Below are examples of pyramiding from an
Pyramiding is irregular growth, often characterized by a shell (carapace and plastron)
which is lumpy, and sometimes grows in irregular, unnatural directions.
Unfortunately, not only the "outside" of
the tortoise is affected. Tortoises which suffer from
pyramiding may also have other health problems. Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD),
bladder stones, weak bone structure, and renal problems are all too common in
tortoises which have suffered from the long term effects of an improper diet and inadequate sunlight.
"Pyramiding" got it's name because of the
almost triangular shaped upward growth
to the turtle's shell, as it often resembles Egyptian pyramids.
Pyramiding can be caused by any or all of the following:
A) A diet which contains animal proteins (many tortoises are vegetarian animals, and eat NO meat whatsoever.)
B) A diet which contains a high percentage of vegetable proteins, even for vegetarian tortoises.
C) Not enough calcium in the diet. Calcium is very important for proper growth!
D) Little or no exposure to natural sunlight. Nothing can imitate natural sunlight.
E) Inadequate intake of Vitamin D3 in the diet and/or too much Phosphorus.
Maintaining a Calcium/Phosphorus ratio of at least 2:1 is crucial.
Humidity also plays an important role. Even Desert Tortoise (Gopherus) burrows have a slightly elevated humidity. Humidity levels vary by species. Knowing species requirements is extremely important!
The "pyramiding you see in
these photos cannot be healed or repaired.If caught very early, the
effects of pyramiding can be kept from progressing by offering a correct
and balanced diet.Tortoises and turtles have
very specific dietary needs. Giving a juvenile tortoise the proper
dietary start can help to ensure that it will live a much healthier and
This Sulcata tortoise has been fed
an inadequate diet, and was kept in substandard conditions throughout it's life. It was eventually turned into a
tortoise rescue center. The pyramiding and deformities
caused by a lifetime of inadequate care resulted
in severe (and permenent) disfigurement.
This is another view
of the same tortoise. This poor fella (Geochelone sulcata) now requires
hand feeding and specialized care for the rest of it's life.It's plastron (bottom shell)
is also so grossly disfigured and upturned, that it is unable reach to
the ground with it's head to graze normally.It also has poor bone density
and muscle tone, as can be seen in it's front legs.
With all we know about tortoises
and turtles today, there is simply no excuse for this. It isn't at
all difficult or expensive to keep a tortoise on a good, healthy diet. Those caring for chelonia
need to stop giving in to our "human" urges to feed them unnecessary food
items which are not only unhealthy, but are potentially harmful.
Yet another Geochelone sulcata with both pyramiding and Metabolic Bone Disease.
Notice that in addition to the pyramided appearance, the center scutes of the carapace "dent" inward toward it's spine.
This is a direct result of too little calcium, too much Phosphorus, lack of natural sunlight and/or Vitamin D3 in the diet.
Two male Testudo ibera which were
fed an improper diet, and housed in less than adequate conditions for many,
Same tortoises, as viewed from the rear.
Despite intense veterinary management and supervision by the person who adopted these tortoises, the tortoise
on the right eventually died. Although pyramiding and related health problems can be slowed or halted from
further progression, once the damage is done, it's not reversible. Most animals who do not survive the
complications of pyramiding die from renal failure, systemic infection, and/or respiratory/cardiac problems.
Some tortoise species, such
as Indian and Sri-Lankan Stars (Geochelone sp.), South African Tents and
Geometrics (Psammobates sp.), Pyxis, etc. are naturally "pyramided." This is a feature
genetically unique to these species, and is not a result of insufficient dietary or captive conditions,
although the same dietary guidelines are very important and do need to be followed.