African spurred tortoise


The African spurred tortoise is a large reptile living in north-central Africa. This tortoise, sometimes called the spur-thighed tortoise, gets its name from the knobs on the back of its hind legs. The picture below points out the spurs on the right side of one tortoise. It kind of looks like there is a third spur to the left of the ones shown, but that is just the bottom part of the shell. Nobody knows for sure what purpose those spurs have.

Those spurs are one way to distinguish this tortoise from other species, and there are two even easier ways, both relating to the shell. Right below the tortoise’s neck you can see two extensions, called gulars, forming a “v” coming from the shell. Most other tortoises do not have these extra parts. The older the tortoise is, the easier it is to see the gulars.

One final way to distinguish these tortoises from others is the wavy edge of the front of their shells. In the picture above, around the tortoise’s head, the shell bumps out several times in front. Most other tortoises have a smooth front of their shell.

One way African spurred tortoises are not different from other large tortoises is in their color. Their whole body is a yellowish-brown color. The main reason most tortoises have this color is it helps them blend better with the dusty environment where they live. The older they get, the paler their color becomes.


This tortoise is one of the largest tortoises in the world! Only the Galapagos giant tortoise and maybe the Aldabra giant tortoise are larger! Now that I’ve said that, I’d probably better go ahead and tell you how large they are.

Even the average sized African spurred tortoises have an 18 inch (45 cm) long shell. They also weigh about 90 pounds (41 kg)! The maximum sizes these tortoises reach are 3 feet (.9 m) long and weighing 230 pounds (105 kg)!


As with almost all tortoises, the spur-thighed tortoise is an herbivore. This tortoise lives in areas with not much water, so it gets most of its liquids from plants. Flowers, grasses, cacti, and leaves are all sometimes eaten by these animals. Captive individuals can be fed fruits and vegetables from stores, but too much protein can be harmful to their health.

Habitat and range

If you divided Africa into four sections top to bottom, the African spurred tortoise would live in the second section from the top. This part of Africa includes the dry, southern part of the Sahara desert and the grasslands closer to central Africa. It does not include the African rainforests, which are too far south to be a part of this range.

Status and threats

The African spurred tortoise is classified as ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN Redlist. These animals have very few predators, but they are at risk to humans and their harsh habitat. None of my sources gave specific examples of their natural predators, so let’s just talk about their other threats.

Given their desert habitat, these tortoises need as much vegetation as they can in their habitat. The overgrazing of livestock on these lands has resulted in less food for the tortoises. They are also used in traditional Japanese potions, the pet trade, and some people groups even eat them.


The mating season for spur-thighed tortoises can take place almost any time of year, but it happens most frequently during the rainy season, between September and November. Males compete for the right to mate by ramming into each other. Although they are slow, they are powerful creatures, and the fights sometimes end with bloody legs or heads. Deaths almost never happen, though.

After earning the right to mate, the male will slowly circle around the female. If she approves of him, they will mate then. After mating, the female will start eating less food, but she will start to swell with the eggs. It isn’t until the fall that the female actually lays her eggs, and as this season gets closer, she becomes more restless.

The main reason she is restless is because she is looking for the perfect place to nest. She will create dips in the ground that are about 2 feet (60 cm) wide and up to 6 inches (15 cm) deep. It can take up to 5 hours to make just one of these, and she may make up to five nests before she is satisfied with one of them! Talk about perfectionist!

Once she finally decides on the perfect nest, she will lay between 15 and 30 eggs in it. She then covers the eggs in dirt, and this can take up to one hour more! The eggs incubate in the ground for about 8 months before hatching.

At this time, the little tortoises are about 2 inches (5 cm) long, but they weigh less than an ounce (about 25 g)! This is less than the weight of 2 CDs! These amazing creatures can live to be more than 100 years old!

Don’t forget to scroll down and comment your guess about what the next animal is!


Photo credits:

  • African spurred tortoise – Gregory Moine
  • African spurred tortoise spurs –  Bjoertvedt
  • Mystery animal – Wikipedia user: Roqqy
%d bloggers like this: