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How To Tell the Age Of A Sulcata Tortoise in 6 Ways

Knowing how to tell the age of a sulcata tortoise is very important, especially if you’re going to breed your tortoise. Knowing your tortoise age will save you from the trouble of breeding an immature female who may end up having birth complications.

If you are reading this article it means that you’re oblivious of your sulcata tortoise’s age. You aren’t alone. I’ve come across many breeders who are clueless about their Sulcata tortoise age.

This is because some of these breeders acquire their Sulcata tortoise from the wild or rescue centers where the pet’s actual age is unknown.  And, as such, they keep looking for possible ways to tell their Sulcata tortoise age. 

But, is there a way to tell the age of your sulcata tortoise? Well, this article is all about that. This article will discuss possible ways to know your sulcata tortoise’s age, lifespan, and human years.

The most accurate way of knowing your sulcata tortoise age is by getting it from a breeder who has the record of their birth.

But, if your sulcata tortoise age is unknown, keep reading this article to know how you can accurately estimate their age.

This article has been reviewed by Dr. Dilber. Read more about our knowledge control process here.

Sulcata Average Life Span

How long do you want to stay with your sulcata tortoise? If you are not committed to having your pet for a long time, then sulcata tortoise may not be your best choice. 

However, if owning an exotic pet is a long-term commitment, then sulcata tortoise makes the best pet for you.

Sulcata tortoises have a long life span. They can live for more than 70 years. However, how long they live depends on how well you raise them. 

For instance, improper habitation can cause health issues such as respiratory infections and shell rots. 

Also, a lack of proper balance of calcium to phosphorus can cause metabolic diseases in sulcata tortoises.

Even though it’s possible to treat these health issues, they tend to get fatal if not addressed during the early stages.

Therefore, to make your sulcata tortoise enjoy a healthy long life, you must ensure to provide proper habitation and a good diet.

Tell the Age of a Sulcata Tortoise Based on Comparing the Growth Chart

Sulcata tortoises are the third-largest in the world. An adult Sulcata can reach a length of 25-30 inches and a weight of about 90-200 pounds. Sulcata tortoises reach maturity from 15-20 years. 

You can estimate the age of your Sulcata tortoise by comparing its size with the growth chart. However, you must ensure to get the exact chart of the Sulcata species. 

Sulcata Size in length (inches)Weight (pounds)
1-3 months 2.5-31.7-2.2
4 – 10 months 3-3.578
1-3 years3-101-4.6
3-6 years 10-144.6-17.4
6-9 years 14-17.617.4-29.8
9-10 years 17.6-2530-70
10-15 years25-3070-150
Sulcata Tortoise Growth Chart

The use of any other species can give you the wrong impression of their age. Additionally, other factors affect sulcata tortoise’s size and weight.

These factors can give you a wrong estimation of your Sulcata’s age. For instance, female Sulcata weighs less than males. A female adult Sulcata weighs between 70-90 pounds, while male doubles the size to 150-200. 

Other factors that may affect the size and weight of a Sulcata tortoise include 

  • Habitation
  • Diet
  • Health

Due to these factors, comparing your sulcata age using a growth chart may not be an accurate way to indicate their age.

Count the Rings

Tortoiseshells have oblong-shaped patches. These patches are known as scutes. Scutes get larger as the shell increases in size, creating visible growth rings. Most people believe that you can tell a tortoise age by counting those rings.

how to tell the age of a sulcata tortoise
Telling sulcata age by its rings

A thicker ring develops during the main annual growth, while the narrow ring develops during the slow annual growth.

A pair of these rings are known to present one year of a sulcata tortoise. Thus, 20 pairs of those rings estimate that the tortoise is 20 years.

However, counting of rings can be unreliable as those growth spurts don’t have to happen annually. 

Your Sulcata Is Under 6 Months Old If It Has Semi-Soft Shell

Baby sulcata tortoises that are below six months naturally have semi-soft shells. However, the shell hardens with time.

Sulcata Under 6 Months Old Has Semi-Soft Shell
Sulcata Under 6 Months Old Has Semi-Soft Shell

Therefore, you can tell the age of a young sulcata by observing their shells.

Even so, it is worth noting that other factors can cause semi-soft shells in sulcata tortoise. These factors may include: 

Bad Diet and improper supplements

Lack of proper diet is one of the major reasons why your sulcata may delay in shell hardening. A proper diet should include high fiber, right calcium, and vitamin supplements

The main sulcata tortoise diet is grass and hay.  The grass is rich in fiber. To provide adequate calcium and vitamins, you should add calcium supplements a few times a week and once a week, respectively.

Lack of adequate calcium and vitamins can cause metabolic bone disease. Softshell is a symptom of metabolic bone disease. Thus, if your sulcata tortoise has a semi-soft shell, ensure that it is age-related and not a sign of metabolic bone disease.

Poor Habitation

Improper housing is another reason why your sulcata may experience a semi-soft shell. You should provide proper heating and lighting in your sulcata’s cage. 

Lack of UVB rays can affect the vitamin formation and absorption of minerals from epithelial cells to the bloodstream. The improper temperature in the enclosure also affects absorption. The best temperature for a sulcata tortoise basking spot is 80-900F.

To know if your sulcata tortoise semi-soft shell is age related, you should check if the shell is spongy or pliable. The spongy shell can indicate health-related problems, while a pliable shell can be related to age.

The age-related shell should harden with time. Usually, from 6-9 months, and if it doesn’t, you should consult an exotic vet to identify the underlying causes. Metabolic diseases can be fatal if not treated early.

sulcata eating grass
A proper diet should include high fiber, right calcium, and vitamin supplements. This can be obtained naturally from the grasses that it eats or commercially form supplements.

Use of Tortoise Sexual Maturity 

Did you know that most tortoises reach sexual maturity at 15 years? Since tortoises have a long life span, they take too long to reach maturity. Thus, if you just got your sulcata tortoise and it’s laying eggs, it means it is older than 15 years.

When this method is good to identify a younger or older sulcata, it can not help you know the exact age of a tortoise.

Sulcata Tortoise Years in Human

Have you ever wondered how old your sulcata tortoise would be if it were human? The good news is you can convert your sulcata tortoise years into human years. 

It may sound crazy why anyone wants to convert a pet’s age to that of a human? But, whatever reason you may have, we will teach you how to convert your sulcata tortoise age to that of a human.

Luckily, you don’t have to be a mathematician to convert your sulcata tortoise age into human years.

Check our tool now: sulcata tortoise age into human years

Can You Do Any Testing To Know Your Sulcata’s Age?

Yes, you can take a blood sample to your vet for testing. Experienced exotic pet vets have experience in estimating reptile’s age through observing a metabolic profile. However, this method is also not accurate in showing a reptile age but can estimate the age range.

In fact, exotic pet vet uses almost the same techniques you use at home to determine the age of a sulcata.

However, since they are more experienced than you are, they might provide a more accurate age than you would.

Even so, taking a blood sample to your pet’s vet can be beneficial as they can perform a test to identify illnesses in your tortoise. 

Additionally, veterinarians can perform a skeletochronology test on a dead tortoise to determine its age.  This test involves cutting cross-sections of the humerus, ilium, femur, and scapula. 

The vet then measures the growth layers on its bone. The method is more effective, but unfortunately, it can only be useful in dead sulcata. 

how to tell the age of a sulcata tortoise [source: Savagae Turtle 41]

How Much Can It Cost To Perform The Test?

How much a vet charges for a blood test will definitely be less than performing a skeletochronology test. And, unfortunately, exotic vets are not as common as human doctors. Therefore, paying for a blood test depends on your location and the availability of an exotic clinic.

Normal checkups for exotic pets vary between $50-200.  Thus, a test to determine the age is likely to go beyond that budget. We can, therefore, say that performing an age test on your sulcata tortoise will cost you.

And, the bad news is, performing a blood test will not give you an accurate result. It can only give you an estimate and can cost you more than $200.

Wrapping Up

Telling the age of a grown sulcata tortoise can be difficult unless you have the breeding records. In this article, we have talked about comparing the growth chart, counting the rings, observing the shell, and using blood samples.

These methods are used to tell the age of a sulcata tortoise. However, none of them is accurate. Thus, the only and the best way to tell a sulcata age is by keeping a breeding record.

But, if you just got yours and the previous owner has no record to show their age, you can try the methods to estimate their age. And, if you don’t get it right, don’t worry, as sulcata tortoises have a long life span. 

Just provide a good diet and habitation and be ready to have your pet for a long time.

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