Baby Pancake Tortoise

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Common Name: Pancake Tortoise
Scientific Name: Malacocherus Tornieri
Current Size: 2" +/-
Average Adult Size: 6-7"
Area of Origin: Kenya and Tanzania, Africa

Description: True to their name, pancake tortoises are a very flat tortoise, designed to fit into the narrow crevices that they live in naturally. With a small adult size, these pretty tortoises have radiating patterns on their shells, much like star tortoises. Their shells are very soft for a tortoise, and quite flexible when held. While this helps them fit into narrow cracks in the rock, it leaves them vulnerable to predators that would have problems trying to eat harder-shelled tortoises. 

Habitat: Hot, arid climates. They live naturally in small groups in the wild, often within a single crack in the rock. They do not wander much in the wild, and will live almost as "families" in rocky terrain. These tortoises are often very isolated from other pancake tortoise populations, with a single group living sometimes miles from any other groups. They do not hibernate, but will go through a winter slow down period during cooler weather and shortened daylengths. As adults, they can safely handle body temperatures as low as 50 degrees at night as long as they are able to heat up into the 70's during the day. They don't care for cool temperatures, but heat is not a problem. Summer highs up to 120 degrees can be tolerated as long as there is a cooler, shaded retreat the tortoise can get into. 

Diet: This tortoise is naturally a grazer, and will come out for short amounts of time to eat, dashing back and fourth to the safety of the rocks. In captivity, pancake tortoises will graze on low plant leaves as broadleaf weeds and clover (dandelions are a favorite). Vegetables can be added to the diet for variety, but fruit should generally be avoided. In an indoor enclosure, they do well on a staple diet of spring mix. 

Adult Behavior: Adult pancakes tortoises are secretive, fast moving tortoises. They are considered the fastest tortoise on the ground, which is probably to help them get out of harms way. They are un-aggressive towards eachother in most cases, and do little damage to their environment (little or no digging or burrowing). Because of their natural shelters, they have developed soft shells that make them quick to hide if they feel threatened. They spend a huge majority of their day hidden in tight quarters, and this should not be changed in captivity. Many keepers put them in wide open cages so that they can see them, but this stresses the tortoises as they constantly feel in danger. With a natural home in steep, rocky terrain and with a low center of gravity, they are extremely good climbers. They are well known among tortoise keepers as escape artists because of their ability to climb as well as a low profile, making it easy for them to get through gaps as small as 1" in size. We have had them escape from enclosures that seem mathematically impossible to escape from. For this reason, it is best to keep them in a way that if they do escape their enclosure, there is another barrier to stop them after that. Example of a proper way to house them is below.

Our Current Care:  During cooler weather or indoors, these tortoises are kept indoors on a cypress and/or coco coir substrate with a humid hidebox that they can get into at night. We raise them in cheap, simple plastic tubs that can be purchased at WalMart or Target, generally 3 to 4 square feet in size for babies. Temperatures in the room fluctuate between 75 at night up to 85 during the day, but we keep the hidebox heated to around 80-85 at night with a heat pad beind it, or a red bulb placed overhead.

Diet consists of spring mix greens with many other leafy greens offered in rotation to that (mulberry, endive, grape leaves, hibiscus leaves, diced cactus pad and we use globe mallow leaves pretty regularly). We like to also add moistened Mazuri LS tortoise diet as well as ZooMed's Gourmet Tortoise Food a few times a week, usually mixed and mashed into the leafy greens. The addition of the commercial diets take care of most or all of the supplementation needs, or you can sprinkle the food lightly with a calcium supplement 2 or 3 times a week and a multivitamin supplement 1-2 times a week. We also throw a pinch of our herbal hay on top of whatever they are eating almost daily, which adds variety and flavor and scent to everything.

The tortoises are removed from their enclosure and soaked in a separate 1/4" deep pan of warm water daily or almost daily for 30 minutes each time. We don't generally use water dishes in the enclosures because of the risk of drowning (yes, we have lost babies to drowning when they flipped over in 1/4" of water).

Being a desert species, they should have intense lighting, and they need lights on during the day and off at night to maintain a normal day/night cycle. We use full spectrum UVB lights, which we suggest for the growth of pretty, healthy tortoises, and use a ZooMed Powersun bulb in a small part of the enclosure to give them a "hot spot" around 95-100 degrees that they can get into if they want to warm up.

We don't use the "closed chamber" method (keeping airflow very restricted to increase humidity to the point that clouds form in the enclosure). It is very risky if/when temperatures get below about 80, and mold, shell rot, and respiratory problems become a lot more common in those conditions. We keep them open top in the warm area, and enclosed, warm and humid within the hide (like they would be in the wild). They are free to choose the conditions, temperatures, and humidity levels they want within that setup. 

Pancake tortoise enclosure