Geographical Range Kenya and Tanzania (in eastern Africa)
Habitat Rocky areas in savannahs and scrublands
Scientific Name Malacochersus tornieri
Conservation Status Threatened

What's about seven inches long but just one-and-a-half inches high? A really big pancake? No! It's the African pancake tortoise. Unlike most tortoises, the pancake tortoise doesn't have a high, rigid carapace (upper shell). Instead, its carapace is extremely flattened, and it's also very flexible (because the underlying bone isn't solid, but instead has many openings).

It may look odd, but the pancake tortoise is perfectly adapted to its rocky habitat. With its flat, flexible shell this reptile can squeeze into rocky crevices -- great places to hide from predators or cool off during the heat of the day. And the tortoise has strong limbs that it uses to wedge itself into the rocks. Its powerful limbs are also great for climbing around the uneven terrain. And the pancake tortoise is suited to its habitat in yet another way: its brown carapace (upper shell) has variable patterns, helping the animal blend into its surroundings.

The tortoise's camouflaged appearance is particularly useful when it goes on foraging missions. This is an herbivore, a strict vegetarian that eats various kinds of grasses and leaves. The pancake tortoise does most of its feeding early in the morning.

This tortoise becomes more active during the breeding season. In the wild, mating happens around December, with nesting in July or August. A female lays (usually) just one egg at a time, and buries it under three to four inches of soil. The egg hatches some four to seven months later.

African pancake tortoises are popular in the pet trade, and many wild populations have been plundered by collectors. The animals also suffer from habitat loss. Combine these problems with the species' low reproductive rate, and it's no wonder that pancake tortoises are having trouble recovering in the wild. You can do your part to help: don't buy a pancake tortoise for a pet.

Did You Know?

Unlike most tortoises, the African pancake tortoise doesn't respond to danger by withdrawing into its shell. Instead, it heads in the direction of a nearby rocky crevice and makes a run for it -- literally: this is arguably the fastest tortoise in the world, thanks to its "airy" bone structure.