By Ivan Raconteur
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN When Lester Prairie residents Bruce and Kathy Young added an exotic new pet to their collection, they named him Little Guy because he was so small.
“When we got him, I could hold him in the palm of my hand,” Kathy said.
“He was the size of a silver dollar,” Bruce added.
Now, three years later, Little Guy is in danger of outgrowing his name.
He is an African sulcata tortoise, native to the hot arid regions around the Sahara Desert.
In the tortoise world, sulcatas are surpassed in size only by the giant tortoises of the Galapagos Islands.
The Youngs purchased Little Guy in Amarillo, TX, where sulcata tortoises are becoming very popular.
They originally wanted to buy a box turtle, but after they saw Little Guy they were hooked.
“They (the dealers) keep them (sulcatas) in large outdoor pens,” Bruce said.
Little Guy currently weighs about 35 pounds, but, when he reaches full maturity, he could weigh 175 to 200 pounds, Bruce said.
They can grow to as much as 30 inches in length.
“He’s on his third cage now, and it’s time to go bigger again,” Kathy said.
The Youngs keep Little Guy in a dry glass enclosure lined with timothy hay and shavings at the very bottom.
They use a large plastic tote to give him an occasional exposure to water.
One of his favorite treats is dandelions. He is attracted by the bright yellow flowers which he eats with enthusiasm.
The Youngs said they used to chemically treat the dandelions in their yard, but Little Guy enjoys them so much they don’t do that anymore.
During the winter months, when he can’t be outdoors, the Youngs feed him a variety of things including green and red lettuce, grapes, and mixed vegetables. He can eat pretty much anything that doesn’t have seeds.
“Anything green, he’ll eat,” Bruce commented.
“He loves spinach,” Kathy added.
The Youngs paid $100 for Little Guy. He just turned three, and sulcata tortoises his size sell for $2,000 to $2,500, Bruce said.
Fully grown Sulcatas can sell for $5,000 to $10,000, he added.
The Youngs said they have no plans to sell Little Guy, but they may donate him to a zoo when he gets too big for them to house and take care of.
Sulcatas can live up to 75 years, Bruce said.
Little Guy gets along fine with the Youngs’ other animals, which include two dogs, a cat, and two African gray parrots.
Kathy said sometimes the cat will reach out its paw and rest it on Little Guy’s head and just sit there like that.
Little Guy provides entertainment for the Youngs and for the occasional passer by.
He moves surprisingly fast for a tortoise, and while he was in their front yard, Bruce was kept busy picking Little Guy up and turning him around to keep him from going into the street.
“Sometimes we take him out back and just sit in the lawn chairs and watch him run around,” Kathy said.
“We enjoy him,” she added, smiling as she watched Little Guy mow down a clump of dandelions.