Indian & Burmese Star Tortoises
- courtship, breeding & babies -
Burmese Star tortoise hatchling with an egg tooth (caruncle). It's the small bump on the beak that is used to pierce the egg.
Female vs male
In Indian / Sri Lankan Star tortoises (Geochelone elegans) and Burmese Star tortoises (Geochelone platynota), adult females are larger in size and have shorter, stubby tails. Their plastrons (bottom shells, bellies) are flat. The bony opening for the tail, aka post anal gap, is rounder to allow passage of eggs.
Adult Star tortoise males are smaller than females. Males have longer tails and concave (curved inward) plastrons. Both help in breeding. Adult male tortoises may also have more flattened shells and narrower post anal gaps.
Very young males have a flat plastron and a short tail. The tail will get bigger and the plastron will concave as the tortoise grows and matures. Some males start out looking like females and then suddenly grow a big tail. :0)
For photos and more details on gender differences, see the Star tortoise male vs female page.
Sexual maturity - Indian Stars
In the wild, Indian Star tortoise males have been observed to reach maturity at around 6-8 years of age and females at 8-12 years.
In captivity, tortoises tend to grow and mature faster. Captive bred Star tortoise males may start siring as young as 3-4 years of age. Captive bred females may start laying eggs as young as 5-6 years of age, but over 7 years is probably more typical for females.
Generally, size is more important for maturity than age. Female Indian Stars typically won't lay eggs until they weigh at least 900-1,000 g (31.7- 35.3 oz). Sri Lankan females grow larger than Indians and may start laying fertile eggs at about 2,000 g (70.5 oz). Males mature at about half of the females' weights.
Indian Star tortoises can be ready to mate as small as 4" for males and 6" for females. Sri Lankan females are larger at the onset of reproductive maturity, at least 7"-8", and often more. However, breeding very young or very old females is NOT recommended due to possible problems with egg laying.
Sexual maturity - Burmese Stars
Males tend to mature faster and some captive bred males have sired hatchlings as young as 3-4 years of age. Minimum egg laying weight for captive bred Burmese Star females is around 3,000-4,000 g (106-141 oz), but as with Indian Stars, breeding small, very young females is NOT recommended.
In the wild, mating typically occurs during rainy seasons (wet monsoons). Star tortoises are fairly docile maters. Males may grunt, but they do not generally butt, bite, or ram much during courtship.
a.) Groups & singles
Usually, Star tortoises are peaceful animals and get along quite well in groups, but they should not be kept in too cramped conditions. Provide large outdoor enclosures for bigger groups. This allows animals to get away from each other when they desire some peace and quiet.
Every tortoise group has its own dynamics depending on the tortoises' personalities. Some tortoises get along well and others don't. Males can also pester females incessantly. In that case, it's best to house males and females separately most of the time to avoid overstressing the females.
Multiple Star tortoise males and females can often be kept together, especially outdoors, if a large enough enclosure is provided. The number of females should always exceed the number of males. The male to female ratio should be at least 1:2, but preferably 1:3, 1:4, or higher.
Having more than one male in a group can stimulate breeding vigor due to the competition among males. However, in large tortoise groups, the strongest male can also dominate the other males and be the only one mating with the females. Separating large groups to smaller breeding units solves this problem (Lawkananda Burmese Star tortoise breeding facility in Myanmar, TSA blog, Apr 2011).
Indoors, Star tortoises can be kept singly or in smaller groups, because space is usually limited. For a SHORT time, TEMPORARY stay (e.g. overnight or brief winter indoors), a small Indian Star breeding group of 1 male and 2 females should have AT LEAST a 3ft x 6ft size enclosure. But as always, the bigger the enclosure, the better. Sri Lankans and Burmese Stars are larger, so they require more space than Indians.
Keeping both males and females in single setups during winter indoor housing is the best way to reduce stress. Winter separation also tends to stimulate breeding activity when tortoises are moved outdoors in the spring and reintroduced.
b.) Published recommendations
For breeding group size, British & Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) recommends small mixed sex groups for Indian Star tortoises and trios (1 male : 2 females) for Burmese Star tortoises.
Holger Vetter's (Terralog: Turtles of the World, Vol 4) recommendation is to keep 2 male and 2 female (2:2) Indian Star tortoises as a group, and 1 male and 2 female (1:2) Burmese Star tortoises as a group.
Egg laying - Indian Stars
Female Indian / Sri Lankan Star tortoises typically lay 1-4 clutches a year. Clutch size varies from 1 to 10 eggs, the average being 4-5 eggs. Eggs are hard shelled, about 3.5-4.5 cm (1.4"-1.8") long, and weigh around 18-42 g (0.6-1.4 oz).
If you weigh your adult female regularly, a sudden weight gain is a telltale sign that she's gravid. A large female Star tortoise carrying eggs may weigh up to 500 g (1.1 lb) more than usual. She will also be restless, sniff the ground, and may dig test pits for egg laying.
Do provide a proper nesting box or egg laying area if your female Star tortoise must lay her eggs indoors due to it being too cold to go outside.
The nesting box or area should have at least 8"-12" (20-30 cm) deep soil. If the female hits the bottom of the tub with her feet during nest digging, she may abandon the hole as not acceptable.
Keep the soil warm and somewhat damp so that it will not crumble when excavated. Do not disturb the female during egg laying.
My Burmese Star tortoise babies like digging into the warm and damp New Zealand sphagnum moss. This hatchling is climbing up a little "hill" of it.
Another Burmese Star baby hiding under a silk plant and dug into the sphagnum moss.
Itty bitty Burmese Star tortoise baby.
a.) Yolk sac
If your hatchling is born with a large yolk sac, be extra cautious. You don't want the sac to rupture. Let the hatchling stay in the incubator inside the partially open egg until he's absorbed all of the yolk sac and is ready to come out himself.
If the hatchling has already left the egg, but has a large yolk sac, put him back into the incubator in a small deli cup lined with wet paper towels. You can also form a paper towel "ring" that the hatchling will rest on. This will take the pressure of the yolk sac. Instead of moist paper towels, some keepers smear Vaseline (petroleum jelly) or antibiotic ointment on the remaining yolk sac and the bottom of the cup.
Keep the yolk sac clean and moist until it's absorbed. Once the sac is absorbed, you can move the hatchling from the incubator into his baby enclosure.
b.) First housing
Babies like warmth and benefit from higher ambient humidity. Always provide many hiding places, both dry and humid. Babies feel stressed if they are too exposed and have no place to hide.
Little babies, up to 50-100 g (1.8-3.5 oz), do well in smaller enclosures because it's easier to keep the temperature and humidity up in them. A 4 ft x 2 ft (48" x 24") tub or vivarium works well for newly hatched Star babies.
For detailed housing and diet info, see the Star tortoise care pages listed in the right and bottom menus.
Growth - Indian Stars
The average hatchling is about 3.5-4 cm (~ 1.5") long. Hatchlings from the first clutches of the season may be larger and heavier than later ones.
Hatchlings grow about 2.5 cm (1") per year. Sri Lankan Star tortoises are about 7.6-9 cm (~ 3-3.5") long at one year of age and about 10-13 cm (~ 4-5") as two-year-olds. Indian Stars can be smaller.