Animal Behavior

Sweet Lil Bernie meets Big Boi. African Sulcatas at Crazy Critters Inc

 African Spur Thigh Tortoises  like to quarrel by nature. They are either going to get along or not. And if you ask them again in a minute, they will have changed their minds. Combat is in their genetics. So instead of trying to force them on each other, we have found that allowing them to tell us who they want to get along with is better. Better for the fence and the tortoise.

For instance. Jamie, when he got here we were asked to try to get his two girls (10 years together as a group) to live with a smaller male. Which makes sense because Jamie is so very large. However, when we did put the girls in another place, Jamie walked the fence all day, none stop. Even though he could not see the females he could smell them. The females seemed agitated also. Or at least that is what we witnessed. After a few days of this, Ken took the girls and put them in his yard. This made him stop. Right away. He stopped pacing. We think we will take the girls out a lil’ bit at a time.

In this video, you meet Sweet Lil Bernie. She is so new to Crazy Critters Inc. We have only been able to have her snuggled in the warm reptile room. This is her first time walking around. Ken put her with Big Boi together in one of the small areas. And they seem to get along. As matter of fact, they may even be from the same region. They look very similar. Big Boi smelled Bernie and even bit at her. They are not mean bites. It is a behavior you might notice while viewing the video. To us, the behaviors are much like when you bring a new puppy into the home. The tortoise we call Big Boi has been here the longest at six years. he is just smelling and nipping (but not nipping, you guys know what we are saying!)

The video is sped up 7x’s. We had to walk away and not film any longer because the weather was so cold and we wanted the tortoises to feel comfortable so they could eat and poop. Yes, I said poop. Because it is either poo while they are outside or in their night tubs. And that is better to be avoided if possible!

The African Sulcata Tortoise (Geochelone sulcata) can reach more than 200 pounds in weight and 36 inches in length. Its shape is round, with a tan-colored, patternless shell that is more flat than domed. The word “sulcata” comes from the Latin word sulcus, meaning a groove or furrow. In regard to the sulcata tortoise, this refers to the distinctive growth rings that are produced as the tortoise’s scutes grow with each seasonal cycle. New shell growth that appears around each scute begins as dark brown in coloration but usually fades to a straw color as it is bleached by the sun over the years as the tortoise matures.

There is a noticeable difference between male and female African Sulcatas, but it does not become evident until they are at least 10 to 15 pounds or larger. Males develop a concave plastron with anal scutes that form a “V” where the tail protrudes. A female’s shell is usually not as round in appearance when compared to a male. The plastron of a female is also flat, with anal scutes that form more of a “U” shape where the tail protrudes to allow the passing of eggs. A female’s tail is much shorter than a male’s, and all these sexual characteristics become more pronounced as the tortoises get bigger in size.

The home range of Sulcata is an approximately 250-mile-wide strip of land that sits just north of Ethiopia. This relatively narrow strip of territory traverses the North African continent roughly corresponding with the transition zone between the Sahara Desert and the savannah/forest area known as the Sudan region that lies south of the Sahara. This transition zone is called the Sahel. This is a very unique biozone that features short shrubs, grasses, and dwarfed trees. It is not quite desert and not quite a savannah.

Because of its location, the Sahel can be a desert environment during some years, and savannah during others, depending on the prevailing weather patterns. During any given year, it can receive 5 to 20 inches of rain, usually during the monsoon season that typically lasts from July to November. The Sahel is not only a transitional zone for the weather between the desert and the Sudan region, it is one in regard to soil fertility, as well. The soil of the Sahel is only slightly more fertile than the desert but less so than the Sudan region. This is important because even during times of plentiful rain, the vegetation of the Sahel remains stunted because of the soil’s low fertility.

Sulcata tortoises dig extensive burrows during the monsoon season, in preparation for when they will need to seek refuge from the extreme heat of the dry season, as well as escape from the high midday temperatures that occur during the rest of the year. Sulcata burrows can extend horizontally well over 30 feet, with a vertical depth of more than 20 feet in many cases. The depth of a burrow provides a safe environment with relatively stable temperatures for a tortoise, despite the huge temperature fluctuations that occur outside of the burrow. The depth of the burrow also provides humidity levels that are commonly over 50 percent. Sulcata burrows are much like the Florida Gopher Tortoise in that it usually includes multiple chambers and connecting tunnels,

After the wet season, they will feed on almost any organic matter they can find, including dried plants and leaves that remain during the dry season.  Like most tortoises, sulcatas are opportunistic feeders in the wild. They feed mostly on the abundant growth that follows the rainy season, consuming grasses, broadleaf weeds, leaves and fruit from trees and bushes. During times of little to no plant growth, sulcatas have been known to also consume small branches, tree bark, animal feces, and carrion.

During the height of the dry season, sulcatas remain mostly inactive, and they are seldom if ever, seen outside their burrows. When the rainy season arrives they will emerge to forage and replace lost reserves for reproduction. Breeding and egg-laying usually take place at this time, although there is not an exclusive breeding season. It has been reported that nesting in the wild often occurs at the base of bushes. Low population densities of male sulcatas result in breeding throughout the year, whenever a male encounters a female (which is not very often). Most of these encounters occur most frequently during the beginning of the rainy season and toward the end when sulcata tortoises are the most active.  A female African Spur-Thigh Tortoise may lay as many as 24 eggs, though fewer are usually deposited. This typically occurs from November to May.

African Spurred Tortoise, is surpassed in size only by the giant tortoises of the Galapagos Islands and Seychelles. Not only do these tortoises grow very large, they grow very rapidly up to two and a half feet long and 80-110 pounds or more.  If you need a home for your tortoise or other exotic please drop us a line, we will contact you back within hours.

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Crazy Critters Inc. is a non-profit, 501(c)3, Exotic Animal Rescue and Wildlife Education Facility located in Eustis, Florida. We provide permanent homes to over 150 animals including lizards, turtles, skinks, geckos, birds, and assorted wildlife. Crazy Critters Inc. was established to provide non-domestic, non-releasable animals with a safe and permanent home.

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