Bad Hair Day, Meet Bad Belly Button Day

There’s a new arrival at the zoo. I wanted to blog about it sooner, but I couldn’t. I’ll explain in just a bit. You remember Short Stack, the pancake tortoise that hatched in February?

Baby Pancake Tortoise

Baby Pancake Tortoise

The zoo has two pairs of pancake tortoises. Both laid eggs this winter that were intact and able to be incubated. This species is apparently a little tricky to incubate, and there can be as much as 40 days’ variation in hatch-times, unlike mammal gestation which can often be narrowed down to a two day window. A couple of weeks ago, Short Stack was joined by our second pancake hatching.

Each morning, keepers check the eggs in the incubator for signs if hatching, also known as pipping. The assistant curator knows how much I love this species, so he sent me an email to let me know the little critter was making its way into the world. I missed his email. Because I was already at the zoo. I got pictures. Crazy pictures.

Remember this turtle from last year?

The curve of the carapace (top shell) is incredible, but check out the wrinkles in the plastron (bottom shell)! I love how it has its little nose pulled in. Its face reminds me of Homer Simpson. And those bumpy things on either side are its legs.

See how its shell is folded over like a little burrito?

And how after a few days it looked like this?

It's a Spiny Hill turtle. It took it a couple of days to flatten out.

It’s a Spiny Hill turtle. It took it a couple of days to flatten out.

I thought all flat shelled tortoises and turtles developed in the egg the same way, with the sides folded down. Not Pancake tortoises! They actually develop rolled front to back. Look at how the baby flattens out over a few days’ time.

The reason it has taken so long to blog about this guy is because I don’t write about them until they have been accessioned (added) into the collection. And they can’t be accessioned without complete measurements of their shell. It’s hard to measure something that has been folded up like origami. It normally takes a couple of days for a tortoise to unfold completely. It took this guy about a week before it was flat enough to measure!

Day 5. Still a little wrinkled.

Day 5. Still a little wrinkled.

And here he is about two weeks after hatching, looking all ironed out. Finally.


I call him Squashy.

*** Nancy over at Not Quite Old asked why tortoises have a belly button at all. It was such a good question that I thought I’d answer it for those who are new to reptiles. Animals that develop in an egg are fed during their incubation by their yolk. They are attached to that yolk by an umbilical cord. After they emerge from the egg, the umbilicus closes. Sometimes that process takes a few days, sometimes traces can be seen a year later, but at that point it is nothing more than a mark on the shell.


44 thoughts on “Bad Hair Day, Meet Bad Belly Button Day

  1. Funny. I never even thought that they come out all rolled up and have to flatten out like that. I guess we do too. My son stayed in a little ball all winter after he was born. 😉

    • Excellent question. Critters that grow in an egg are fed during their incubation by the yolk, which is attached to them by an umbilical cord. So many animals actually have a bit of a belly button until all of their yolk is absorbed and the umbilicus closes up. Wild, weird nature.

  2. They are so freaking cute! Love it! I have to show my husband. I am wanting to get a baby tortoise – you can order them online. I might get a Russian or a Greek. We’ve had adult Russians before, but I’ve heard if you raise them from babies they are healthier and you know they aren’t exposed to parasites, etc. And they’re way cuter that way. My favorite babies are the Sulcattas with the beautiful shells, but they get so big. We had one for a while that was given to us, but he was already in bad shape (mouth injury that kept him from eating well) and he died a while back. Beautiful creatures, and the only reptiles I can stand. My husband loves all reptiles, so he takes what he can get. Great pictures, thanks!

  3. That is so cool! I never even stopped to wonder how hard-shelled creatures fit into rounded eggs? Thanks for sharing! I will definitely be showing this to my son when nap time is over!

  4. BEBEH TORTOISES! And Spiny Hill Turtles, which are now my favorite, how spiky are they! LOVE!

    I like that they’re all foldy and then they get straightened up. They are the most wonderful.

    I have to give you all the credit for not just standing over their tanks all day watching them and ignoring all your other work. I’m pretty sure that’s what I would be doing. “But…I know I was supposed to give a tour…but…but…BABY TORTOISES, YOU GUYS!!!”

    • HA! Wednesday, I got to help give a tour, and I walked them straight to the Pancake babies!

      I spend more time than is necessary taking their pictures and watching them eat. Like they’re my kids or something. Actually, I’ve taken more tortoise pics than kid pics this year. Oops!

  5. Pingback: Sunday Link Encyclopedia and Self-Promotion | Clarissa's Blog

  6. These are so wonderful to watch on your blog. It is amazing they are so small and squished up. My kids always loved all the tortoises at our zoo here, I will have to send them this link so they can see how they started.

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