Indian & Burmese Star Tortoises
- star care in a nutshell -
Burmese Star tortoise
This page is only a brief and basic caresheet for Star tortoises. Follow the provided links to my other pages for in-depth info on each topic.
- ideally, feed high fiber foods like weeds, grasses, leaves, flowers, cactus pads, dried salad hay, etc.
- grocery store greens only as a secondary choice (e.g. chicory, spring mix, endive, escarole, radicchio, romaine)
- provide high fiber, low protein, and low fat meals
- feed very little fruit, if any
- no animal protein
- feed as large variety of plants as possible
- for diet details, read the Star tortoise diet and prepared foods pages
- ALWAYS keep a cuttlefish bone or calcium carbonate powder in the enclosure for calcium self regulation, regardless of the feeding regime
- calcium powder use varies among keepers from daily to 1-2x / week
- multivitamin use varies among keepers from daily to 1-2x / month
- little or no supplementation needed if fortified foods, like Mazuri or Zoo Med, are fed frequently (except a self help calcium source)
- growing babies and egg laying females need more frequent supplementation
- be careful with vitamin D3, overdose is toxic, no vitamin D3 supplementation necessary if kept outdoors with free access to the sun much of the time
- for more info, read the supplements page
- ALWAYS keep a drinking water bowl in the enclosure
- the water dish should be non-slippery and very shallow for youngsters so that they can climb in and out of it easily
- give frequent baths (soaks) to help with hydration, unless your tortoise soaks himself
- bath babies daily and adults 1-2x / week or less
- for more details, read the feeding dishes and care tips pages
2.) INDOOR HOUSING
- large, open top reptile tubs and wooden tortoise tables are popular for adults
- minimum size for a short term (nights, bad weather) enclosure about 5x2 ft or 6x3 ft (e.g. Waterland tubs) for one, small adult tortoise
- young Star tortoises do well when raised with higher ambient humidity, for example, in a half or fully closed vivarium
- in the daytime, babies can be kept outdoors in warm weather and then brought in for the night; provide a warm, higher humidity hide or vivarium for nights
- do not hibernate, keep warm year round
- avoid cold & damp conditions
- warm & humid is ok
- for more details, read the indoor housing page
- if your tortoise has limited access to an outdoor enclosure, use a reptile UVB light when indoors, either a mercury vapor bulb (MVB) or a long fluorescent UVB tube
- for more details, read the UV lighting page
- provide a daytime basking bulb, either a MVB or a heat bulb
- provide additional heat at night if the room is cold; CHE's, radiant heat panels, room heaters etc.
- keep the enclosure dark at night
- for more details, read the heating page
- popular indoor enclosure substrates include plain soil, coconut coir, soil / coco coir mix, cypress mulch, and fir / orchid bark
- popular substrates for humid hides include sphagnum moss and coconut coir
- with all loose substrates, feed on shallow trays, large tiles, or paper to avoid accidental ingestion of substrate with food; eating large amounts of any substrate can cause serious intestinal impactions
- for more suggestions, read the substrates page
- These temperature numbers are just basic starting guidelines, not exact requirements. It all depends on your specific setup and circumstances. If in doubt, it's better to keep Stars a bit warmer than cooler. If kept too cold, they can develop runny noses and become ill.
- daytime ambient temp 80-80+ °F
- 90-95+ °F directly under the basking bulb, adults can tolerate higher basking temps than babies
- about 75-80 °F in the coolest corner of the pen
- night temp down to 70 °F ok in dry conditions, but 75-80+ °F with high ambient humidity or wet substrate
- Caution! If Star tortoises are kept too dry and hot, they are prone to dehydration. Especially babies. This can lead to kidney problems and urinary stone formation. Both can be fatal.
- moderate humidity 40-75+ % is ok for adults
- babies benefit from a higher ambient humidity, up to 70-80+ %
- the higher the humidity, the higher the temperature should be; popular rule of thumb is 80/80 (min 80 °F with ~ 80% humidity)
- provide a temperature range of 70/75-95+ °F in the enclosure, it allows the tortoise to warm up or cool down as needed
- provide both dry and damp / high humidity areas
- babies especially benefit from humid hideboxes or warm, damp substrate areas; babies can also be raised in well controlled vivariums
- another choice is to use a warm and humid vivarium attached to an open pen area that provides a drier and cooler area
Indian Star tortoise, Sri Lankan type
3.) OUTDOOR HOUSING
- natural sunlight is the best UVB source, and it's free :O)
- keep outdoors as much as possible for UVB exposure and opportunity to exercise
- adults can stay outside 24/7 in warmer climates if heated houses are provided for cooler nights
- put babies out on warm and sunny days, min 70-75 °F
- for details, read the outdoor housing page
- ALWAYS provide a shallow water dish, putting it in a shady area keeps the water cooler in hot weather
- provide several shady areas, bushes and hides
- for adults, make the enclosure as large as possible
- for babies, cover the top to protect from predators
- Stars are not the best climbers and they are not big diggers, so they won't climb over the walls (if adequately high) of the enclosure or dig under them to escape
- provide sunny slopes or raised laying beds for adult, egg laying females
- plant the enclosure with edible greenery, check lists of toxic plants to avoid
Difficult to keep?
Indian Star tortoises (Geochelone elegans) have a reputation of being difficult to keep in captivity. This especially applies to wild-caught (illegal) specimens. They may have already been sick when collected, or may have became sick during transportation due to cold conditions and exposure to other tortoises and reptiles.
In addition, most wild tortoises carry heavy loads of parasites, both worms and protozoa. Parasite loads can soar during the stress of transport and change in living environment. If left untreated, this could lead to death.
Support tortoise conservation. Always buy captive-bred Stars!
Stars are susceptible to pathogens carried by other tortoise species. Always keep them separately from other types of tortoises.
Indian Stars can be somewhat fragile. It's said that they can "crash fast" and "crash hard." In other words, seemingly well Indian Star tortoises can suddenly fall ill and then pass away. Although, this can be true of any tortoise. Tortoises can be sick for a long time before obvious signs of disease are present. Then it may be too late.
As a pet?
Indian Stars may not the best choice as a first tortoise, but captive-bred Star tortoises generally do quite well when provided with the correct environmental conditions and appropriate diet.
Burmese Star tortoises (Geochelone platynota) seem to be more robust. They tend to do quite well in captivity, but they are rather expensive and few keepers are breeding them. Burmese Stars are also one of the most endangered tortoise species in the world.