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Sulcata Tortoise Baby Care: Everything You Should Know

You must read this article if you just got a baby sulcata tortoise to care for or if you’re new to caring for sulcata tortoises.

Due to the small and vulnerable size of baby sulcata tortoises, you may wonder whether caring for a baby tortoise differs from an adult.

Caring for baby sulcata tortoises is the same as that of adults, but you will need to provide extra care to help protect your tortoise in the first at least two years.

Understanding the proper care your tortoise needs helps keep them healthy and grow to the expected sizes.

In this article, we will help highlight everything that you need to know about caring for your baby sulcata tortoise.

Sulcata Tortoise Overview

Sulcata tortoise originates from the arid regions of Africa. Nowadays, they are popularly kept as pets because these tortoises can adapt to a wide range of living conditions.

You can easily identify them by their brown to the yellow shell with a thick, yellowish-brown skin. They also have spurs on their legs which is why they are also called African spurred tortoises. Most sulcata tortoises are available in yellow, brown, and tan colors, but there are ivory and albino morphs.

Adult sulcata tortoises can grow to around 24-30 inches long and weigh 70-90 pounds. They also require long-term commitment as they can live under typical care for more than 100 years.

Sulcata Tortoise Baby Care

Caring for a baby sulcata is different from caring for an adult sulcata. Here are some of the main differences that I noticed after keeping 4 sulcata tortoises (three big ones and one baby):

  • Enclosure size: Baby sulcata tortoises can be (and should be) housed indoors. Adult sulcata tortoises need a spacious outdoor enclosure (or large space) with a sturdy fence and shelter.
  • Temperature and lighting: Baby sulcata tortoises are more sensitive to temperature fluctuations and need supplemental heat at night if the temperature drops below 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Adult sulcata tortoises can handle low temperatures better than baby ones.
  • Humidity: Baby sulcata tortoises need higher humidity than adult sulcata to prevent dehydration and pyramiding.
  • Food and water: Baby sulcata need more calcium than adult sulcata to support their shell growth.

It is recommended to raise baby sulcata tortoises indoors for the first few years of their life to protect them from the weather conditions changes during the year.

I Have some experience to care for Baby sulcata
Baby sulcata tortoise

Setting Up An Appropriate Enclosure


It is best to house baby sulcata tortoises indoors for the first few years of their life to help minimize the risk of your tortoise escaping and protect them from predators. You can keep baby sulcata tortoises in a glass aquarium, sweater boxes, or other enclosures.

However, the best enclosure for your baby sulcata is a simple tortoise table or sweater boxes. You can easily get them or even make them yourself. This is because you don’t have to worry about their enclosure but the accessories you will need to provide like temperature gradient, lighting, substrate, etc.


You can use several types of substrates for setting up your baby sulcata tortoise enclosure. You can use substrates like alfalfa pellets, orchard grass, aspen pellets, timothy hays, coconut coir, or even dirt. The best bedding for your tortoise is cypress mulch.

Last update on 2022-12-29 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Since they originate from an area filled with dirt, you can also use dirt as a substrate for their indoor enclosure. However, you need to ensure that you use dirt from areas without pesticides or contaminants that can harm your sulcata tortoise.

cypress mulch substrate for baby sulcata tortoises
The best bedding for your baby or even adult tortoise is cypress mulch. This will eradicate the possibility of impaction

Hiding Area

You will need to provide a hiding area for your baby sulcata tortoise. This is because most indoor enclosures are usually very dry because of the dry air in their enclosure from the heat lamps in the cage.

Baby sulcata tortoises need access to a humid hide where they can go to get humidity. By providing a humid hide for your tortoise, you help ensure their shells grow smoothly and keep them hydrated.

Keeping your tortoise hydrated will also help to prevent shell pyramiding. You can use a hollowed-out wood log as their hiding area. You can also opt for Exo Terra tortoise cave for your baby tortoise. You can then use sphagnum moss in your humid hide to help maintain humidity.

Make Sure To Provide Enough Humidity

Although sulcata tortoise originates from a hot, dry region, they need humidity to keep them healthy. Baby sulcata tortoises require a high humidity level and low air movement in their enclosure to keep them happy and healthy.

You can maintain the humidity in your baby sulcata enclosure and keep them hydrated by offering them clean water daily in a shallow bowl. You can use Exo Terra bowls or Fluker’s rock dish as water bowls.

Your baby sulcata tortoise can develop shell pyramiding if you do not provide them with the required humidity.

NOTE: Don’t Forget Water Bowl For Soaking Baby Sulcata Tortoises

You must soak baby sulcata tortoises in water for about 15 minutes two or three times a week to keep them hydrated. You must soak baby sulcata tortoises in warm shallow water.

Steps Involved

  • Fill a shallow basin with lukewarm water and ensure the water does not pass the underside of their shell.
  • Give your tortoise some minutes to soak and get used to the water.
  • Once your tortoise gets used to being in the water, it will pass out fecal matter and then drink.
  • Your sulcatas may also become more active after exposing them to warm water.
  • After some minutes of soaking, you can then gently splash some water over their shell with your hands to bathe your tortoise.
  • Remove your tortoise from the water after it has excreted.

Tip: Avoid splashing water on your tortoise face as this can stress your tortoise.

UV Light/Temperatures For Baby Tortoises

Just like adult sulcata tortoises, baby sulcata tortoises need a high-temperature range to keep them healthy. You need to maintain a daytime temperature range between 68-80oF in their enclosure. You will also need to provide a nighttime temperature of around 70oF.

Baby sulcata tortoises will also need a basking area that is around 100oF to stay healthy.

Last update on 2022-12-29 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

When keeping your baby sulcata tortoise indoors, you need to have access to UVB lighting to grow and develop. They need the UVB light in their indoor enclosure to process the calcium in their diet. Since they are diurnal in nature, you will need to keep the light on for 12-14 hours per day and then turn it off all night.

You can use a fluorescent bulb to provide UV lights for your tortoise. However, the fluorescent bulb can only provide a little heat, and you will need an additional heat lamp in their enclosure. You can also use Zoomed Powersun which helps provide both the UV lighting and heat your tortoise needs.

Note: when keeping your tortoise indoors, it will not get any beneficial UV light from the sun if you place their tank close to a window. You will need to take your tortoise outside before natural sunlight can be beneficial to them.

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Keep Dangerous Objects Out Of Their Area 

Generally, sulcata tortoises are active and very curious creatures. However, hatchlings are very fragile, and you need to ensure there are no dangerous objects that can cause harm to them in their enclosure.

You need to ensure no dangerous objects and predators like steps, dogs, cats, raccoons, etc., close to your sulcata tortoise. Sulcata tortoise is known as a voracious eater, and you need to keep away toxic plants, animal hair, small plastics, and so on from their enclosure.

You should also avoid using grass as your baby sulcata tortoise’s substrate because they usually have problems walking on grass. Grass can make baby sulcata tortoise exhausted, and your tortoise can become stranded or even die from overheating.

This means you will need to create a path of bare soil that can connect your tortoise to their basic needs. Another thing is that sulcata tortoises are active climbers, and you need to ensure that there are no steep things in their enclosure.

This is because baby sulcata tortoises can tip over, leading to death if they cannot get up.

Provide Basic Diet For A Baby Sulcata

Sulcata tortoises are herbivorous animals, and the best staple diet for an adult tortoise is grass. They also graze on mulberry leaves, lawn grasses, hibiscus leaves, grape leaves, hays, etc. You can feed baby sulcata tortoises with the same diet, but they usually have a hard time eating tougher grass and hay because they don’t have powerful jaws.

You can feed baby sulcata with a mixture of dark leafy greens like grasses and hays. You can also feed them with a commercial pelleted grass diet, but you will first soak it in water before feeding them. You should only provide them with fruits as an occasional treat.

There is also a need to dust your sulcata tortoise greens with calcium and multivitamin supplements 2-3 times per week. It is also good to feed your baby sulcata tortoise with a small amount of salad daily to help them with proper digestion and growth.

Some of the commercial grass diets to feed your baby sulcata tortoise are the Mazuri tortoise diet, Zoo Med Grassland, etc. When feeding with a commercial diet, ensure you only offer 1-4% of their body weight daily.

Last update on 2022-12-29 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Note: you should try to do an annual vet fecal sample test to ensure that your tortoise is growing normally and healthy.

Veterinary Care To Keep Your Baby Sulcata Tortoise Healthy

Although sulcata tortoises are hardy creatures, baby sulcata tortoises are quite fragile. Furthermore, some baby sulcata may appear healthy at first but will have an underlying disease. This is why taking your baby sulcata tortoise to an exotic vet for health check-ups is recommended.

During this period, you can also correct any husbandry issues, trim their beaks and nails, etc., and help ensure the tortoise’s overall health. It is also recommended that you measure and weigh your tortoise regularly.

Some of the common health problems that can happen to baby sulcata tortoises are pyramiding, metabolic bone disease, injury, shell rot, bacterial or fungal infections, shedding problem, etc.

Sulcata tortoise eating greens, vegetables and fruits
Sulcata tortoise also do eat greens, vegetables and fruits

Growth Rate Of Baby Sulcata Tortoise

Apart from having a long lifespan, sulcata tortoises can grow to a large size and weight. Sulcata tortoise growth rate usually occurs in multiple stages, and they typically grow at a fast rate when they are in the hatchling and juvenile stage. Their growth rate will then slow down once they reach sexual maturity.

Hatchling sulcata tortoise usually measures around 1.5-3 inches long and weighs around 35-40g. After 1-2 years, you will discover that they measure around 6-10 inches long and weigh around 800-1000g.

You should note that sulcata tortoise growth rates at different ages can be influenced by their diet, environment, habitat, and weather conditions. Once your sulcata tortoise is at a juvenile stage, you should be ready to move them outdoors as they would have outgrown their enclosure.

Behavior and Temperament

Sulcata tortoise is a curious and docile tortoise, which makes it suitable for beginner hobbyists and families with young children. They have unique personalities and can bond with their owners.

Sulcata tortoises usually spend most of their time doing two main activities, that is grazing and burrowing. This usually depends on the season. Sulcata tortoises usually graze for hours when the temperature is cooler.

Furthermore, after a cool evening, sulcata tortoises spend their morning basking in the sun to help raise their body temperatures. Once the temperature becomes hotter, they will dig extensive burrows to protect them from the sun. They also use their saliva to rub their arms to help cool down.

Sulcata tortoises are usually aggressive to each other as the males try to show dominance. This means it is best if you house them in a different enclosure from one another. Unlike most tortoise species, sulcata tortoise does not hibernate in the wild.

However, sulcata tortoises can occasionally hibernate for a short period in captivity.


Generally, sulcata tortoises do not enjoy handling, and you don’t need to handle them regularly. Hatchling and juvenile sulcata tortoises usually get stressed when overhandled, and children can drop them when they are spooked. Stressing your tortoise can affect their activity levels and health.

However, adult sulcata tortoises are more resistant to handling, but they become too heavy to lift. If you have to handle your tortoise, you can follow these tips:

  • Avoid pinning or restraining your tortoise.
  • You can then move them slowly and avoid lifting them very far above the ground.

Note: Ensure you wash your hands before and after handling your sulcata tortoise to help prevent transmitting bacteria.

The proper way to handle baby sulcata tortoise
The proper way to handle baby sulcata tortoise

How much does a baby sulcata tortoise cost?

The average price of a baby sulcata tortoise is between $45-$100. You will find some breeders that will even sell their baby sulcata tortoise at a low price if they have them in surplus. Baby sulcata tortoises can also be available at a lower price if they have split scutes.

How often should I feed my baby sulcata tortoise?

It is recommended that you feed your baby sulcata tortoise daily. You can offer them grasses and hay throughout the day and also give them safe greens or tortoise pellets once a day. Variety is crucial when feeding baby sulcata tortoises to help prepare them for a healthy diet during adulthood.

Do baby sulcata tortoises need a heat lamp?

Baby sulcata tortoises need a heat lamp to keep them healthy. It is important that you provide a heat source in their enclosure every day for the first 3-5 years after they hatch. This is because they need the heat to carry out metabolic processes such as the digestion of food, and they will be malnourished if there is no heat.

Furthermore, baby sulcata tortoises cannot survive for more than some weeks if there is no heat source in their enclosure.

Do baby sulcata tortoises sleep a lot?

According to several owners, baby tortoises can sleep for about 19-22 hours a day. It is believed that baby sulcata tortoises usually hide in the wild to avoid becoming prey. Furthermore, baby sulcata tortoises are just like any baby, and sleep takes a big part of their activity when they are young.

Wrapping Up

Sulcata tortoises are unique pets that can live for decades and even bond with their owners when kept properly. Furthermore, sulcatas are hardy creatures that can easily adapt to a wide range of conditions. But baby sulcata tortoises have an underdeveloped body, and they require special care to stay healthy.

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