Pancake Tortoises | Living the Flat Life

Authored by Andrew Hermes Arizona Tortoise Compound

Pancake Tortoises (Malacochersus Tornieri)

Pancake Tortoise on hide log

Soft, flat and flexible are not the descriptive words one would normally used to describe a species of tortoise, unless they are speaking of the unique Pancake Tortoise (Malacochersus Tornieri). As the only tortoise of its genus this amazing animal also displays traits and characteristics that other species of tortoises do not. Only growing to 6 inches in length when matured they are able to squeeze themselves into the tightest spaces. When a predator or tortoise keeper tries to pull them out of their hiding spot, they quickly inflate themselves with air and pin themselves between the objects. The spurs on their limbs further help them grip tightly to their surrounding nook.The Pancake Tortoise is also known for its speed, agility and being able to escape most any tortoise enclosure.

Pancake Tortoise | Natural History

Originating from Africa in the countries of Kenya and Tanzania, Pancake Tortoises reside in rocky outcrops on or near hillsides. Feeling secure among the nooks and crevices of the rocks, the pancake tortoise lives in groups. A few individuals will share the same spaces among the rocks. Their range for grazing is quite small since they need to stay in close proximity to the rocky dwellings for protection. The pancake tortoise is more so equipped for hiding and running away with short bursts of speed rather than withdrawing into its shell-like other chelonians. Since these tortoises live in communal groups, there is a certain hierarchy that takes place with dominant males aggressively ruling over other. These dominant males will also do most of the mating. Female Pancake Tortoises are able to lay multiple clutches throughout the season with one egg being laid at a time. Being a species that does not hibernate they are most active during the warmer months in the rainy season.

In their natural environment they feed on grasses, succulents and flower blossoms that emerge from different plants or weeds. This species of tortoise has been heavily imported into the U.S. over the past decade. Most of these tortoises did not adjust well to captivity and were lost over time. Some long-term captive and captive bred Pancake Tortoises have thrived though and now make up most of the available population in the reptile community.

Pancake Tortoise and feeding flowers

Captive Pancake Tortoises

In captivity Pancake Tortoises are equally unique and are captivating for tortoise keepers to enjoy. To properly maintain and keep Pancake Tortoises healthy, they need to be housed in a suitable enclosure that fulfills all their needs. Fresh air and sunlight are the two most important things that should be offered to a tortoise when available. Outdoor enclosures should be positioned for full sunlight with small patches of shade from shrubs for the tortoises to self regulate their body temperature. A large shallow water dish is enjoyed by Pancakes, like other tortoise species, besides just drinking they are able to take in water through their skin, shell and cloaca. Proper hydration is important in tortoises and especially so with hatchlings.

Multiple secured hiding spots or homes should be placed throughout the enclosure. Creating tight spaces for the tortoises to squeeze into makes them feel safe. Rocks, tree climbs and a few other materials work very well to create these homes. Being one of the best climbers in the tortoise world all corners of the enclosure need to be capped or secured. Trees and shrubs should be planted throughout the enclosure but kept far enough away from the perimeter so they do not escape by climbing out. By providing different types of plants foliage this will give the tortoises multiple food options for them to graze on throughout the day.

Mating Pancake Tortoises

Breeding Pancake Tortoises

Nesting female Pancake Tortoises will take advantage of the bases of the different plants by laying eggs, 2 to 3 inches under the substrate. In captivity females are able to lay year-round depending on the individual female and it’s environment. On average female will lay 3 to 4 eggs throughout the year. Eggs artificially hatch after 100 to hundred 120 days at 87 to 89° in the incubator. At the time hatchlings start to emerge it is important to have high levels of humidity in the incubator, this will help the hatchlings escape from the egg membrane. Captive bred Pancake Tortoises adapt well to their environment and take to many different food offerings. A varied diet of fresh grasses as well as different greens like chicory, dandelions, plantations, clovers and alfalfa should be offered. Additional supplements such as calcium powder and cuttle bones should also be made available to the tortoises. Pancake Tortoises like other chelonians need a high-fiber, high calcium diet with low-protein. The two words to keep in mind when it comes to feeding is variety and moderation!

All stages of life from a tiny 2 inch hatchling to 6 inch adult, the Pancake Tortoise is an amazing species that continues to intrigue and captivate tortoise keepers. It’s very important that we strive to maintain and let these tortoises thrive in captive environments. The Pancake Tortoise’s natural environment and native habitats are diminishing and the future is uncertain in the wild like most chelonians.