10 Fascinating Pancake Tortoise Facts You Need to Know

If you’re a fan of unique and fascinating creatures, the pancake tortoise is definitely worth learning about. These African natives have an impressive skill set that sets them apart from other tortoise species, from their distinctive flattened shells to their remarkable climbing abilities. Despite their small size, they have managed to survive in harsh environments thanks to their agility and specialized adaptations. 

However, their population is now threatened due to various human activities, making it crucial to spread awareness about these amazing creatures. In this article, we’ll explore some interesting facts about pancake tortoises, so get ready to be amazed!

1. Their name comes from their unique shell.

pancake tortoise facts
Their name comes from their unique shell.

The name “pancake tortoise” comes from the unique shape of its shell, which is unusually flat and thin compared to other tortoise species. The shell is not only flatter but also more flexible, which allows the pancake tortoise to wedge itself into narrow rock crevices to escape predators or to protect itself from the harsh African sun. They will inflate up their bodies and push themselves into holes in rocks when seeking to conceal themselves so that they can’t be dragged out.

This flattened shell also helps them to move quickly across rocky terrain, which is essential for their survival in their natural habitat. Overall, the Pancake Tortoise’s unique shell shape is a key characteristic that sets it apart from other tortoise species and makes it one of the most fascinating creatures in the animal kingdom.

2. They live in kopjes.

pancake tortoise facts
They live in kopjes

Pancake tortoises are known for their unique flat and flexible shells, which help them to hide and protect themselves in the rocky terrain where they live. They are particularly adapted to living in rocky outcrops called “kopjes” that are scattered throughout their natural habitat in Tanzania and Kenya in East Africa. These kopje habitats are often located between 100 and 6,000 feet (or 30 to 1,800 meters) above sea level.

Kopjes are rocky outcrops that provide shelter and hiding places for many animals, including the pancake tortoise. The pancake tortoise’s flat and flexible shell allows it to squeeze into narrow crevices between rocks and use its shell as a wedge to prevent predators from pulling it out. This adaptation helps the tortoise to survive in the rocky terrain and avoid being eaten by pancake tortoise predators like birds and mammals.

3. They are threatened with habitat loss and illegal trade.

pancake tortoise facts
They are threatened with habitat loss and illegal trade.

In fact, the illicit pet trade and habitat degradation pose the greatest dangers to pancake tortoises. Pancake tortoises require rocky terrain with crevices and outcroppings for hiding and protection. However, their natural habitat is being destroyed by human activities like logging, agriculture, and urbanization. This destruction of their habitat is a significant threat to the survival of the species.

Moreover, they are highly sought after in the illegal pet trade because of their unique appearance and small size. They are often smuggled out of their native range to be sold as pets in the international market. This trade is unsustainable and threatens the wild population of pancake tortoises.

4. Female pancake tortoises can produce several eggs over a single season.

pancake tortoise facts
Female pancake tortoises can produce several eggs over a single season.

Like many other reptiles, female Pancake tortoises are capable of laying multiple eggs over the course of a single breeding season. Usually, only one egg is applied at a time, but throughout a season, a female may lay several, with eggs appearing every four to eight weeks. This is one of the pancake tortoise adaptations that allow the species to reproduce successfully even in the harsh and unpredictable environment of their natural habitat.

In the wild, breeding usually occurs during the rainy season, which lasts from March to May, although breeding can occur throughout the year in some populations. Females will lay one or two eggs at a time in a shallow burrow or crevice, which they dig using their hind legs.

5. Pancake tortoises run when they get scared.

pancake tortoise facts
Pancake tortoises run when they get scared.

Unlike other slow walk tortoises, pancake tortoises are known for their unique ability to run when they feel threatened or scared. As the fastest tortoise species, this is an important defense mechanism for pancake tortoises because they are relatively small and vulnerable to predators such as birds and mammals. Running allows them to escape quickly and avoid being caught by their predators.

Moreover, they are known as ‘sprinters and hiders .’ When threatened, pancake tortoises can move very quickly for short distances, using their strong legs and flat shell to run and maneuver through rocky terrain. This behavior is also known as “flattening,” and it helps the tortoise to squeeze into narrow crevices and hide from predators.

6. They are excellent climbers.

pancake tortoise facts
They are excellent climbers

The pancake tortoise has excellent climbing skills. Because of the flexibility and lightness of its shell, it may quickly creep into rock crevices when danger approaches. It may readily flee to safety because it is always located close to its rocky home.

In addition, pancake tortoises have a flexible spine that allows them to bend and twist their body as they climb. This flexibility helps them to adjust their center of gravity and maintain their balance as they move through rocky terrain.

7. Pancake tortoises like to live in colonies.

pancake tortoise facts
Pancake tortoises like to live in colonies.

The colonies that pancake tortoises reside in are often separate from one another. They cohabit in the same habitat, and numerous individuals may peacefully coexist in the same fissure. In addition, living in a group makes pancake tortoise breeding easier.

However, during the breeding season in January and February, males may fight. Pancake tortoises are sexually mature at around 3-4 years old, and living in a colony increases their chances of finding a mate. Males will compete for the attention of females, and females will lay their eggs in communal nests.

8. They will aestivate or sleep during the hot summer.

pancake tortoise facts
They will aestivate or sleep during the hot summer.

None of the pancake tortoises hibernate. But, during the sweltering summer, they do aestivate or sleep beneath flattened rocks. Pancake tortoises are native to the arid and semi-arid regions of East Africa, where they experience hot and dry summers with little access to water. To survive these harsh conditions, pancake tortoises have evolved the ability to aestivate, which is a form of dormancy that allows them to conserve water and energy during periods of extreme heat and drought.

While aestivating, pancake tortoises can survive for several months without food or water, relying on the water and nutrients stored in their body. They will emerge from aestivation when the temperatures become more moderate and when they can find water and food sources.

9. Their population is classified as Vulnerable (VU) by IUCN.

pancake tortoise facts
Their population is classified as Vulnerable (VU) by IUCN.

Did you know that The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified pancake tortoise populations as Vulnerable (VU)? One of the primary threats to pancake tortoises is habitat destruction and the illegal pet trade. These can impact reducing their genetic diversity and increase their vulnerability to other threats.

Therefore, Kenya has made it illegal to export pancake tortoises unless the Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources grants authorization in writing. The Wildlife Conservation (National Game) Order in Tanzania safeguards them. The export of these tortoises is also prohibited by the European Union.

10. Their shells flatten as they grow.

pancake tortoise facts
Their shells flatten as they grow.

In fact, the tortoise shell pancake was originally dome-shaped. Like all tortoises, they have a domed shell when they are first hatched. True to its species name, the shell flattens out as the animal grows.

Unlike other tortoises, which have domed shells that grow taller as they age, pancake tortoises have shells that grow wider and flatter. This allows them to squeeze into tight spaces and use their shells as a form of protection against predators.

What kind of habitat is best for a pancake tortoise in captivity?

pancake tortoise facts
What kind of habitat is best for a pancake tortoise in captivity

The ideal enclosure for a Pancake Tortoise should be spacious, with enough room for them to move around and explore. The enclosure should also be well-ventilated and have a basking area with a heat lamp or other suitable heat source. The temperature in the enclosure should be maintained at around 85-90 degrees Fahrenheit (29-32 degrees Celsius) during the day, with a cooler area for them to retreat to at night.

In captivity, it is crucial to provide a habitat that mimics the natural environment of Pancake Tortoises as closely as possible. This means providing a warm and dry enclosure with plenty of hiding places and suitable substrate. A mix of sand, soil, and rocks can provide a suitable substrate for them to burrow and hide in. The enclosure should also have plenty of hiding places, such as rocks or logs, where the tortoise can retreat when they feel threatened or stressed.

What are some common health issues that pancake tortoises may experience?

pancake tortoise facts
What are some common health issues that pancake tortoises may experience

Like all animals, pancake tortoises can be prone to specific health issues. According to our experts, here are some common health issues that they may experience:

  • Respiratory infections: Pancake tortoises can develop respiratory infections if they are kept in environments that are too humid or if they are exposed to drafts or cold temperatures. Symptoms of respiratory infections include runny nose, difficulty breathing, wheezing, and lethargy.
  • Metabolic bone disease: This is a common health issue in captive pancake tortoises that do not receive enough calcium or vitamin D3. Symptoms of the metabolic bone disease include soft or deformed shells, swollen joints, and difficulty moving. To prevent this disease, it’s essential to provide your Pancake Tortoise with a balanced diet that includes calcium and vitamin D3 supplements.
  • Parasites: Pancake tortoises can be susceptible to parasitic infections, including internal parasites such as worms and external parasites such as mites. You should maintain good hygiene in the enclosure and make sure the tortoise is not exposed to other animals or contaminated soil.
  • Digestive problems: Poor diet, dehydration, or stress can cause digestive issues in Pancake Tortoises. Symptoms may include diarrhea, loss of appetite, and lethargy. To prevent digestive problems, provide a balanced diet that includes plenty of fiber, and make sure the tortoise has access to clean water.
  • Shell injuries: Pancake Tortoises may injure their shells if they are kept in enclosures with sharp or rough surfaces. Injuries to the shell can lead to infections or other health issues if not treated promptly. To prevent it, make sure the enclosure has a smooth substrate that does not have any sharp edges or rough surfaces.

Do pancake tortoises require any special housing or temperature requirements?

pancake tortoise facts
Do pancake tortoises require any special housing or temperature requirements

Pancake tortoises are some of the most unique tortoises in the world. They have a distinct flattened shape and a lovely patterned shell. As such, they make great pets for those looking for something a bit different. But do these tortoises require any special housing or temperature requirements?

The answer is yes. Pancake tortoises require specific housing and temperature requirements to ensure their health and well-being. Here are some key considerations:

  • Enclosure: Pancake tortoises are active climbers and require a tall enclosure with plenty of vertical space. The enclosure should be at least 2 feet high and have branches or rocks for the tortoise to climb on. A hide box should also be provided for the tortoise to retreat to when feeling stressed.
  • Substrate: The substrate for a pancake tortoise should be a mixture of sand and soil or a substrate specifically designed for tortoises. The substrate should be deep enough to allow for burrowing and should be kept clean and dry.
  • Diet: In terms of diet, pancake tortoises require a varied and balanced diet that includes a mix of greens, vegetables, and fruits. It is essential to provide fresh, clean water at all times, as well as a calcium supplement to ensure their shells remain strong and healthy.
  • Temperature: Pancake tortoises require a basking spot with a temperature range of 95-100°F during the day, with a cooler area of around 80°F. At night, the temperature should be allowed to drop to around 70-75°F. It is vital to provide a temperature gradient within the enclosure so that the tortoise can move to different areas to regulate its body temperature.
  • Lighting: Pancake tortoises require UVB lighting to help them metabolize calcium and maintain healthy shells. A UVB bulb should be provided for 10-12 hours a day and should be replaced every 6-12 months.
  • Humidity: Pancake tortoises require a dry environment with low to moderate humidity. Target humidity should be between 50-60% during the day and up to 80% at night. The enclosure should have good ventilation to prevent excess moisture from building up.

How do pancake tortoises defend themselves from predators?

pancake tortoise facts
How do pancake tortoises defend themselves from predators

Pancake tortoises are unique in their ability to defend themselves from predators. The most unique defense mechanism of the pancake tortoise is its flat and flexible shell. These tortoises have flattened shells that allow them to wedge into rock crevices and wedge themselves in tight places, making them difficult for predators to reach. The shell also has a dark and mottled pattern, making it difficult for predators to spot.

In addition to their shells, pancake tortoises also use their size to their advantage. These small tortoises can hide in small places, and because of their relatively small size, they can often go unnoticed by potential predators.

Summarize of the key points.

  • Pancake tortoises are a species of small, flat-shelled tortoise that are native to East Africa. 
  • They are known for their unique shell, which is flattened and flexible, allowing them to squeeze into narrow crevices and hide from predators. 
  • Pancake tortoises are excellent climbers and can scale steep, rocky terrain with ease. 
  • They live in colonies in rocky habitats called kopjes and are primarily herbivores, feeding on a variety of plants and vegetation. 
  • Pancake tortoises are vulnerable to habitat destruction and the illegal pet trade, and their populations are declining. 


Pancake tortoises are fascinating species with unique adaptations that allow them to thrive in their rocky habitat. However, they are facing several threats, including habitat destruction and the illegal pet trade, which are causing their populations to decline. As responsible pet owners and conservationists, it is vital to understand their specific care requirements and work to protect their natural habitats to ensure their survival. Hopefully, our fascinating pancake tortoise facts can open your eyes and broaden your knowledge, making you love these creatures more and more!


How long do pancake tortoises typically live in captivity?

Pancake tortoises typically live up to 50 years in captivity when properly cared for. Meanwhile, they can live up to 35 years in the wild. This is a lengthy lifespan for a small tortoise and is due to the species’ natural hardiness and adaptability to captivity.

Are pancake tortoises good pets, and do they have any special personality traits?

Yes, pancake tortoises are recommended as pets. They are very easy to care for in a home environment. They simply live a very long time, which is probably the worst aspect of it. You’ll therefore be working on this for a while.

How often should I feed my pet pancake tortoise?

Pancake tortoises that are young and growing should have daily feedings that are as large as possible. To prevent obesity as they get older, this should be limited to a daily serving size that is around the same as their shell. It also allows time for the tortoise to digest its food, which is vital for its health.

Are pancake tortoises good pets for beginners?

While pancake tortoises can make exciting and unique pets, it is essential to note that they require specialized care and a specific habitat to thrive. They are not recommended for inexperienced pet owners or those who are not prepared to provide the necessary care. Additionally, it is vital to only obtain pancake tortoises from reputable breeders to avoid contributing to the illegal pet trade. Research their care requirements and ensure that you can provide a suitable and safe environment before bringing one into your home.

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