How to Set Up a Habitat for Your Baby Sulcata Tortoise

Updated on July 31, 2019
sulcatamandy profile image

Mandy has experience with tortoises and likes to provide husbandry advice to others.

Setting Up a Sulcata Tortoise Table or Terrarium

So there I was, staring at an adorable baby sulcata tortoise for the first time, his tiny little eyes gooped up and staring at me as he chomped away on some gross-looking browned vegetables. His eyes pleaded with me as if to say, "Please take me home." I was hooked from that very moment. He was no bigger than a shot glass when I first brought him home. Now he is no bigger than a coffee table.

Of course, there has been some time that has been passed between shot glass and coffee table. The 11 years that I have had my sulcata tortoise have gone by quick. As they say, time flies when your having fun. Now I know from experience that not all pet stores or farms will tell you everything you need to know about owning a sulcata tortoise before you purchase one. Especially the part about how fast and large they grow. I have collected everything you need to know about setting up your new pet's habitat here on this page.

Things You Will Need

This is a basic list of the things that you will need to build your tortoise house. I have gone into great detail about each one of these in later paragraphs.

  • Okay, so first, you're going to want to think about a cage that is going to fit everything you need to properly take care of a baby sulcata tortoise. I suggest a ZooMed Wood Tortoise House, which I have featured below. It will provide everything you need to begin.
  • Second, you will need some bedding. I suggest using something that your tortoise can dig and aestivate in.
  • Third, you will need to place the water bowl. I like to sink my water bowl into the dirt, making it easier for the tortoise to drink from as well as crawl in and out of.
  • Additionally, you will need a light source. Place this wherever is the most convenient, but where it points light in one general area.
  • Finally, you will need to place the heater under the cage (as opposed to inside of it). It is important that there needs to be cool spots in the cage for the tortoise to escape the heat in case it gets too hot. Evaluate where your lamp is, and place the heater in an alternative spot next to the light so that the rest of the cage is cool.
  • Lastly, you need an area away from the heat where you can feed your tortoise. If you place the food under the heat, it will wither faster and go bad, growing bacteria.

Zoo Med Wood Tortoise House
Zoo Med Wood Tortoise House

I really like this option from Zoo Med. I have come to respect this company and its products. I like that they have taken everything I have always wanted in a tortoise house and turned it into a kit. All you have to do is screw this together and it's done. It cuts out a lot of time and hard work and is a great setup for a baby to grow into until its juvenile stage. The structure itself is very sturdy and can be moved and cleaned easily. This makes relocating your tortoise much easier.


How to Set Up Your Terrarium or Tank

There are several things to keep in mind when you are setting up a terrarium for a juvenile sulfate tortoise:

  • Placement of each area is key to keeping your pet happy and healthy.
  • Having a warm and cool spot in the tank are also necessary.
  • Furthermore, there is a need for a basking light as well as warmth, which are obtained from two different sources.

Basically, what I do is separate the tank into two sides: a warm side and a cool side. On the warm side, I place the basking light in one corner and the heating pad in the other corner on the same side. I place the "home" or "cave" in between the two areas. As the sulcata tortoises grow, they will often move "furniture" around in the cage to where they want. Sometimes they are just playing, but other times I wonder if they are actually doing some rearranging.

On the other side of the tank, I try to keep the water dish and food bowl, along with any other accessories that I might have for the Sulcata Tortoise. A small branch with a bell on it is always fun. This encourages the Sulcata Tortoise to play, and keeps the feeding and play areas separate from the basking and sleeping areas. Keeping the water and food away from the warm side also help keeps them from getting gross. Frequent washing of these two items is important though, because they are likely to grow salmonella and tortoises can transfer this to humans.

Now let's get to building!


Tortoises need bedding suitable for burrowing. I believe the best bedding for a tortoise is just some good dirt from your backyard, mixed with some dirt-like substrate. This makes the transition to living outside easier when they are grown, encourages them to burrow, and is just generally natural to their original environment. Personally, I like to keep my tortoises in a habitat that is modeled on their natural habitat.


A light source is important for housing a tortoise inside, especially if you do not take it outside often. If your tortoise is outside for at least 50% of the day, there is no need for a light source. But if outdoor time under direct sunlight is not provided, a fluorescent full-spectrum UVB bulb is necessary for the proper development of your tortoise, from the hatchling stages through adulthood, and should always be provided, along with a basking bulb for heat. You cannot provide these UVB rays by placing your enclosure near a window for sunlight. Sunlight filtered through most regular window glass will filter out all beneficial rays, including UVB, leaving you with just another light source. UVB is necessary for the animal to produce vitamin D3, which aids in calcium utilization for healthy shell growth.

If your tortoise house is larger than a 20-gallon tank set up, you will also need to use a heat bulb/basking spot lamp.

There are a couple of different suitable options and styles of lights that are good for your tortoise. A lot of choosing the right light will have to do with how your house is set up. Sometimes hanging lights are better than clamp lights. Sometimes long bulbs work better than coiled one. It all depends on your setup.

Supervising Your Tortoise Outdoors

Never leave your baby tortoise unattended outside for long periods of time. Ants can attack and kill a baby tortoise.

Food Dish

You will also need a food dish. Tortoises often crawl on their food, so I prefer to use the top of a butter container as a dish—it keeps the food off the dirt. Remove the feeding dish after every use and clean thoroughly. A dirty dish can grow salmonella bacteria, which tortoises can easily transfer to human beings.

Water Dish

Sulcatas will soak in the water, a process that is necessary for their digestive system. Because of this, the water bowl must be big enough to fit the tortoise, but not too big for them to get out of or topple into. They could drown if the bowl is too big. However, don't be alarmed when your sulcata sticks his head under the water for several minutes at a time. He is not drowning; that it how they absorb water to stay hydrated. He will come up when he needs to.

It is also important to change the water as often as possible, whenever soiled, to prevent the spread of disease.

Heat Source

Your pet will need a heat source in the colder months. It is recommended to use an under-cage heating pad unit while your tortoise is small. It should take up about a quarter of the tank. Please do not use a regular heating pad, as this will cook the tortoise. If your tortoise house is larger than a 20-gallon tank set up, you will also need to use a heat bulb/basking spot lamp.

Caring for a Juvenile Sulcata Tortoise

Always make sure there is plenty of room for your pet to be active. Tortoises love to play and explore.

You should be careful when adding other elements to the cage, such as a shelter. A tortoise will climb whatever is in its cage, and it is not uncommon for them to flip onto their backs by accident. A tortoise cannot right themselves, and this will eventually lead to suffocation and death.

You should check on your tortoise often to make sure this does not happen.

What Do You Think?

Are You Ready To Ta Care For A Baby Sulcata Tortoise?

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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

    Do You Have a Baby Sulcata Tortoise or Are You Considering Buying One? Leave Me a Comment About Your Experience:

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      • profile image


        4 months ago

        My 4 year old male sulcate won't eat or go the loo. Not been or eaten for nearly a week. Am soaking him twice a day. He just sits there stareing,any advice please

      • profile image


        8 months ago

        I have 2 sulcata's. They are almost 2 yrs. I am building an outdoor habitat for them. It will have a screen lid. Is it ok to let them live outdoors now?

      • profile image


        8 months ago

        i am getting a salcuta but I am confused do they have 2 bulbs and when do I put them on? thanks

      • profile image


        8 months ago

        Sulcata tortoises are grassland tortoises. There diet consists of grass, hay, and some leaves. Not fruit and vegetables!

      • profile image

        Tays Salazar 

        8 months ago

        I have a 2yr old sulcata tortoise i just noticed a month or two ago her shell is pyramiding on her and she should be a lot bigger then she is also she's getting super dry so is her face so i kept washing her as much as i can properly but still no difference at all! So i took her to the vet yesterday they said she has (MBD) Metabolic bone disease. Im really scared for her she use to be so sweet n kind now that this started happening , this month she has gotten super snappy at everyone and just all the time in general she likes to snap her mouth and when she does this it sounds like a chipping noise ???. But i wanted to figure out what exactly would be the best for her to eat i need serious help she's only a baby . I got her in calci-sand right now for atleast 2 months prolly n i took out her house that way she gets the uvb light because she likes to always hide from it n go inside her house so i think that's the big issue plus her lack of calcium i always feed her zukhini, cilantro , bell peppers , vitamin bites n occasionally watermelon when its the season for them . I feel bad and ashamed and im scared she won't make it but i pray she will i need her . She moves around quite a bit she occasionally likes to try n get out n paces back n forth in her cage trying to get out while trying to climb up the side of the cage .I wonder if she's in pain when she does that n just wants me or somthing so i usually take her out n she's all lovey dovey towards me . What are all the bad things that i shouldn't feed her bc a lot of things on the internet are confusing me n always switching up saying this is good or this is awful ect. So im asking you guys for ur honest opinion please ? Anything would help as long as ur correct and actually giving me n mila helo that she actually needs n tht will help her for her new routine i let her outside also for about 4 to 5 hrs whenever there's sunshine n its not windy or rainy ? Any suggestions at all would be appreciated thanks my name is Tays . Also i got her romaine lettuce and cuttle bone today n Timothy hay but i read online tht only adult tortoises eat this not the young ones any ideas because i bought it already ?

      • profile image

        Thomas Curran 

        14 months ago

        I found a baby sulcata while doing tree job. What should i do with it? My wife wants to keep and raise it.

      • profile image

        Sulochini Naranyana kutty 

        15 months ago

        I had a pair but unfortunately 1 died after we introduced a new diet. I wonder why its in same exact size since the dau one. Diet are vegetables and fruits. Not much roaming

      • profile image

        Susy Johnson 

        19 months ago

        A neighbor found a little African Tortoise. Another neighbor already has a 7 year old (50lb) tulcata, and she has offered to re-home the little African Tortoise with her so her girl has company. They are both female. Can they be combined at their present ages and sizes? If so, will they continue to be friendly to each other when they are nearer to equal size?

      • profile image


        2 years ago

        Don't do it. They look cute now but in 2 yrs time they will be destroyers of anything fragile in your back yard. Ours destroys sprinkler heads routinely (one per week). When he goes into rut he "attacks" the A/C fan unit outside. He does battle with it trying to move it off of its concrete foundation. The only saving grace is that he has created a ditch around the A/C unit and now has difficulty reaching it. As for the difficulty in keeping one alive I think that is ridiculous. This guy is resilient. He eats grass and drinks rain water. He survives south Texas winters and can live for two weeks with no human intervention.

      • profile image

        Randy Garrity 

        2 years ago

        I got lucky and came onto a small one.While riding my bicycle one early am.When I pass by what I thought was a plastic toy tortoise.In the street so I turned around and when I stopped by it.The head and legs retracted!Thats when I got excited, not to mention happy for its safety.When the road isn't a safe place.Anymore than our summer heat and on the street.It wouldn't be long before well roasted.Its a small one About the same size as a baseball.The regulation hardball sized.Cut in half and that's this one. These things have a serious appitite! When Ive had a lot of different pets in my 60 years.But not anything that could eat like this little guy. I keep it inside and feel bad for it.So I have been taking it to the back yard everyday.When the suns not a problem.For about a hour.Just let it do what it likes. That is exercise, and exploring. So in doing this.Ive started to learn from it.Enough to say these are reptiles show more intelligence.Than any other Ive owned.To the point I am impressed! This little guy knows well to stay away from the in ground deep pool.And where to best navigate when it got lucky finding us for its home.With a back yard that's a tortoise heaven.Meaning theres nothing it can destroy.Making the entire area is for it.Less only the pool.Which is not fenced and don't see any problem at all.For this guy going in.The only threat happens to be the many cats that run the top of the block fence.So I never leave it unattended. As I type this a outside pen is in full swing .A 6 foot wide x 8 foot long and fully enclosed .With stout wire mesh. used for the walls with a chicken wwire for the top and a shaded area.Plus a underground area .Shallow water tray spot that will be flushed each day keeping it clean. And this dude a lot happier and healthier. When looking at it in its small house pen.Is so sad its first time in the back yard.I cracked up!This little dude was like a kid on a new quad for the first time.Man it tore it up moving real fast and having a blast. I was as well just watching it. For me nothing made me happier.Than to see it stop as it got to the cooldeck around this pool.Take a good look and then turn around.From that time till now.Its not ever came any closer than it needs to to simply get around it.Same for any deep thick grass.This little guy knows whats going on around him.

      • profile image

        Sean howell 

        2 years ago

        I have a question. I know what to use for bedding, but what for flooring? Hay? Or grass? Or something else? Just wondering. I am going to buy the zoo med house for my sulcata too!

      • profile image


        2 years ago

        I have a heated rock. Can I use that in his cage?

      • profile image


        3 years ago

        I just got a baby sacata and I let it walk around my house I have 2 cats and two big collies and they don't bother him at all if u have other animals it is good to let them be around each other now so they will be used to each other as the tortoise grows . My baby has no fear toward them and just walks the house likes he's the king

      • profile image


        3 years ago

        I rlly want a tortoise, badly

      • profile image


        3 years ago

        just got one baby Sulcata Tortoise for my 7 years son and I have a one year old daughter is Sulcata Tortoise good to have around the kids.

        Because I heard Land turtles should not be in homes that have dogs (possible predators of turtles). Keep in mind that infants and some children are also not ideal companions for turtles. Many experts recommend that only children over 12 years old have contact with land turtles. Most small turtles are carriers of salmonella, an infection that can possibly be fatal to infants, the elderly, and the medically fragile. Even if your turtle is not in the “small turtle” category, there is still a risk of the turtle passing on infections to children.

      • profile image


        3 years ago

        Don't worry! I've had tortoises for years and someone is always telling me I'm doing something wrong. My torts are happy and healthy and I also did a whole load of research before I bought my first one and consulted with veterinary experts. Find what works best for your tortoises and you'll be fine. I know when mine are unhappy through observation and they have taught me a great deal about what they need :)

      • profile image


        4 years ago

        Hi, my enclosure is 17"x30" and 16" deep ...I have a UV light that a 10.0, a basking area w/ an incandescent light in the area of his hide. Is it going to be ok to have a UV light that's 10.0 in this enclosure? I was told it may be too much & I should have gotten a 5.0. It seems like there is so much conflicting information out there & I keep spending $ on things that I'm told are good & work & then someone else tells me no I'm doing it all wrong:(

        How high up does the UV light need to be above the sulcata? My baby is almost 4months old & we live in LA. Thanks for your help;)

      • profile image


        4 years ago


        You seem like you could help me...I am taking in a Sulcata from my niece who recently started college last fall. The upkeep is too much for my sister. He is SO cute, and after she purchased him, I seriously considered it myself. He is about 1 1/2 years old now, and about 4.5 inches long. Would this zoo med enclosure last a while, or should I look at purchasing something bigger?

      • agagata lm profile image

        agagata lm 

        6 years ago

        I need to read some more on these beautiful tortoises. I need to check how big they can actually get before I buy one ;)

      • profile image


        6 years ago

        OMG these turtles are so cute! I have to have one!


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