Indian vs Burmese Star Tortoise
- what's the difference -
Burmese Star tortoise with even thickness lines. Notice the six line star shapes that join each other exactly at the ends.
Indian and Burmese Star tortoises are related, but they are two separate species. Both species come from dry areas and require similar diet and care in captivity.
The Indian Star tortoise (Geochelone elegans) is native to India, part of Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan Star tortoise is a geographical variant of the Indian Star tortoise. It can be difficult to tell Indian and Sri Lankan Stars apart, unless you know what area they originally came from. As adults, Sri Lankan Stars tend to be larger. Scroll to the end of this page for info on Indian Star vs Sri Lankan Star.
The Burmese Star tortoise (Geochelone platynota), aka Myanmar Star tortoise, is endemic to Myanmar (formerly Burma).
Both Indian and Burmese Star tortoises have yellow shells with dark brown or black patterns, even though it looks like they are dark with yellow stripes. You can see this underlying yellow shell color in spots were the dark color has worn off.
Head and legs are yellow or light brown in both species. Burmese Star tortoises have yellow heads and legs with some darker patches of color, while Indian Stars tend to be more spotted looking. Front legs are heavily scaled in both species.
When raised in captivity, both species are prone to pyramiding.
Burmese Star tortoise with a beautiful "flower petal" pattern.
Indian Star tortoise, Sri Lankan type.
a.) Burmese Star
Burmese Star tortoises have a very clear six point pattern on most of their vertebral (top) and costal (side) scutes (see shell scutes). However, the number of rays in each star pattern varies somewhat depending on the location of the scute. For example, the first vertebral scute typically has 5 lines and the first costal scutes more than 6.
The rays in these star patterns meet each other exactly and form a beautiful net pattern. The number of lines stays the same as the tortoise ages from hatchling to adult, but faint lines may become more noticeable with growth.
The thickness of the lines varies. Some Burmese Stars have thin, straight lines while others have thicker widening lines known as "fan" or "flower petal" pattern.
b.) Indian Star
In contrast, each star pattern on adult Indian Stars has more than six lines and the number varies among individuals. The number of these radiating lines also increases as the tortoise grows.
Indian Star babies typically hatch with a four point star pattern, but grow more lines with age. New lines start as little spots and then get longer.
The adult pattern is highly variable among individuals. There may be few lines, many lines, thick lines, thin lines, widening lines, or lines that get thinner.
Carapace pattern examples
Hatchling Burmese Star tortoise. The six point pattern is already present at hatching.
Hatchling Indian Star tortoise, Sri Lankan type. Typical four point shell pattern in hatchlings.
Indian Star tortoises grow more lines with aging. Eventually, each star pattern will have eight or more radiating lines. In Indian Stars, many star rays are dead end lines and the rays do not always meet exactly. This baby Sri Lankan Star already has beginnings of new lines which are showing as yellow spots.
Adult Burmese Star tortoise
Burmese Star tortoise adult pattern has some variation in the thickness and shape of the yellow lines. Some individuals have thin lines while others have thicker lines. Some have even width lines while others have widening lines (flower petal or fan shape).
Notice how this tortoise has eight main lines and additional partial lines in each vertebral star pattern. The ends of the lines do not meet each other exactly.
a.) Easy ID in adults
If the tortoise is a subadult or adult, looking at the plastron is the easiest way to distinguish between the two Star tortoise species.
- Adult mainland Indian / Sri Lankan Star's belly = star burst patterns.
- Adult Burmese Star's belly = dark triangular markings, possibly with some lines.
In hatchlings, the plastron markings are not yet as easy to identify. For novice keepers, it can be difficult to differentiate newly hatched Indian and Burmese Stars from each other.
b.) Burmese Star
The plastron of the Burmese Star is yellow with dark spots which are often shaped like triangles. There are some lines among the dark markings, but no clear radiating lines forming stars.
c.) Indian Star
Indian Star tortoises have stripes and beautiful sunburst or star patterns on their plastrons. They can also be described as suns with rays or multi-striated pinwheels.
Plastron pattern examples
Adult Indian Star tortoise, Sri Lankan type, with starburst patterns.
Juvenile Burmese Star with triangular markings and lines.
Burmese Star tortoise with dark triangular spots on the plastron.
Indian vs Sri Lankan Stars
You can differentiate Indian and Sri Lankan Star tortoises only by background (lineage) and adult size (Sri Lankans tend to be larger).
There is so much variation among Geochelone elegans shell patterns, sometimes even within the same clutch, that Indian and Sri Lankan Star tortoises cannot be reliably identified by looks only. "Thick yellow bands" (lines) or widening lines on the shell are NOT a dependable indicator of a Sri Lankan Star.
If you know the tortoise's parents, grandparents etc. came from Sri Lanka, or your tortoise is adult and it's large, it could be a Sri Lankan Star. Even then, you cannot be sure because Indian and Sri Lankan Stars have been mix bred with each other in captivity. Unfortunately.
Most Indian Stars in the pet trade are mainland Stars, not Sri Lankans.
Indian vs Sri Lankan example
As you can see from the two photos above, Indian and Sri Lankan Star tortoises can NOT be identified by their shell markings. Indian Stars can also have thick, widening stripes like many Sri Lankans, and Sri Lankans can have thin lines like many mainland Indian Stars.