The African Spur Thigh Tortoise, or the Sulcata tortoise as it’s also known, is one of the largest tortoise species on the planet. These are long-lived creatures. Tortoises, of course, are different from turtles. Tortoises you’ll find on land. Look at those big diggers he’s got in the front there. He digs tremendously large holes in his native Saharan habitat. He comes from the southern rim of the Saharan desert in Africa. And he is the third largest tortoise species on the planet. Very, very important creature in the environment that he lives.
You could imagine that type of, not the Saharan desert where you see the big sand dunes, this is the scrub vegetation area, where there’s not much but haze and grasses and cactus. And it gets hot, as you can imagine, in the middle of the summer, 120, 140, not unusual.
So, the Sulcata tortoise has developed a method of survival. You know we’ve learned that creatures that come out at night are nocturnal. Creatures that come out during the day are diurnal. But a new word for your vocabulary is corpuscular. This guy comes out when the temperature’s right. He comes out during the dawn hours and during the dusk hours. And the rest of the time at night and during the day, he stays in a burrow that he digs with those amazing claws.
You won’t see turtles with claws like that, because turtles are predominantly water animals. But tortoises live in the forests of the rain forest and woodlands and in deserts. So, in the desert habitat he comes from, he is extremely important because, number one, he’s one of the few animals that has the capacity to dig those big holes. And what lives in those burrows? Everything else that lives in the desert. They can’t get out of the heat so they use the tortoise’s burrows. They work together and they live in the bottom of these burrows, or along the passageways to the bottom and some of them get 50, 60 feet.
What happens at the bottom? The temperature is perfectly suited for them. It’s going to be 60, 70 degrees at the bottom of those burrows, even though it’s 120 at the top. And the tortoise spends the hot days and the cold nights in that burrow.
But, more importantly than that, this guy lives for 150 or more years in that really terrible environment of the Sahara desert. It’s all nothing but cactus and grass and things like that. So, how does he do it? He’s a straight herbivore. How does he make his food? Where does he get it from? Well, we all know the story about the tortoise and the hare that slow and steady wins the race. And the Sulcata tortoise certainly is one of those types.
He nibbles on his food. He chews a little bit of this, a little bit of that. He eats it and then he walks tremendous distances in the course of the day. And if you ever kept one in captivity, you know an animal that eats grass and hay and cactus goes to the bathroom quite a lot. He poops like you can’t believe. And what he does in the desert is eat the whole plant.
The plant goes through his digestive system that comes out now in manure. And that manure’s got moisture to it. And the seeds can germinate after they go through his digestive system. And the animal literally makes a garden around the burrow that he lives.
It is so perfect of an ecosystem that when the tortoise moves out of that system, everything else collapses and the system dies off. What’s happening in that area of the world? Of course, people are eating tortoises. People are collecting tortoises for the pet trade and, little by little, tortoises like this are disappearing from the wild. So, we have to really do something about that because this is one of nature’s treasures, for sure. The Sulcata or African Spur thigh Tortoise. what other animal can live 150 years in a climate like that? Do a good job, boy.