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Pyramiding in Tortoises- Causes and Prevention

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Whitney has raised and bred different species of geckos, snakes, lizards, tortoises, and other exotics since 2003.

Tortoise Shell Pyramiding

Pyramiding tortoise shells is probably the most common problem that keepers have with captive tortoises, as it's seldom seen in wild tortoises. The condition doesn't necessarily hurt the tortoise and isn't a problem unless there are dietary deficiencies that can cause malnutrition and other health problems, but for the most part, it's not appealing and it's caused by improper care.

Basically, when tortoises grow, they should have horizontal shell growth, but when the tortoise doesn't have the proper diet or housing requirements met, the shell growth may become more vertical, causing bumps in the tortoise's shell. Normal growth under good conditions, will lead to a smooth shell, whereas conditions that are not accurate will lead to a bumpy shell.

Pyramiding can be considered a form of metabolic bone disease (MBD), where the scutes on the top of the tortoise shell grow vertical and create that bumpy look. If the pyramiding becomes severe, the top (carapace) and bottom (plastron) can get very soft. A healthy tortoise should have a hard shell that sounds hollow when lightly tapped on. Younger tortoises may have a softer plastron, but that will quickly harden with age. Otherwise, added exercise and outdoor time is needed to harden a soft shell of a pyramiding tortoise.

If you think that your tortoise is becoming bumpy and pyramiding, you need to evaluate your enclosure and diet so that you can stop pyramiding in your tortoise by correcting the cause.

Causes of Pyramiding

Depending on who you ask, you may get a different answer, so you'll find that it can be hard to 100% determine the cause of pyramiding, as no one really 100% knows what causes it. It's thought that pyramiding in tortoises may be caused by one or more of the following factors:

  • Too much protein
  • Too little calcium
  • Too much phosphorus
  • Too many oxalates in diet
  • Too much food
  • Not enough D3
  • Not enough sunlight
  • Not enough calcium
  • Lack of exercise
  • Hydration status (available water)
  • Not enough humidity
  • Grain based diets
  • Lack of fiber

Depending on who you ask, you'll get a different response, so you want to make sure that you are following the care restrictions for the particular species that you have.

Some scientist claim that origin and locale may be a cause, as well as genetics and even naturally domed scutes that resemble pyramiding (potential cause for certain species of tortoises).

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Treat Tortoise Pyramiding - How to Stop Pyramiding

If you spot the early signs of pyramiding, you can change the housing or diet to correct the issue. For those scutes that already exhibit pyramiding, you cannot reverse it, but you can stop future pyramiding from occurring. By correcting dietary restrictions and housing needs, you can stop the vertical growth of the tortoise scutes to ensure that new horizontal growth occurs.

It's ideal to make sure that you 1) don't over feed your tortoise, 2) provide proper humidity and drinking water, and 3) provide outside time for exercise and UV rays.

Prevent Tortoise Pyramiding

Prevention is the best form of treatment for pyramiding. You want to make sure that you do all the proper research before getting a pet tortoise, so that you can prevent any problems with diet or housing. You want to be able to meet all the requirements for a healthy tortoise, so that you can prevent any illnesses or health problems.

Preventing pyramiding is most important, so you want to make sure that your tortoise has the appropriate amount of proteins, calcium, humidity, water, and outside exercise.

If you have a younger tortoise, make sure that the dietary and housing needs are met, as when a tortoise is started out healthy and with proper requirements met, the tortoise will live a longer, happier life.


Whitney (author) from Georgia on December 27, 2012:

"Not enough humidity" is one of the causes on my list. I do agree that humidity is big problem, but there are many different potential causes of pyramiding.

tortfriend on December 27, 2012:

pyramiding in torts is not caused due to the list that you gave above but rather caused due to low humidity levels in the enclosure .Try putting humidity levels up 82%(with heat off-course) and you can avoid pyramiding.

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