Indian & Burmese Star Tortoises
- some tips & bits -
Weather permitting, outdoors is always best. :O) Indian Star tortoise, Sri Lankan type.
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.
Mediterranean tortoises have similar diet and environmental requirements as well, but unlike Stars, they like to dig and burrow. Also, many of the Mediterranean region tortoises hibernate in the wild during the winter.
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, wild tortoises 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.
Research & use common sense
There's a lot of conflicting tortoise care info in tortoise books and especially on the web. You will not find only one correct answer, but many possible right answers.
Don't limit your research to one reference only, but read as many sources as possible. For example, you can read both US and European books and forums to get a wider view on the topics you are researching. Then decide what's safe and right for your tortoise in your specific circumstances.
If you follow online tortoise discussion groups and forums, 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. Sometimes, it becomes the "forum way or no way."
Use common sense and create your own personalized care plan while ensuring the correct temperature, humidity, and diet for your species. Observe your tortoise and adjust your habitat and care if needed.
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.
Basically, to keep a tortoise healthy, you'll need to provide lots of outdoor time with free access to sunshine, a healthy diet high in fiber and nutrients, additional calcium at least for babies and egg carrying females, a 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. They 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.
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. One way to give a hydration boost is to soak (bathe) the tortoise regularly.
Baby tortoises can be soaked 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 baths 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 can find soaking stressful, but my Star tortoises seem to enjoy their warm baths. It has become a familiar routine for them. During the coldest winter months, 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 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)
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 can 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 a postal scale. It measurers up to 15 lb 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 straight line carapace length (SCL). It is the distance from the carapace (top shell) front edge to the back edge measured straight across the plastron (bottom shell). You can also measure the curved carapace length (CCL). It's the the distance from the carapace front edge to the back edge over the carapace. Straight line 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 for Star tortoises vary by the individual tortoise and the seller. 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.
As of this writing in 2008, typical 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.