Indian / Sri Lankan & Burmese Star Tortoises
Additional care tips - bits & pieces
Geochelone elegans. Photo by Deepugn (cc 0).
First, read the Star tortoise care pages about diet, indoor housing, outdoor housing, lighting & heating, substrates, hideboxes, and substrates & allergics (more on substrates), and housing & allergics (more on tubs, humidity), etc.
Stars and Leopard tortoises
The Indian / Sri Lankan Star tortoise is said to be closely related to the Leopard tortoise from Africa. Thus, most Leopard tortoise care info also applies to Star tortoises. Both Stars and Leopards are herbivorous grazers (eat grasses) and browsers (eat leaves, shoots, vines, scrubs, etc.). Both are non-hibernating species and require warm conditions year round, but Leopards grow much larger than Star tortoises.
Sulcatas and Mediterranean tortoises have similar diet and environmental requirements as well, but Sulcatas need very large accommodations due to their huge adult size, and Mediterraneans often like to dig and burrow (unlike Stars). Also, many of the so called Mediterranean tortoises hibernate.
Learn about the species
Learn as much as you can about your tortoise species' diet, natural habitat, and captive care requirements. For example, find out what the typical temperature and humidity ranges are in the wild, and what type of vegetation grows in the native area.
However, tortoises often live in special "microhabitats" that typically have somewhat different environmental conditions than the main surrounding area.
Observe your tortoise in his enclosure to see what agrees with him and what doesn't, and then adjust your care accordingly.
Use common sense
Now, there's a lot of conflicting tortoise care info in tortoise books and especially on the web. Read as many sources as possible, and then decide what's right for you and your tortoise in your specific circumstances. Be flexible and adjust your habitat and care if needed. There is no one correct way to care for tortoises, but do provide the correct temperature, humidity, and diet for your species to keep him healthy and active. Use common sense and create your own personalized care plan. In other words, do what works well for you and your tortoise. :O)
For example, if you follow tortoise discussion groups (online forums or by email), be cautious of the "group mentality" or "herd mentality." This is common in forums and the "accepted" tortoise care practices vary from group to group. Your best bet is to read as many different tortoise care boards as possible, and then form your own opinion of what kind of care is in the best interest of YOUR tortoise in YOUR specific situation. :O)
Ideally, set up the indoor enclosure before bringing your new tortoise home. This way everything will be ready when he comes, and you can sit back and enjoy watching your newest family member explore his new place. Or not... Many tortoises are shy and cautious in new surroundings and keep on hiding for a while. Others may be overactive for a day or two pacing the enclosure and trying to climb the walls in a desperately attempt to get out.
If your new tortoise is hesitant to eat, offer him his favorite foods (ask his breeder what they are) and give him daily warm soaks before feeding. A warm bath often stimulates appetite. Otherwise, don't over handle a new tortoise, just let him be and settle into his new home. This may take a few days, several weeks, or even months.
Caution: If your tortoise appears lethargic, doesn't bask, and otherwise seems ill, take him to the vet for a check up. Tiny babies can become dehydrated very quickly. Read more about hatchling failure syndrome and soft baby syndrome [offsite links].
Basically, to keep a tortoise healthy, you need to provide lots of sunshine, healthy diet high in fiber and nutrients, additional calcium at least for babies and egg carrying females, vitamin & mineral supplement if diet is not ideal, proper temperatures, good hydration, room for exercise, and a low stress environment.
Tortoises are creatures of habit. Tortoises don't like changes and often find them stressful. Avoid making extensive redesigns to your tortoise enclosures and stick to your daily care routine as much as possible.
General care tips for Stars
In general, keep Indian / Sri Lankan and Burmese Star tortoises warm and on a fairly dry substrate, but do not allow them to become dehydrated. Star tortoises are prone to respiratory problems if kept in too damp and cold conditions. Humid and warm is ok, but wet and cold is not.
Warm, humid hideboxes (or warm, damp substrate areas), frequent baths, and regular mistings are beneficial for Star tortoises. For Indian / Sri Lankan and Burmese Star tortoises, put the moist hide in a warm location. Often, halfway between the hot and cool ends or near the heat source works well (depending on your enclosure temperature). You can put dry hides in the cooler area of the enclosure.
Indian / Sri Lankan Star tortoises are also highly susceptible to pathogens carried by other species of tortoises. Always keep Star tortoises with their own kind, and quarantine any new additions for 3-18 months minimum.
Today, it's an accepted practice to bathe (soak) and mist Star tortoises routinely. However, even some older books share this advice. For example, Gerhard Müller (Mueller, Muller) writes in his Turtles in the Terrarium book: "Misting and frequent bathing are important in keeping them [Indian Star tortoises] healthy." This book was originally published in German with the title Schildkröten (1987).
Even though Star tortoises are native to dry areas, they need to be kept well hydrated. Indoors, hot basking lights and dry substrates can be very drying. Some Star tortoise owners place a shallow water dish in the enclosure, some soak their tortoises, and many keepers, including me, do both. In addition, I furnish my Star enclosures with humid hides and spray the tortoises as needed (especially in the winter when they spend more time under the hot basking lights). My Stars enjoy being misted with warm, not cold, water. Every evening, I empty the water sprayer and let it dry to prevent bacterial growth inside the bottle.
Baby tortoises can be soaked (bathed) daily in warm water for 10-20 minutes, and then less frequently as they grow older. Keep the water level low, below the tortoise's mouth and nose. These frequent bathes give tortoises many opportunities to drink. Soaking also helps keep the indoor enclosures cleaner because tortoises tend to poop while soaking in warm water.
Some tortoises may find soaking stressful, but my Star tortoises seem to enjoy their warm baths. It has become a familiar routine for them. In the winter, when my Stars live indoors, I usually soak them in the morning before feeding. In the summer, I bathe my tortoises briefly, for cleanup and hydration, when they come back indoors in the evenings.
All my tortoise groups have their own soaking / bathing pans to avoid potential parasite and pathogen transfer between groups and species. In fact, I often give my Star tortoises individual soaking dishes, labeled with their names, so that I can see who poops and pees. This allows me to keep taps on the quality of their poop as well. Is the poop solid, loose, dark, light, or bloody? Does it have visible worms? See the fecal exams page for info on fecal gross exams.
Burmese Star enjoying a fake rain shower while bathing :O)
Usually, my tortoises drink filtered water indoors and regular tap water outdoors. You can let tap water sit in a large container or pitcher for 24 hours before use to reduce the amount of chlorine. Check that your garden hose is lead-free. Read more on the bowls & dishes page.
I have a filtering system in my kitchen that provides clean drinking water. Some water softeners put salt in the house water, in that case, it might be helpful to filter it out as much as possible.
Creating growth charts for baby tortoises is fun. Record the weight and length at regular intervals, e.g. weekly or monthly, to keep track of the weight gain and growth.
Record keeping is beneficial for adult tortoises as well. A loss of weight may indicate health problems, and a sudden weight gain in a mature female Star is a good indicator that she's carrying eggs.
For weight measuring, I use the My Weigh 7001DX postal scale. It measurers up to 15 lbs and is great for smaller tortoises. Digital kitchen scales work well, too. For length measuring, I use a 12" digital caliper.
SCL, CCL, and SPL
For length, the most commonly used measure is the straightline carapace length (SCL). It is the straight distance from the carapace front edge to the back edge measured along the bottom. In addition, you can measure the curved carapace length (CCL). It's the the distance from the carapace front edge to the back edge over the carapace. Straightline plastron length (SPL) can me measured as well.
If you don't have a caliper, you can mark the carapace edges on a piece of paper or draw the outline of the shell. Do this monthly on the same paper, and you can instantly see how much your tortoise has grown!
You can also use two books for a "bookend style" measuring of the SCL. Place the books standing up at the head and tail ends of the carapace and then measure the distance between the books.
Cost of Stars
Prices (2008) for Star tortoises vary by the individual tortoise and the breeder. For example, the tortoise's age, sex, markings, type (Indian, Sri Lankan, Burmese), and condition affect the price. Indian Star tortoises are at the low end and Burmese Stars at the high end of the cost range. Typically, prices for captive-bred Indian Star tortoise babies start around $300-$350, and for Sri's about $100 more. Captive-bred Burmese Star babies cost around $900-$1,000 and up. Some sellers offer a small discount if you purchase multiple baby tortoises at the same time. Adult Star tortoises are much more expensive than hatchlings.