long as they have ample space of 80 square feet, especially when they become adults.


I hope this article helped shed some light on the purpose of substrate, and gave you an idea of what sort of substrate you should use for your Sulcata tortoise. The Sulcata tortoise originates from the Sahara desert, and both soil and sand are similar to a desert habitat.

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