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Anna, Reptile Expert, Biologist
Category: Reptile
Satisfied Customers: 10817
Experience:  Have owned turtles, snakes, amphibians, and lizards. Study and provide habitat for wild herps.
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I have an adult African Pancake tortoise, in a 40 gal. glass

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I have an adult African Pancake tortoise, in a 40 gal. glass enclosure with a screen top and broad spectrum light. I live in the Sonoran Desert of AZ, so humidity in my home stays low. My tortoise, Sunshine, while we are super fond of her, is pretty inactive, so we would like to add another critter to her enclosure. I'm reluctant to add another pancake, because they are so expensive. I'm thinking of adding a desert side striped chameleon. What would be your opinion on that? If this isn't a good idea, do you have any other suggestions? Thank you for taking my question.
Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Reptile
Expert:  Anna replied 2 years ago.
Hello and welcome,

Thank you for requesting me. A chameleon is not a good idea, and I'll explain the reasons why when i actually answer your question. First, I'd like to try to figure out why your tortoise may be so inactive. Some additional information will be useful.

What are the temperatures under the basking light and on the cool side of the cage?

Do you happen to know the brand of the broad-spectrum light you have? How old is the bulb?

What do you normally feed Sunshine? Any supplements?

Thank you.


Customer: replied 2 years ago.

You may have hit on something. She seemed more active before I replaced her bulb. That was about 6 months ago. I don't have the box, but we noticed after putting it in that it didn't seem as hot as her old one, and I just checked the temp under it, at her level, it read 81 degrees. I feed her romaine and carrots. I tried her on several other greens, veggies, and fruit in the beginning, but she didn't touch them. The romaine is sprinkled with Sticky Tongue Farms Miner-all. I have read that pancakes are social. I'm hoping you will have insight if there may be something wrong with her or how I'm caring for her. Aside from that, would it be best to just get another pancake? And hope they're not both male!?


Expert:  Anna replied 2 years ago.
Thank you for getting back to me. I’m working on your answer and will post it as soon as I have it typed up. Please don’t respond to this post as that can lock me out of the question. I’ll be back shortly.

Expert:  Anna replied 2 years ago.
Thank you for waiting. First, I'll explain why it's never a good idea to mix species. It would be nearly impossible to provide the optimal conditions for more than one species in the same enclosure. Secondly, various reptiles carry different bacteria. Each species tolerates the bacteria familiar to their kind without getting sick, but when housed with another species, illness can result from those bacteria. So, if you want to add a second inhabitant, another pancake tortoise would be best.

The most common cause of inactivity (and illness) in reptiles is incorrect husbandry. I suspect you got your information on care from a pet store. Most people do. While we should be able to rely on such information, unfortunately, it is often wrong. They sell people the wrong lighting, advise the wrong foods, and often don't know the correct temperatures for the various reptiles. After months or years of things not being quite right, the animal becomes ill. Almost everything you have been told is wrong, and i suspect that is why Sunshine is inactive. Even though you have been trying so hard to keep her healthy, when you didn't have correct information to begin with, things are going wrong. I'm going to give you some measures to take.

Tortoises need two types of lighting to stay healthy. From what you have described, you don't actually have either kind. The basking light provides a temperature gradient from a very hot basking area to a cooler side. The air temperature in the coolest side of the tank should be around 75 *F to 80*F. Over the basking area there should be some sort of lamp that will take a 40-60 watt incandescent bulb (or you can buy a ceramic light fixture made just for reptiles). If you live in an area that has farm stores, you can buy a metal light fixture made to keep baby chicks warm for just a few dollars. Don't buy the accompanying bulb, however. You need an ordinary incandescent bulb in the basking light. Hardware stores sell similar fixtures as work lights. The basking area should be kept at 85-90*F (29 to 32*C). Use a digital probe thermometer to be sure. You can adjust the temperature by raising or lowering the light fixture. The lights that come with the covers on aquariums are not suitable for tortoises. At 81*F in her warm area, Sunshine is freezing cold. It's normal for her to be inactive at the temperature. I'm surprised she will eat at all.

It's extremely important that you buy an additional light that produces UVB rays. A Reptisun 10.0 is a good brand that does. If you choose another brand be absolutely certain it provides UVB rays. Don't take the word of pet store personnel, but read it for yourself. Full-spectrum, broad spectrum, DayGlo, SunGlo, UV, or UVA are not the same thing. I'm putting a lot of emphasis on this because it's crucial to Sunshine's health. Without this light, Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) will develop because she won't be able to produce vitamin D. Vitamin supplements are not a good replacement for the proper lighting. In fact, supplemental D3 has been linked to kidney failure and neurological disorders. I would discontinue it at once. MBD causes a very slow and painful death. UVB bulbs must be replaced every six months as they lose their effectiveness after that, even though they may still look fine. Light that comes through a window isn't sufficient because the glass filters out most of the rays turtles need to stay healthy. To prevent MBD, tortoises do also need calcium. The easiest way to provide it is to place a cuttlebone in the tank. Cuttlebones are sold in bird departments of pet stores. don't use the holder that comes with it, just place the bone itself in the tank. Sunshine should be allowed to consume as much cuttlebone as she wants.

Tortoises need a high fiber diet. Greens are important, but greens alone don't contain enough fiber. Hay and grasses should be a big part of the diet. If you don't spray your yard, and can supervise well, take Sunshine outside to graze. she may like to eat grass, weeds, and flowers. Letting her sample such a buffet may encourage her to eat a greater variety of foods. If going outdoors isn't an option, buy some tasty varieties of hay. The one available at this site is put together especially for tortoises. On the left side of that page, more varieties are listed. All would be good.

Of course, greens such as dandelion, collards, and turnip greens are also good, but Sunshine really needs the fiber found in hays and grasses. You can read more about diet and care at the following site:

I recommend making all the appropriate changes as soon as possible. I'll also give you a first aid measure to take. Buy some Pedialyte (yes, the kind for human infants). Prepare a shallow bath consisting of 1/2 water and 1/2 Pedialyte. Soak sunshine for about 20 to 30 minutes each day for the next several days. Reptiles can absorb the electrolytes and fluids through their vents (where droppings pass out), so make the water deep enough to cover the vent. Be sure to supervise closely.

I hope the low temperatures are all that is wrong, but we do have to be aware that Sunshine may actually be ill. If her activity level doesn't improve within a few days of providing all the needed changes, it would be best to have her examined by a reptile vet. These links will help you find a vet if you need one:

I wouldn't get another tortoise until you're sure sunshine is healthy. If you do get one, it's important to quarantine it for about two weeks to be sure it is healthy. Most Pancake tortoises are wild-caught and often carry parasites. A new tortoise should be examined by a vet before being introduced to the habitat.

If you have more questions, let me know in a REPLY. i hope Sunshine will be just fine.


My goal is to provide you with excellent service – if you feel you have gotten anything less, please reply back, I am happy to address follow-up questions. Please remember to rate my service only after you have all the information you need. Thank you!

Anna, Reptile Expert, Biologist
Category: Reptile
Satisfied Customers: 10817
Experience: Have owned turtles, snakes, amphibians, and lizards. Study and provide habitat for wild herps.
Anna and other Reptile Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 2 years ago.


Thank you so much for your help. I immediately implemented your suggestions. I will watch her for a few days for improvement, and if that doesn't happen, take her to a reptile vet. My son and I thank you for your very, very helpful answer!


Expert:  Anna replied 2 years ago.
You're very welcome, Rebecca. I hope she will be fine.


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