Being a new tortoise owner can be intimidating; with all their temperature and dietary needs, it can be overwhelming for sure. However, once you familiarize yourself with the requirements of taking care of a tortoise, it becomes much easier. In this article, you’ll find instructions on how to care for a baby Sulcata tortoise and other important information about the species itself.
We’ll discuss their environmental, dietary, and other health-related needs and provide some helpful tips for raising a happy Sulcata tortoise!
All About the Sulcata Tortoise
First things first, the Sulcata tortoise is one of the largest tortoise species in the world. Even though your baby tortoise may look small now (they are typically only around two inches at birth), they can grow beyond 30 inches in maturity.
They generally are distinguished by their brown shell, yellowish skin, and the spurs on the back of their legs. Sulcatas tend to make great pets, and they are known for their goofy, playful attitudes! However, they are a considerable commitment. Sulcata tortoises can live to be over 100 years old, well beyond the average human lifespan. So they are likely a commitment for not only your life but perhaps even the generations following you.
It is good to keep in mind that they do not reach maturity until they are around fifteen to twenty years old since their lifespan is so long. They will keep growing around that time and can weigh over 100 pounds! Keep their size and growing needs in mind when preparing for caring for a Sulcata.
How to Care for a Baby Sulcata Tortoise
When caring for a baby Sulcata tortoise, it is important to keep them in an indoor enclosure with a UVB and heat lamp, hygrometer, and bedding.
Baby Sulcata Tortoise Habitat Requirements
These animals are evolutionarily adapted to dry, hot environments. Therefore, their enclosure should mimic this domain as much as possible.
Baby Sulcata tortoises should be initially raised in an indoor environment. They shouldn’t be moved outdoors until they have grown and matured enough to defend themselves against any potential threats – this will likely be around the two-year mark. So, in the first two years of its life, you should purchase a large aquarium for it to live in. A 50-gallon tank or larger is recommended for these animals. In this tank, you will need to provide the following:
- A UVB light source AND a basking temperature bulb
- A hygrometer to monitor their humidity levels (which should be between 40% and 60%)
- Bedding made out of a suitable material (dirt/sand mix, cypress mulch, orchid bark, etc. are recommended). You can learn more in my article on the best substrate for Sulcata tortoise.
- I also recommend that you get some accessories such as a piece of wood or large rocks.
Once you’ve set up their enclosure, monitoring it is the next step. Make sure to replace their bedding once every week at best. Watch their humidity levels and make sure their heat bulbs are always functional.
Once they get older and you move them outside, you can make a DIY Sulcata tortoise enclosure.
Baby Sulcata Tortoise Diet
As a baby, a Sulcata tortoise’s diet should be primarily plant-based. There are plenty of household vegetables and greens that Sulcata tortoises will love!
To keep their diet interesting, it is recommended that you rotate their foods and mix and match what greens they are eating. Some greens that Sulcata tortoises love are spring mixes, lettuce, kale, turnip greens, lawn grass, clovers, and various flowers (rose petals, geraniums, hibiscus, etc.). Some greens that should be limited include oxalate high greens including collard greens, parsley, spinach, and rhubarb.
You can learn more in my article on what vegetables can you feed a Sulcata tortoise.
Make sure to soak their greens with water to ensure your Sulcata is getting enough water. Also, include a shallow pool for them. Sulcatas don’t need much water, but it is a good idea to provide some just in case they aren’t getting enough from their food.
If you want to give your Sulcata a treat every once and a while, try letting them nibble on some fruit! Since fruits have a high sugar content and differ from a Sulcata’s wild diet, it is best to only provide fruit as an occasional treat. They tend to love strawberries, apples, pears, and berries! Treat it like candy. Even though candy is delicious and harmless to eat every once and a while, it is unhealthy to eat gummy bears with every meal. The same logic applies to fruit for tortoises.
Watching Their Health
Once you’ve set up a proper habitat and established a healthy diet for your Sulcata tortoise, just make sure to be observant of their behavior and appearance. If a tortoise is unhealthy, they are going to show it. Being able to understand what an unhealthy vs healthy tortoise looks like is very important.
Some signs of an unhealthy tortoise include:
- Discharge from their eyes, nose, or mouth
- Lethargy and noticeable weight loss
- Loss of appetite/not eating
- Sunken eyes/drooping head
- Watery/loose stools
Some signs of a healthy tortoise include:
- Active behaviors
- Healthy appetite
- Bright, clear eyes
- Solid looking shell with no abnormalities
If you are concerned for your Sulcata’s health, make sure to get them looked at by a veterinarian. Keeping your baby tortoise happy and healthy while they grow is incredibly important. Following the steps in this guide and keeping a close eye on them as they grow will help you ensure that they are living a carefree, healthy lifestyle!