Everything You Need to Know About Raising a Sulcata Tortoise

Updated on August 23, 2017

A Sulcata Tortoise Is a Lifetime Commitment

Owning a sulcata tortoise (also known as an African spurred tortoise or Geochelone sulcata) is not for everyone. To the uninformed buyer, sulcata tortoises appear to be tiny, adorable tank turtles; little do they realize that within several years, with proper care, they will grow to be the size of a large dog. Worse, without proper care, they can die.

Don't get me wrong. Sulcata tortoises can be great pets. However, there is way more work involved in raising these special animals than first meets the eye. People should do their research and make informed decisions about whether raising one is right for their family.

Do you know what a Sulcata Tortoise Is?

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A baby sulcata could fit in a shot glass!
A baby sulcata could fit in a shot glass!
A grown sulcata tortoise is as big as a dog.
A grown sulcata tortoise is as big as a dog.

What Exactly Is a Sulcata Tortoise?

The African sulcata tortoise got its name from the Latin sulcus, which means furrow. The name describes the deep grooves on the scutes (the plates of the shell) of the tortoise. Sulcatas are native to the Sahara desert.

Sulcatas have sandy, ivory, or golden yellow-brown skin and two or more very large and prominent tubercles (or spurs) on the rear legs. On the carapace (top shell), each scute or plate is tan to yellow at the center and outlined by brown growth rings. The plastron (bottom shell) is light tan to yellow.

The skin of an African sulcata is very thick and the legs are covered in dull, spiney projections. The thick skin and spines are intended for protection from predators, but also work as insulation, keeping the tortoise cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. The prominent spurs on the rear legs serve no observable function according to scientists but, from my own personal experience, they wag when they are happy like a dog's tail.

Sulcatas are the third largest breed of tortoise in the world, surpassed in size by the giant tortoises of the Galapagos Islands and Seychelles. Not only do sulcatas grow very large, they grow very rapidly — up to two and a half feet long and 80-110 pounds or more in 5 to 10 years. On average, they grow to be 36 inches and can weigh as much as 150 pounds at its largest maturation. The oldest sulcata recorded lived to be just over 80 years old.

Full grown female.
Full grown female.

Is Owning a Tortoise Right For You?

My largest sulcata is 12 years old, just over two feet long, weighs 110 pounds, and stands one foot high. From spring to fall, she eats about 30 pounds of fruit and vegetables per week (give or take a few pounds) and keeps my lawn perfectly mowed and free of weeds. Every tree is pruned perfectly from the ground up to about 1-1/2 feet high, due to her constant grazing. Needless to say, she is healthy and has a healthy appetite.

But how much money does this actually equate to each week, month, and year? Well, it's about $40 per week, $160 per month, and a staggering $1920 per year, give or take. I justify it by telling myself I save that on lawn maintenance per year. :)

Owning a sulcata can be a lot of work and makes quite the dent in your pocketbook. But they are well worth the investment, as they can be lifelong friends.

Setting up the Perfect Baby Terrarium

It is fairly easy to set up an indoor space for your tortoise. Some people choose a tank, while others prefer an old table modified into an open air cage. Both are suitable and have their pros and cons.

As babies, they need a cage that is 12-18 inches deep. You do not want your tortoise to escape, and they will try sometimes. Keep this in mind when selecting the initial enclosure.

Adults Need Large Outdoor Environments

Housing an adult is definitely easier than housing a baby. However, there are a number of things to consider. Your tortoise is going to grow into its habitat. You can expect it to double its size within the first month outside. You also need to consider that the tortoise is going to burrow. You want to make sure that your yard is secure and that your tortoise does not dig its way out of your yard.

For detailed information, check out my other article: Building an Outside Habitat for an Adult Sulcata. Also please keep in mind that they cannot survive in snow.

Do Tortoises Make Noise?

Sulcatas don't really bark, but they do have a small voice. When provoked, scared, or startled, they will hiss loudly, and the bigger the tortoise, the larger the hiss. Tortoises do not have teeth but I can guarantee that you would not want to get bit by one. They have a beak-like mouth with ridges that are incredibly sharp, and the larger they get, the larger and thicker the ridges on the beak get. My full grown sulcata could take off one of my fingers if it wanted to. But they are peaceful and herbivorous, so they wouldn't really enjoy doing it.

Are You Ready For a Large Sulcata Tortoise?

Would you ever consider owning a tortoise?

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Leave me a comment and tell me what you think!

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    • profile image

      J skinner 4 weeks ago

      I have had my tortoise for 21 years. He is in my yard and had a heated house for the winter. He eats fruit and vegetables and loves to have people in the yard around him. He s name is Flash

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      Mewmew 6 weeks ago

      My Bijou is a happy, strong confident tortoise! The best thing we do our little guy is take him to the park. I believe a sulcats

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      Trinity 2 months ago

      My tortoise is only 9 months old and is a little smaller than my palm. He was given to me a surprise and I don't really know how to take care of him. Any suggestions will be really helpful. Thanks!!

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      Michelle 2 months ago

      Don Vincent is only 8-9 years and weighs around 85lbs. They grow fast if given proper diet. Mine grazes and get mazuri tortoise food.

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      scott 4 months ago

      my tortoise hasn't been seen for the last 3-4 months. He crawled into a dense shrub area that is at least 30' feet deep x 85' long. it is completely fenced with hog wire going into the ground and I know for a fact he has not dug under that to get out. Last seen going into the shrubs in October and its January now. Your thoughts

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      david 5 months ago

      kevin with they right diet they can grow that big in that amount of time

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      Kevin 5 months ago

      The information you provide on size and weight of your tortoise is just ridiculous! There has never been a sulcata that has been 80-110 pounds in 5-10 years as you mentioned. That's just silly... The amount of money you spend on food is also inflated. They should be fed a very limited amount of fruits and vegetables. Grass and hay is better for them. . I've raised two very healthy sulcatas and don't spend more than $40 in a year!

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      Shay 7 months ago

      how do you know difference between male and female?

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      Amy 13 months ago

      I just bought a sulcata tortoise yesterday! My kids & I are excited!...I am ready for the commitment...informative article!

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      drew 21 months ago

      I found a sulcata Tortoise It will no graze, I can let walk for two hours on my front lawn and he will not touch a blade of grass.

      As soon as I put him in his pen he runs to the Squash, tomatoes and watermelon I sprinkle them with alfalfa and timothy hay but he picks the fruit right out between everything.

      What can I do? to change his diet?

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      lisa 22 months ago

      can you but another animal such as a lizard with a sulcata tortoise?

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      Hi I have a 13 year old female sulcata about 100 lbs. I need help she hasn't been eating like her usual self. She will eat the grass but the fresh food that I have been feeding her for the last 13 years. I had a vet come out and look at her, he wasn't familiar with sulcata's .she looks healthy the only thing to me maybe that her beak is not full looking chipped like if there's two gaps in between the beak? Any suggestions?

    • EzLoanLookUp LM profile image

      EzLoanLookUp LM 4 years ago

      Great lens. I just love turtles

    • Stephanie36 profile image

      Stephanie 4 years ago from Canada

      I'm not sure a tortoise would get along with my cat, but I think they're cute! I enjoyed your story about your grandfather and Tommy. It's sweet how close they were and how connected, but sort of sad.

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      timo5150 lm 4 years ago

      I think it would be cool to raise one, unfortunately I do not have the space needed.

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      our tortoise is named tortellini. shes about 7 years old and weighs about 45 lbs. she lives in our house. about 9 or 10 ish in the morning she wakes from her slumber and heads for the door. if no one is there to open it for her she will politely knock then someone will open it and let her outside. she will forage till about 2 or 3 or 4 maybe later then at the end of her shift she knocks on the door and we let her back in then she trucks through the house to her spot and stays there till the next day.. she is a beloved part of our family and is the coolest tortoise on the planet..

      btw. she lays giant turds the size of great dane poop. she must have the largest turd to body mass ratio in all of the animal kingdom.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      Hello all friends:

      I am from New Jersey. I have a male Sulcata tortoise, Toni for 4 winters with me. Not sure he age but he's 50 Lb and 20 Inch long. Now, I'm trying to find him a girlfriend. If you know a girl tortoise for sale, please let me know. She can be as small as few pounds. My Toni has the patient.. Having a company is always better than alone. Email me at kc_179@yahoo.com if you have information. Thanks.

      Kenny from NJ

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      @takkhisa: are you sure they are not turtles you are seeing instead of tortoise?

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      Takkhis 5 years ago

      I don't have tortoise as pet but i see many tortoise in the river where we live :)

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      @anonymous: I forgot to add, Nick is about 120#, and Pebbles is 30#. The five Russians are, Nitasha, Nikita, Ivan, Birtha, and Micheal Angelo.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      I have two silicates, Nick, and Pebbles. Both I acquired from those that did not realize how big they grew and how much room they need. I built a nice big house for them with heat lamps, pig blanket, and tempt controlled heater. I live in Nevada so when it is cold they have warm temperature controlled environment. They graze on the five grasses, fescue, and different plants I have planted for them year round. I supplement them with pumpkin, and very little vegetables grown locally. Nick has great social personality now, and Pebbles is coming around. When grandkids visit they love to be out and in the middle of the activities. I have 5 Russians and they hibernate in a kiddy pool through winter under my bed, and have a habitat outside for warm months, secluded from Sulcatas. I love my torts and get tons of pleasure owning them, and all who visit love them. Yes, they re an expense, and require research to raise properly and keep healthy. I wish I had an Aldabra to add to the Tort habitat. I love these pets, and their Vet is happy with how healthy and happy these guys all are, so I am doing it right. I spend hours daily outside with them, and they know their names and come running when they see company coming to just hang. Lots of personality, and each one is so different in their personality. Awesome creatures. Other than the poo clean up also easy to keep.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      @anonymous: HI, I was doing more research before deciding to adopt a sulcata and came across this website and noticed your concern for Torri. I live in Delaware. We have humid summers and winters are not that bad. Have you found a home yet?


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      anonymous 5 years ago

      I have Sulctata, We call her "Torri" although she may be a he. I however was one of the ones who was not aware of the responsibility involved. She is 4.8 Lbs. Her Shell measures 6.5" wide by 8.5" Long. We live eastern Oregon at the Washington boarder and feel this may not be the best place for her to live. I really appreciate the love for tortoises expressed on your Lens I was wondering if you have any suggestions that will help me find someone interested in Her? my name is Dan. email is ---- allsolicitations@hotmail.com-------My other contact informatiom will be shared upon email correspondence.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I have Sulctata, We call her "Torri" although she may be a he. I however was one of the ones who was not aware of the responsibility involved. She is 4.8 Lbs. Her Shell measures 6.5" wide by 8.5" Long. We live eastern Oregon at the Washington boarder and feel this may not be the best place for her to live. I really appreciate the love for tortoises expressed on your Lens I was wondering if you have any suggestions that will help me find someone interested in Her? my name is Dan. email is ---- allsolicitations@hotmail.com-------My other contact information will be shared upon email correspondence.

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      crstnblue 5 years ago

      Great lens about tortoises! Thanks for sharing!

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      I absolutely love and adore turtles and tortoises I got 2 mud turtles for my 5th birthday I am now 24 and still am taking great care of one the other past away 5 years ago my beautiful future wifes wonderful parents have given me 2 baby sulcata tortoises for my birthday this year can't wait to spend the rest of my Life with these adorable little guys . . . . . but my love for them has rubbed off on her father when they went to buy my 2 he bought himself 2

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I love my two sulcatas. Though the bigger one has a great amount of attitude, she is very easy to deal with. I love my three month old one, too. Super tiny!

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      I love tortoises and think they are so cool to see, but I have never wanted one as a pet. As karma goes, an African sulcata tortoise--about 17 pounds--showed up in our neighborhood. The old couple next door tried to return it to a nearby creek, but it found its way out to a busy street where my husband and son picked it up. Is there any chance that this tortoise accidentally escaped? Should we look for its former owner or assume that it was dumped and seek another home for it?

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      @anonymous: We got short fence sections at our Ace store that look like little logs that are connected with two long stakes to secure in the ground. They are even flexible so you can make cool shapes! Our sulcatta just turned 2 and she loves to be outside in hers. I put it around a loriope plant and she climbs in it in the evening! I made a mistake of building an enclosure out of 2x4's and we lost her for 5 days!! That's when we got the fencing. Good luck!

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      Still love our "Beau" who just turned 2! (may be "Bo" :) We can't wait to move her outside when she gets huge! She is the coolest most fascinating pet ever- I'm so happy our fourth son was so insistent on a turtle for his 6th birthday- we LOVE caring for and sharing her with our friends! She is more work to care for than I thought so be sure you check it out before getting one.

    • SpenceG profile image

      SpenceG 5 years ago

      Great lens. I know practically nothing about Sulcata Tortoises but they're interesting.

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      Liz Mackay 5 years ago from United Kingdom

      I love tortoises. Great lens. Blessed.

    • Morgannafay profile image

      Morgannafay 5 years ago

      I had no idea people kept these big dudes as pets! And I thought my sugar gliders were a pain in my rump. lol I'm just kidding, the big lugs would make a fine friend indeed, and I love my tiny fur balls, but much like the sulcata tortoises they are a huge responsibility. Although, I'm sure glad they don't eat 40 pounds of fruits and veggies a week LOL would be nice to get my lawn mowed for me though.

      I love to see people who love their exotic pets, but at the same time warn people of what their getting into. Thumbs up from me! I've learned a lot. :)

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      Lori Green 5 years ago from Las Vegas

      @anonymous: He rams you because you waked into his yard. It's normal behavior especially at mating time. I had a friend who was rammed by their tortoise, pinned up against their house and broke their femur.

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      CaseyWatkins 5 years ago

      I have had my sulcata for 2 years now. Still love it!

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      anonymous 6 years ago

      i love tortoises ever since i was a little girl!! and now i own one, her name is rose, and its lovely taking care of her :)! i also own 3 red slider turltes! (=

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      anonymous 6 years ago

      i loooove toroises my husband got me a sulcata for xmas and we love our alfred

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      anonymous 6 years ago

      hi i want a tortoise very bad I've been wanting one seen's i was nine and im 12 now I've been doing a lot of research on them

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      livingfrontiers 6 years ago

      As kids it was always fun to see and visit the tortoises at the zoo...they do eat lots of veggies!

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      anonymous 6 years ago

      @anonymous: It's a sign of affection. Just be ready for it and get out of the way!

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      anonymous 6 years ago

      Our tortoise is about 6 years old and now is ramming us each time we go into our back yard. Do you know why this behavior has started? What do we do to stop it? I love my tortoise and now my husband wants to get rid of it. Pls help

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      Blackspaniel1 6 years ago

      Nice lens.

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      TortugaTortoise 6 years ago

      That's a great lens. It's wonderful to see people giving advice from real-world experience.

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      anonymous 6 years ago

      @anonymous: they make greatttt pets.

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      anonymous 6 years ago

      my name is Mary.i am 11years old. i have a 8 month old sulcata.his name is Dexter.i want to make him a pen outdoors, because we live in a pretty warm climate.i have made him 2 unsucsessful pens, which he escaped.i love Dexter,but i need some help,so i came to you.



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      anonymous 6 years ago

      @anonymous: me too!

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      anonymous 6 years ago

      Yes, I love tortoises! :O)

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      jadehorseshoe 6 years ago

      SWIFT lens!

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      anonymous 6 years ago

      Thanks for educating people about Tortoise care. I love my tortoises. Please make sure people know not to feed their Sulcatas dog food or cat or other foods high in protein since it can cause metobolic kidney disease. Young tortoises do need calcium and cuttlebone is a good source.

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      anonymous 6 years ago

      @pinkberry: they are so cool i just got one today ,hes 6 months old and soooooooo cute! I recommend this tortoise, they're very friendly and loveble

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      rockenroller 6 years ago

      Awesome lens, keep up the great work

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      Renaissance Woman 6 years ago from Colorado

      Quite interesting. I don't yet know as much as I would like to related to tortoises. I have studied sea turtles, but every species of turtle and tortoise is so unique. Thanks for teaching me and thanks for stressing that tortoise care takes dedication and a true commitment. Excellent resource. Appreciated!

    • postingbits profile image

      postingbits 6 years ago

      I have had relatives who have had great experiences with tortoises in the UK but they were only small, no bigger than a dinner plate. My mum has a Red Ear Terrapin in her outdoor pond, she calls it 'oscar' and it is about 18-20 years old.

    • pinkberry profile image

      pinkberry 6 years ago

      I just came across your lens and I've never heard of a Sulcata Tortoise. Interesting name, but after looking at your lens now I want one lol!

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      wayne_luvinlife 6 years ago

      I have learned a lot about turtles reviewing your lens...very interesting and fun to read. Thanks for sharing!

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      SandraRoseDesigns 6 years ago

      Fascinating information. Growing up, I almost always had a box turtle, but was not really aware of these turtles! Thanks for sharing. Yes, your grandfather would be proud!

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      seanjennin 6 years ago

      great lense, thanks...

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      Mandy 6 years ago from Montana

      @Animaverick: Unfortunately in AZ there is an issue with selling sulcatas before 5 inch maturation and misrepresenting what they actually are and grow into. I apologize if you are offended, however, where I am from, it is an accurate description of what is happening. There are a large number of abandoned sulcatas in AZ and the numbers are growing everyday. I am pleased to hear that you are legally purchasing and transferring sulcatas properly. Again, I apologize that you are offended by the term.

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      Animaverick 6 years ago

      As an owner of a few sulcata tortoises, I find the term "black-market salesman" a little offensive. Black market implies illegal selling or keeping - which it is not. Ours are 60 lbs. and under, all legally purchased or transferred from previous owners. Thanks. Understanding the requirements is an important aspect of keeping, but not the "black market" innuendo.

    • KANEsUgAr profile image

      KANEsUgAr 6 years ago

      hehe aww soo cute, great information.

    • Yawapi LM profile image

      Yawapi LM 7 years ago

      wow! I am a life-long tortoise lover - but I still learned so much from reading this! thanks for the great info!

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      natashaely 7 years ago

      I know so little about tortoises, only what my friends friend told me when I visited theirs, so very little indeed. This is a fascinating lens, incredible pictures, it must be so rewarding to own one and very frustrating when people who don't know what they're doing with own one. I wish you well with this, it's a wonderful lens :)

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      EuroSquid LM 7 years ago

      Beautiful lens! Blessed.

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      anonymous 7 years ago

      im in love with tortosie and im 12 i got mine on cristmas eva they actually lost him in the mail for an hour and i got him and he kinda looks sick i think he has rns

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      Jacqueline Marshall 7 years ago from Chicago area

      Interesting lens. My favorite is the giant sea turtle but the sulcatas are awesome.

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      jackieb99 7 years ago

      Very cute!

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      JollyvilleChick 7 years ago

      I think my neighbor has one of these in their yard. It's about 24" long. Scared the crap out of me first time I saw it!

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      Tagsforkids 7 years ago

      A great lens, and I am a huge turtle fan. As a kid I had about 70 to 80 at one time (and a few as an adult), combination of land and fresh water turtles. I had a Gopher Tortoise for years but sadly they are now on Florida's Endangered Species List. Enjoy your Sulcatas!

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      VarietyWriter2 7 years ago

      Blessed by a SquidAngel :)

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      drifter0658 lm 7 years ago

      Excellent. Now I know who to call to cut my grass. :D

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      starlitparlit 7 years ago

      wonderful lens. I've learned a lot here today.

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      anonymous 7 years ago

      I love this lens too. I am in love with turtles and tortoises.

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      Lady Gotrocks 7 years ago

      WOW AWESOME lens! Wish I could bless it twice!

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      anonymous 7 years ago

      loved this lense! nice job

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      Nathalie Roy 7 years ago from France (Canadian expat)

      Such an amazing lens! I hope you will get this one on LotD. Very nice reading

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      LouiseKirkpatrick 7 years ago from Berkshire, United Kingdom

      I've always wanted a tortoise since my next door neighbour had one when I was a child. They are such interesting creatures with a definite "personality" and I'm fascinated to learn that they can make noises! - I didn't know that. We hardly ever see tortoises here in the UK and I believe it's illegal to import them here, so I don't think I'll ever get a chance to own one...shame - but I've really enjoyed this beautifully presented and informative lens! Blessed by a SquidAngel :)

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      anonymous 7 years ago

      nice desdription

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      callinsky lm 7 years ago

      Congrats on taking a place in Nail that Niche. I thought this was a wonderful lens.

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      kimmanleyort 7 years ago

      Congratulations, Mandy, on second place in the May Nichemaster contest. Stop by Nail that Niche to pick up your badge.

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      Kathy McGraw 7 years ago from California

      We had a tortoise when I was younger that hibranated in our bathroom. I don't remember anything about it's care, only that I was fascinated we had one in the bathroom. You have provided a lot of good info here which should make it easier for anyone that wants to own one. Good job :)

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      TacTac 7 years ago

      This was a great lens, very informative and interesting. Thanks for sharing.

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      kidspartythemes 8 years ago

      Fantastic lens! Very fascinating to read, I really enjoyed it!

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      LadyFlashman 8 years ago from United Kingdom

      I had no idea that tortoises were that much hard work! I think they are great and this lens was very enjoyable to read.

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      anonymous 8 years ago

      I have always been fascinated by turtles and tortoises. I don't think they should be pets though.

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      nelabai 8 years ago

      Thanks for sharing, always been a turtle fan. 5*

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      Patricia 8 years ago

      Great lens! Blessed by an angel!

    • jptanabe profile image

      Jennifer P Tanabe 8 years ago from Red Hook, NY

      Great information on Sulcata Tortoises! Unfortunately where I live we have cold snowy winters so I doubt a Sulcata could live outside happily. Maybe I could make a giant enclosure in the basement. On the other hand, maybe I'll just stick to cats!

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      Jeanette 8 years ago from Australia

      Wow. What an excellent lens! It certainly sounds like a lifetime commitment - 80 years! 5*

    • eclecticeducati1 profile image

      eclecticeducati1 8 years ago

      Great lens! I doubt I would ever own one, but they do look like they would be cool pets. Thanks for sharing so much information about them.

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      rio1 8 years ago

      You certainly covered all of the bases in Sulcata tortoise care. Good job and nice layout.

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      VarietyWriter2 8 years ago

      Great lens. Blessed by a Squid Angel :)

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 8 years ago

      Great lens written with passion and very informative. I can't see myself owning one of these expensive animals, however, blessed by an angel and featured on Sprinkled with Stardust


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      kimmanleyort 8 years ago

      Great job, Amanda! This is very readable and has lots of great information for the serious sulcata tortoise lover.

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      aishu19 8 years ago

      wow! i can see you love them all..anyway great lens..and also 2 thumbs up from my son...he loved the pictures

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image

      Wednesday-Elf 8 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      It was fascinating to read and learn about the Sulcata tortoise. You've become quite an expert on their 'care and feeding' ... no wonder, since you've been taking care of them since childhood! Interesting story. I had no idea the amount of work involved in caring for a Sulcata!

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      ulla_hennig 8 years ago

      Very informative and interesting lens! 5*

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      Indigo Janson 8 years ago from UK

      I love tortoises and this is such a wonderful, helpful guide to their care. I also loved the story of how Tommy came into your life. Guess what? You just got another *~*~ Angel Blessing ~*~*

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      JenOfChicago LM 8 years ago

      Excellent lens - welcome to Squidoo and hope to see much more of you! Blessed by a SquidAngel

    • callinsky lm profile image

      callinsky lm 8 years ago

      Wow, Amanda. This is wonderful. I adore turtles. I always have. I do believe I will get a Sulcata when I get my straw bale house.