having a sulcata tortoise as a pet

Having a Sulcata Tortoise aka Mini Dinosaur as a Pet

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Having a Sulcata Tortoise aka mini dinosaur

You may have seen photos across my instagram and social media of my “mini dinosaur.” Here is the promised post going into more detail about my little shell-baby, Olga the Sulcata Tortoise! She is not really such a shell-baby anymore now that she is 10 years old! To celebrate her 10th Birthday (we are unsure of the exact date), I am dedicating this post to her.

Size and Age

Olga joined our little family about 2 1/2 years ago, then known as “Tatum.” We later renamed him “Pet Rock.” After a while “pet Rock” grew to the size where we could tell it was most likely not a he but a she! Tortoise fact #1 – until they grow to a certain size, you can not tell if they are male or female! Hence, having to rename her Olga once we figured out it was most likely a her! She is now measuring about 12 inches by 11 inches across her shell.

Sulcata Tortoises who live a full lifespan can grow 70-100lbs, and measure 33 inches high! Their lifespan is about 100 years – see what I mean by mini dinosaur? Which brings me to tortoise fact #2 – be prepared to keep building or finding a bigger cage or home for your pet Sulcata. You might even eventually have to add your mini dinosaur on your will!

Dog and Tortoise

I was happy to have another girl in the house, even if this one has a sassy attitude sometimes. Tortoise fact #3 – they can have different personalities, favorite things, and change up their favorite things! Olga tended to be a bit of a sissy, but since she grew a bit bigger and more familiar with her new environment she is much braver now. For a few months, Olga wanted nothing to do with my pet dog. If he would so much as step into the same room, she went right into her shell. Over the months she eventually warmed up to him once she realized he had never tried to hurt her. She even let him go as far as licking her “hello” in the face every day as soon as I took her out of her tub to roam around the house or yard with him.

Caring for a Sulcata Tortoise

caring for a sulcata tortoise

People often ask how we take care of a tortoise, and if it needs water. Tortoise fact #4 – A Sulcata, also known as African spurred tortoise, does not swim. Turtles live in water, but tortoises do not. They do drink water, and Sulcatas that live in the wild even burrow to find it. It is healthy to “soak” your tortoise at least once a week since humidity is important for healthy shell growth. Note: there are many different types of tortoises, but the care tips you see here are best for a Sulcata.

Sulcatas; aka little cow with a shell!

Tortoise fact #5 – for the most part, sulcatas are super easy to feed! Sulcata They are best fed mostly grass and hay, and once in a while some veggies or dark leafy greens. Olga loves grazing outside on the grass. Her favorite out there seems to be the clover.

Olga the little cow tortoise

Since we live in PA where we get colder nights and winter weather a few months out of the year, Olga can not always graze outside. Instead, I stock up every week on different greens for her. It seems that over this past year Olga has changed her preference every few months on what it was she would eat. When she can not be put outside, currently she is eating Kale. Before that her favorite was turnip greens, and before that it was baby spinach.

I even bought one of those “misfit boxes” of mystery veggies to see if she would like to share anything in there! See my video here of what came inside mine!

Enclosures

Since she is outgrowing her giant tub, and does not like being in there except to use it as a toilet, I have been letting Olga hang out in the house. I even bought her a comfy cat bed to sleep in! Tortoise fact #6 – they nap a bunch, a will sleep for hours! If she gets tired while outside, she will usually find a bush or low plant to nap under. For now, I usually watch her a lot while she is outside due to not having a fenced-in yard. I hope to eventually build her a permanent outdoor pen with a heated “house” she can live in through the winters too. Sulcatas need a hotter temp of at least 75 degrees. We have a heat lamp hanging over her tub for extra warmth.

Olga walking away

Tortoise fact #7 – They are very wise, and can pickup on daily routines. Every morning by the time I take a shower and then walk to the other end of the house, Olga is awake and turned around in her cat bed. She knows I usually feed her as soon as I come out in the morning. She will sit there and watch me and the dog until I either put her outside, or put her in her tub to feed. If I wait too long she will climb out and start walking around the house biting things she usually would not!

Sulcata Tortoise Communication

Tortoise face #8 – They make a bunch of weird noises, and can hear you! There has been much discussion in the tortoise owner community on whether tortoises can hear or not. They may not exactly have ears, but can easily sense vibrations and certain pitches. Olga definitely hears me to some extent, I know this because she wakes up as soon as I softly start talking to her. She also has ways of responding, whether it is a sort of loud exhale or popping noise. Olga usually hisses in response to things she does not like. She also makes that sharp hissing sound when she gets scared and goes into her shell. Besides that I have also heard her cough, burp, possibly snore, and other weird noises. They usually are not super loud, but this may change if she gets bigger.

Olga the destroyer?

Olga has not managed to destroy anything yet. She does like to move around furniture, and is attracted to smaller objects like the dog’s toys and bowels. I have heard stories of bigger Sulcatas eating through drywall and beating down doggy doors, but hopefully we will not have that problem! Which brings us to tortoise fact #9 – Tortoises can be very curious! Olga does try to take off now and then from our yard. She is very attracted for some reason to parts of the neighbor’s yard with less grass so it looks like perfect tortoise sized “paths”. She also likes to check things out with either her nose, or maybe a bite. Olga absolutely loves tomatoes, so anything red is an attraction!

Tortoise fact #10 – They can bite, but do not mean too! Tortoises are not meat eaters, so even if they did get a bit of your finger they probably would not enjoy it. She sometimes will bite into something if she is curious if it is a food or not.

We are still working on getting Olga more socialized and used to people and other animals. She has grown much braver over the past year. I hope to bring her to the local ice cream stand down the road to meet neighbourhood families. This way if she does ever manage to escape, more people will be familiar with what exactly we would be searching for!

Have you ever kept a tortoise or other reptile before? Feel free to leave any questions about Olga in the comments!

Thanks for reading,

Jillian

 

 

 

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