Pancake turtles don’t eat pancakes. They received their name because of the shape of their shells, which are flatter than ordinary turtles. These tortoises are unique in that their shells are not only flat, but also thin and flexible thanks to openings in the bones of their shells. Read on to find out more about this unique and interesting reptile!


Quick Facts about Tortoise Pancakes

Species Name:Malacochersus tonieri
Treatment Level:Easy to Medium
Temperature:70-75°F and 100-108°F
Behavior:Hiker, active, enjoy sunbathing
Color Shape:Tawny until golden brown
Lifetime:25+ years
Size:6 to 7 inches
Diet:Dried & fresh grass, green, hay
Minimum Tank Size:40+ Gallons
Tank Setting:Pile of stones, bark, coconut mat, rabbit pellet
Suitability:Mostly solitary creatures

Pancake Tortoise Overview

turtle pancakes on the rock_Jay Ondreicka_Shutterstock

Pancake turtles are native to southern Kenya and northern and eastern Tanzania but were also introduced to Zimbabwe. Its habitat in the wild ranges from grasslands to savannas in tropical and subtropical areas as well as rocky hills and terrain in dry scrub areas.

The bushes and rock piles inhabited by these turtles can be 100 to 6,000 feet above sea level. The rocky outcrop that pancake tortoises like is called kopjeswhich are generally small rocky hills found in the African prairies.

Pancake turtles come from species Malacochersus tonieri and is actually the last surviving member of Malacochersus class. They are also called soft shell tortoises, slit tortoises, Tornier tortoises, and African pancake tortoises.

These turtles are diurnal, so they are active in the morning, afternoon, and evening. They spend time sunbathing, feeding, and exploring their habitat, but usually only spend about an hour being active once out of their shelter.

How Much Do Tortoise Pancakes Cost?

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These little tortoises are more expensive than many other species because they are rather rare and definitely unique. Prices can range from $500 to $1,700, depending on age, size, and gender.

The most important thing is that you buy your pancakes from a reputable breeder and make sure they are captive-bred. In the wild, the pancake tortoise is listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature 2019 Red List “Highly Endangered”.

Typical Behavior & Temperament

This is where the turtle pancakes really shine. They are not only unique because of the shape and flexibility of their shells, but also because of their behavior.

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We are all familiar with how tortoises and tortoises pull their heads and feet into their shells to protect themselves from predators. Pancake tortoises are actually fleeing the threat and tuck themselves in a nearby crevice from their rocky habitation.

These tortoises are quite friendly and intelligent with no known aggression and will learn to recognize you and may even enjoy the occasional head rub.

Appearance & Variety

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As already discussed, the most unique and distinctive feature of this turtle is its flat shell. There are small gaps between the plates on these shells, which allows them to fit into the rock pile they call home.

The shell of an adult pancake averages about 7 inches with a 1-inch tail, and may weigh about 1 pound.

The shell is usually yellowish brown with dark brown rings, and each plate on the shell has a different pattern. The legs and tail are also yellowish-brown, tan, or tan.


How to Take Care of a Pancake Tortoise

Habitat, Tank Conditions & Settings

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A terrarium or outdoor enclosure, if you live in a climate suitable for your tortoise, will work well. A well-ventilated 40 gallon terrarium and a 4′ x 4′ outdoor enclosure per adult tortoise that is at least 1 foot tall should be the minimum. Add an additional 2 square feet for each additional tortoise in the cage.

The pancake tortoise is an excellent climber, so you need to make sure that the top of its habitat has screens to stop it climbing out or from predators in. These tortoises do not hibernate, so be sure to bring them inside when the weather gets cooler.

You should also provide a place for your pancake turtle to hide and climb. Build your own rock pile (shales are best because they are flat and easy to stack) or purchase a faux nest that can serve as both a shelter and a sunbathing area. Two different hiding places in your turtle’s enclosure are best. Usually, one in a cool area and another in a warm part of the terrarium (more on temperatures later).


Turtles love to burrow, so the substrate should be relatively loose. There are various materials you can use that are suitable for your tortoise. Suitable materials may include:

  • Crushed oyster shell

  • rabbit pellets

  • Tree skin

  • Coconut bed

  • Potting soil (no pesticides, manure, or fertilizer)

Water and Humidity

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First, you will need to provide a small bowl of water for the pancake turtle, which is large enough to allow your pet to soak. However, be prepared to clean these bowls several times each day as they tend to pee in them, and the water should always be clean. Of course, this also makes cleaning the enclosure easier in the long run. It will help if you keep the food and water bowls far from each other.

Humidity is not a factor for adult tortoises, so misting in the enclosure is not necessary.

Temperature and Lighting

Temperature is very important for turtle pancakes. They need a cold side and a warm side in the same cage as they need to regulate their own body temperature. Cooler temperatures should be in the vicinity of 70° to 75°F, and you will need to set up a hotspot, preferably with a ceramic heat emitter. It must raise the temperature in the place by 100° to 108°F and must keep it on at all times.

There are lamps on the market that combine heat, UVA, and UVB into one. Mercury vapor lamps work best and place the bulb about 2 feet from the bottom of the terrarium. Lights should be left on for 12 hours and off for another 12 hours to mimic the natural day and night cycle.

Are Pancake Tortoises Friendly to Other Pets?

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Pancake turtles live in small colonies and will sometimes share the same small spaces or crevices, but otherwise, the colonies are isolated from each other. The pancake tortoise is not aggressive, and although it bites, is harmless, so it gets along well with other tortoises. As long as there was enough food for everyone, they would hang out in groups.

What Feeds Your Pancake Tortoise?

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Pancake tortoises generally graze on a variety of grasses in the wild and will thrive on fresh grass, greens and greens. You can give them hay, endive, kale, dandelions, carrots, pumpkins, leaves, and so on. Their diet should be supplemented with multivitamins and calcium.

You can give them the occasional fruit as a gift but generally only in small quantities once a month. If you keep them outdoors, you can even let them graze in your yard, as long as you don’t spray them with any pesticides. They enjoy dandelion flowers and keep in mind that they need a lot of calcium so expect to add a reptile calcium supplement with every meal.

Keeping Your Tortoise Pancakes Healthy

All of the above are very important to keep your pancake turtle healthy. The right gradient temperature, two hiding places, proper lighting, substrate and food, and keeping the water clean are all ways to keep your turtle healthy and happy.

If your tortoise is active throughout the day, moves quickly, and its shell is smooth and sturdy, and there are no signs of injury or illness, your tortoise is in good health.

These turtles are known to live to be at least 20 years old, and some even live easily over 35! Turtles are truly long-term commitment pets!


turtle pancakes_Piero Di Maria_Pixabay

Pancake turtles in the wild tend to breed from January to February, but turtles in captivity can breed all year round. Male tortoises will fight for breeding opportunities with females, and unsurprisingly, the larger males usually succeed.

Females lay only 1 egg at a time in loose sandy soil where they incubate for 4 to 6 months at a temperature of about 86° F. When the young turtles hatch, they are only about 1 to 2 inches across but are fully independent.

Incubating eggs at 86° to 89° F will work, but if you induce cooler temperatures, chances are the hatchlings will become males, and higher temperatures will produce females.tortoise-divider

Is Tortoise Pancakes Right For You?

Pancake turtles are very interesting reptiles, especially compared to other turtles. It’s not every day that you see a turtle running to safety instead of pulling itself into its shell! Again, make sure you only buy one that was born in captivity.

If you’re looking for a tortoise that can run and climb and will recognize you and appreciate a good neck scratching, check out the pancake turtle.

Featured Image Credit: Nick Greaves, Shutterstock