Pancake tortoise

Malacochersus tornieri

TAXONOMY

Testudo tornieri Siebenrock, 1903, Busisi, Tanzania. No subspecies are recognized.

H Testudo hermanni H Malacochersus tornieri

OTHER COMMON NAMES English: African pancake tortoise.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

This is a small tortoise (up to 7 in [18 cm] carapace length) with no plastral or carapacial hinge, a very low, flexible shell with great reduction in bones (unique among all tortoises), and a nuchal scute present.

DISTRIBUTION

Kenya and Tanzania in East Africa. HABITAT

Rock outcrops in savannas and scrublands. BEHAVIOR

These tortoises are well-adapted to their rocky habitat. They are amazingly adept climbers and, when disturbed, quickly enter rock crevices and wedge themselves in place using their claws and sturdy limbs. They also estivate under rocks during hot, dry weather. Pancake tortoises also are known to bask.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

This species is herbivorous, feeding on grasses, succulents, and leaves.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Courtship has been observed in captivity in January and February and consists of the male trailing the female, biting at her limbs, climbing on her back, and biting at her head. Mating has been recorded only in December in the field. Nesting in the wild apparently occurs in July or August. A single brittle-shelled, elongate egg (1.7-1.9 in [44-48 mm] by 1-1.1 in [26-28 mm]) is generally laid per clutch, although two are produced on occasion. Captives produce up to six clutches per year, but nesting in the wild is unknown. Incubation requires 113-221 days.

CONSERVATION STATUS

This species is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. Removal for the pet trade and habitat alteration for agriculture pose the greatest threats to this tortoise.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

These tortoises have been heavily exploited for the pet trade. ♦

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