Pancake Care Sheet

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Active Member
5 Year Member
Nov 30, 2012
Location (City and/or State)
Auburn, Alabama
Pancake Tortoises Malacochersus tornieri

History: Pancake tortoises are found along the eastern side of Africa, their range starts from Kenya and goes all the way down to Southern Africa.

Natural Environment: They make their homes in rock crevices known as kopjes along rocky hill sides. The plants found in their range include low growing bushes, scrubby plants, grasses, and sparse to more dense trees as you move along their range. Soil is loose to gravely depending on range location.

Group Living: These tortoise can live fine in a group with other Pancake Tortoises. Always pay attention to each individual tortoises behavior, some might not get along, so be sure to watch your tortoises when adding a new member into a group. There must be enough hides and the ratio below needs to be followed to help prevent any fighting between individuals.

Diseases: This species is a hardy one and diseases or parasite overloads are not that common with them. If you suspect though that your pancake might be sick, please consult with your reptile vet.

Adult Care

Sexing: Ratio of adult tortoises should always be 1 male to 2 females. You can easily and accurately sex your pancake at about 3 inches in size or 7.62cm. Look at their tail, males with have a longer tail thicker tail with a slit near the end. Females will have a short skinnier tail with a big star cloacal opening taking up most of the tail.

Male: Pancake male

Female: Pancake female

Lighting: Full spectrum sunlight can easily be achieved by using a Mercury Vapor Bulb, Watt numbers will be different by the brand, but 125W or close to it is great. Bulb should be at least 2ft or 61cm from the substrate surface with a basking spot of 108F or 42C. Trips outside if you do not have an outdoor enclosure are fine as well, just monitor your tortoises closely.

Temperature: Ambient temperature should go from the high of the basking spot to a low of 74F or 23C, it can be cooler in the hides. You just want to avoid ambient temperatures from falling below 64F or 17C, this can cause health problems.

Humidity: Adults require no humidity.

Substrate: A mix of soil, peat moss and sand works great for them. Substrate should be loose enough for digging into. I cover majority of the substrate with uneven slate stone with one area being left open for females to bury eggs in. The stone I make really uneven, this is a species that is great at climbing and needs to have their muscles exercised properly to help prevent weak leg muscles and walking on their feet incorrectly from weak leg muscles. This also provides some enrichment as well by mimicking their natural environment. I make my enclosure bioactive by keeping pill bugs in there, with that I do not have to do substrate change outs at all, just spot cleaning. 20170715 123031

Hides: You should always have 2 hides per tortoises. This is a species that lives in rocky crags. Building tiered hides with slate stone is quite easy and the multiple levels provide multiple hides.

Feeding: A water bowl that an adult can easily soak in should always be provided and kept far enough away from the food bowl to help lower instances of them defecating in the water bowl. This species loves to soak and poop in their water, be prepared for multiple times a day cleaning of their water bowl. Feeding should be done every day. Feed mixed spring greens and about once to twice a week feed them a mix of Mazuri tortoise food and Zoomed Grassland mix. For different types of weeds you can use as a reference, and if you are not sure ask on the forum for help. Feed treats about once or twice a month. Wild caught species might “hibernate” during the winter months. This is not a true hibernation, they just slow down on food consumption and prefer grasses to greens during this time, remember in Africa this is the dry season and grasses are more predominant and the weather does get cooler. Do not be surprised if they go a month without eating during the winter time, this might naturally faze out of them or not, but still provide food each day during this time. Dust food about once a week with calcium powder, offer up properly sanitized egg shells for them to munch on when they want as another source of calcium. Tortoises are more likely to eat egg shells than a cuttlefish bone, since they encounter egg shells in the wild.

Outdoor Enclosure: Enclosure should be large and deep enough that multiple rocky hides can be build. If birds of prey are not an issue you can have an open top enclosure, if they are a screentop using hardwire cloth, as shown in my images, can be used. Painting blue is optional, especially if you live in the south, helps keep the Carpenter bees away.
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My outdoor enclosure recently after being moved and re-planted.
20170619 185953 Re-Planted enclosure, mine focuses a lot on having food to graze since this enclosure is designed for them to be outdoors for the whole summer.
IMG 9653
A different style of outdoor enclosure, image credit to @Berkeley

Breeding: Females should lay in the soil spot provided to by you, mine like to lay their eggs underneath stones by their soil spot.Eggs should be removed soon after laying. Place them facing the same way up as you found them dug in the soil, if they were laid vertical like some of mine have been, do not worry, a few hours after laying the eggs can be moved around without causing harm, but you still want to minimize jostling the eggs. You can place them on the soil they were laid in or vermiculite, or whatever you prefer to hatch eggs on. Pancakes are Temperature Sex Dependent. Females hatch at 87F or 30C to 92F or 33C Males hatch from 84F or 28C to 77F or 25C. 85F or 29C to 86F or 30C produces a mixed batch. They have not humidity requirements, some people have success hatching at 80% humidity to 0% humidity. I do 0% and have had great success. They can incubate anywhere from 90 days to 280 days, just keep waiting until the flies carry the eggs away, you never know with them if they are fertile or not. Just wait and hope for the best. As soon as the babies hatch, place them in a separate container with a moist paper towel for a full 24Hrs to help allow the yolk to fully absorb and the shell to flatten out.

20170130 223359
My incubator with all my eggs in, note the two discoloured ones next to the white ones, those eggs unfortunately died. The rest are good, I used the same soil from the enclosure.
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A hatchling flattening out and absorbing their yolk for a 24hr cycle in the incubator.

Hatchling and Juvenile Care

Lighting: Hatchlings and Juveniles require the same full spectrum sunlight as the adults, but for hatchling you want a distance of 2f or 61cm from your substrate surface. And just like the adults, trips outside benefit them as well.

Humidity: Like all baby tortoises, hatchling to juvenile pancakes need humidity to help promote healthy shell growth. During the day the ambient humidity for my baby pancake tortoises gets to about 50%-60% and at night it rises to about 80%. Juveniles can stay at the same humidity levels until they are about 4-5 inches or 10-12cm then you can start lowering your levels. Keeping them at that humidity range during their quick growing periods will help promote smooth shell growth. Moss is also great at keeping humidity up, I place the moss around the enclosure and in the hides.

Temperature: Hatchlings can handle the same ambient temperatures as their adult counterparts. At night though I do try to keep it from falling below 68F or 20C, this is to prevent respiratory infections from occurring by too low of a temperature and too high of a humidity.

Substrate: A mix of topsoil, peat moss and a little bit of sand is ideal for the babies, this helps retain moisture quite well. I like to cover my majority if not all of my soil though with slate stone, and to make it slightly uneven, so they have to climb over things to get around. Making them climb will help prevent weak leg muscles or walking on the feet wrong. They also do not need to come into contact with the soil all that much since this species prefers to hide in rock crevices rather than dig themselves into the soil. The stone layer also helps slow down evaporation and keeps humidity in for longer. If you have a bioactive enclosure (ie pill bugs and other insects that eat detritus and clean up left over food), than soil changes really only need to happen every 8 months. If you do not have a bioactive enclosure then about 5 months will be good if you maintain spot cleaning of wasted food and poop.

20170716 151634
My babies enclosure, with fresh water and spring greens with reptivite dusting.

Hides: Hatchlings tortoises need plenty of hides to feel comfortable. They are also great climbers like the adults. So for my hatchling I provide them with a layered slate stone hide for them to climb on and in. This promotes healthy muscle development and wears down their nails to prevent overgrowing. It also comes close to mimicking their natural habitat in the wild. I tend to make it two to three tier for their hides. The bottom one I make large enough that they babies can fit two in next to each other and stack at least another baby on top of them.

Feeding: Water bowls deep enough for a hatchling or juvenile to soak in. Feeding is the exact same as the adults.

Outdoor enclosure: For hatchlings I am incredibly reluctant to leave them outside and that is because I cannot adequately maintain my humidity levels for their shell growth, and there comes the risk of being exposed to other things that can cause harm to them, such as ants. Juveniles are fine to be taken out during the day and brought back in for the night. Enclosure setup should be the same as for the adults

***In summary this care sheet is to be used to help you get started with your Pancake tortoises and then for you to build upon it. There are variances in wild caught individuals based on their range and habitat type. So each species might require something a little different than another.***
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