Feeding Star Tortoises
Culinary delights tortoise style
Burmese Star baby (G. platynota) eating dandelions
Indian / Sri Lankan (Geochelone elegans) and Burmese Star (Geochelone platynota) tortoises have comparable care and dietary requirements.
Animal products - NOT
In the wild, Star tortoises are mostly herbivorous, but may occasionally eat some animal matter as well. That said, a 100% vegetarian diet is recommended for captive Stars. Do not feed animal products, for example, no dog or cat food.
Fruits & vegetables - max 5-10%, if any
Avoid giving too many sweet foods, like fruit, to your Star tortoise. They are "junk food" for herbivorous tortoises and may cause colic, parasite blooming, and other problems if fed in excess. Many Star tortoise keepers feed no fruit at all. Give less than 10% of the total diet, if any.
Grasses, succulents, greens & flowers - 90% +
In general, at least 90% of a Star tortoise's diet should consist of fiber rich grasses and greens. Mixed grasses, dark greens, weeds, coarse leaves, and succulents should make the bulk of a Star tortoise's diet. Stars like broadleaf weeds better than grasses.
A diverse diet is most important! Offer as large variety of food items as possible. Rotate and/or mix foods.
- Grasses - bermuda, bluegrass, fescue, kikuyu, timothy
- Weeds - clover, chickweed, dandelion, mallow, plantain
- Leaves - grape, mulberry, strawberry
- Succulents - opuntia cactus, sedum
- Flowers - hibiscus, petunia, pansy, nasturtium, rose petals
- Market foods - endive, escarole, radicchio, squash (sparingly), baby greens, and dandelions
Yes, you can buy dandelions from the grocery store if you run out of weeds on your yard! :O) However, the dandelions sold in grocery stores are usually Italian dandelions which are a type of chicory.
Ideally, do not feed grocery store greens exclusively. Use them as secondary foods only. Choose organic produce if possible. Mix grocery store greens with dried salad hay and/or dried weeds to up the fiber content.
Most sedums are considered safe for tortoises to eat, but do avoid feeding Sedum acre. It's said to be toxic. Here's a link to sedum photos [off site]. For more complete food lists, see the Diet section of the Links page.
Finely chopped salad hay mix sprinkled on top of dandelions and radicchio. Notice how the small pieces blend in well with the greens. Great for reluctant hay eaters.
Salad style hay consists of dried grasses that have been cut into small pieces. It can be plain hay or it can be mixed with other dried plants and flowers. Dried plants are a good source for additional fiber.
You can feed salad hay (pic) alone or sprinkle it on top of weeds or grocery store greens. Star tortoises will eat salad hay better when it's mixed with more palatable plants. The smaller the salad hay pieces are, the better they will blend in with the greens and get eaten.
You can always keep some chopped salad hay in the enclosure. This way, tortoises can nibble on it at will if they feel hungry.
Ideally, grasses should be offered as natural graze outside or in a dried form. According to Simon Girling, BVMS CertZooMed MRCVS (Pet Owner's Guide to the Tortoise 2002), cut grass should not be fed as it can ferment quickly and cause colic.
Hay cubes are made of dried and cut grasses compressed into small blocks. They can be soaked briefly before feeding to soften them. You can find them in the rabbit and guinea pig sections of pet stores. For example, timothy hay cubes (pic) are a good choice for tortoises. Though, Stars can be picky eaters and may not eat any kind of hay cubes.
I store my cactus pads (Opuntia ficus-indica) in containers filled with sandy soil. Stored this way, the pads last forever, or until eaten. :O)
Most tortoises seem to have a taste for cactus. My Star tortoises like it, too. :O)
For human culinary purposes, Opuntia ficus-indica cactus (aka Nopal, Indian Fig Opuntia, Mission Cactus, Prickly Pear) is used most often. Nopal is native to Mexico, but missionaries planted it around most missions in early California. Thus, the common name Mission Cactus.
The spineless variety has tiny, nearly invisible barbed hairs called glochids which dig into skin easily. I wear thick kitchen gloves when handling spineless cactus pads. I scrub the pads with a brush under running water to remove most of glochids. If you get glochids on your fingers, they tickle, burn, and hurt. You can remove glochids from your skin with duct tape, melted candle wax, glue, tweezers, or scrubbing with a nail brush.
I collect seeds from my own plants or buy wildflower seeds by the pound. Many plants will also self-seed once established.
Grow your own
Ideally, grow your own weeds. Weirdly though, dandelions can be difficult to grow when you want them! :O)
I haven't had good luck with bought dandelion seeds, either from stores of private growers. For me, growing dandelions from local seeds works best. I collect the fluff balls (seeds) and then just throw them into my tortoise pens. Sprinkling some organic topsoil over the seeds, or simply scattering the fluff balls over a freshly laid layer of organic soil, is helpful to get them started.
I also buy edible wild flower seeds, often by the pound. I plant them the same way. I sprinkle the seeds into my tortoise pens, spread a bit of new organic garden soil on top, and water. Super easy!
Babies and youngsters can be fed twice a day. Give the main meal in the morning during their first active period and a smaller snack in the afternoon during their second active time. Feeding tortoises AM and PM simulates their natural eating pattern in the wild.
Adult tortoises can be fed every day as well, or you can skip 1-2 days a week. On those skip days, you can still leave out some finely chopped salad hay for them to snack on if desired. If Stars aren't truly hungry, they probably won't eat it, but at least you get a piece of mind that you are not starving them. :O)
Do not overfeed rich foods, for example, high protein and high fat pellets. Aim to provide a diet high in fiber, low in protein, and low in fat.
Burmese Star (G. platynota) enjoying some radicchio
Read also the prepared foods and diet supplements pages.
Share your experiences as a Star tortoise keeper. What diet regime has worked for you? What hasn't? Post your observations on the visitor comments board or the guestbook.