Pancake Tortoise

Alternative Name
Softshell Tortoise, Soft-shelled Tortoise Scientific Name: Malacochersus tornieri

Basic Info

It has been reported that in the case of juvenile Pancake Tortoises the plastron, roughly the center, acts as a diaphragm and can be pushed out from the body. In other words, the width of the tortoise does actually expand for juveniles, allowing them to expand their bodies in order to wedge themselves into crevices. There is significant debate about this and even if this is true most theorize that this is not the normal defense mechanism that keeps them in the cracks. The actual defense mechanism is that they use their legs to prop themselves up against the cracks to stay wedged in. In some cases this may vary, but the general consensus is that the expanding plastron seems unlikely since they would not be able to breathe under this circumstance. We could say it has been reported that juveniles may... use their breath to expand their thickness to help wedge themselves in, but The Pancake Tortoise is very unusual looking as far as tortoises go. They can measure up to 7 inches in length, but they appear flat since they are only about 1 to 1.5 inches in height. This flat appearance gives them their name. The carapace of a Pancake Tortoise is golden brown to an olive-brown color with random patterning on each scute, making them very camouflaged in their natural environment. Males have longer and thicker tails than females do, but it is difficult to use this to determine the sex of the tortoise until they have reached five years of age.


The Pancake Tortoise requires a fairly warm environment with various temperatures throughout their enclosure. You can use heating elements such as ceramic heaters and incandescent light bulbs to achieve this. If you live in a warm, dry climate it is best to house them outside when weather permits. You should also provide hiding areas for each tortoise that you own. Pancake Tortoises are most active in the morning and near dusk, and idelly should be fed in the early morning. Ideally, their diet should consist mostly of a variety of grasses and dark leafy green vegetables such as collards and turnip greens. Many also enjoy vegetables such as tomatoes and cucumbers, and some fruits. Melons are often a favorite treat. Pancake Tortoises do not need to drink very often because they get most of the water they need from the food they eat. They can be provided a shallow dish or they can be soaked about once every 10 days or so. Young Pancake Tortoises should be soaked more frequently. Those less than one year old should be soaked about twice a week. If keeping them indoors, rabbit pellets are a good substrate as the tortoise can digest them if the substrate is ingested. Breeding In captivity, Pancake Tortoises will breed at varying times and varying the light cycle simulates the change of seasons that occurs naturally for them. Males will go after the females and then climb up on them. Males usually become especially aggressive towards one another during the breeding season. Females lay one egg in a nest that she digs, but she may do this as often as every month and a half or two months. Incubated eggs will often hatch in 140 to 190 days at a temperature of 86 degrees Fahrenheit. Some breeders have had trouble with infertile eggs, but other breeders have reported that this is the result of an infertile male. Apparently there is a great difference in success rates depending on where the breeding pairs of tortoises originated geographically. Often times adults from different regions will not breed to each other. If the adults are taken from the same region, success rates are generally much higher. This may account for the wide range of reports we have received regarding the ease of breeding this species. Some breeders report effortless breeding programs with numerous young, while others report great difficulty. But because of this we have classified them as relatively difficult, though in some cases, they may even be considered relatively easy.

Pancake Tortoise picture

Found in elevations varying from 100 to 6,000 feet above sea level


The Pancake Tortoise does not fall under what people usually vision in their minds when they think tortoise. Instead you find yourself looking at one of the most unique looking creatures imaginable. The Pancake Tortoise is a climber and a wonderful escape artist. Unless you have an escape proof outdoor enclosure, this tortoise should be kept indoors, with supervised trips outside. They are fast movers, as far as tortoises go, and can disappear if they are not closely guarded. The Pancake Tortoise is quite a social tortoise, so owning more than one of them is recommended, though 2 males should not be housed together because they will most likely behave aggressively towards one another. Keep in mind that these tortoises are from an area where their climbing skills are tested on a daily basis. You will need to supply them with a fairly large and busy enclosure that will allow them to climb around. They are definitely not dull, and they are fun to watch. Pancake tortoises differ from most tortoises in that they are very fast - perhaps the fastest of all the tortoises in the world, and they will often run for cover instead of simply pulling into their shell. The scales on the legs of this tortoise are specially adapted for their survival. The points on their scales grow down and out, making them nearly impossible to extract from any crevices that they may crawl into for protection. They will roll their legs outward locking themselves in.




The Pancake Tortoise is found in East Africa, especially in Tanzania and Kenya. Here they can be found in elevations varying from 100 to 6,000 feet above sea level. The Pancake Tortoise is wonderfully adapted to living in dry, rocky outcropping areas, called "kopjes". They hide in various crevices throughout this terrain and are excellent climbers due to this. Because they arte so flexible, they can usually flip themselves over if they find themselves on their backs.

Common Foods

their diet should consist mostly of a variety of grasses and dark leafy green vegetables such as collards and turnip greens. Many also enjoy vegetables such as tomatoes and cucumbers, and some fruits. Melons are often a favorite treat. Pancake Tortoises

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