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Indian vs Burmese Star Tortoise

- what's the difference -

Burmese Star tortoise (Geochelone platynota) shell pattern

Burmese Star tortoise with a beautiful "flower petal" pattern.

Star tortoises

Indian and Burmese Star tortoises are related, but they are two separate species. Both species come from areas with dry seasons 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 if kept in too dry conditions.

Star patterns

geochelone platynota shell pattern

Burmese Star tortoise with even thickness lines. Notice how the yellow lines join each other exactly at the ends forming a beautiful "net" pattern.

Indian Star tortoise (Geochelone elegans) shell pattern

Indian Star tortoise, Sri Lankan type. Number of lines in the star patterns varies and the lines do not always meet each other at the ends.

Carapace pattern

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

baby burmese star tortoise

Hatchling Burmese Star tortoise. The six point pattern is already present at hatching.

sri lankan star tortoise

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.

Burmese Star tortoise, Geochelone platynota

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).

geochelone elegans

Adult Indian Star tortoise in Sri Lanka. Photo courtesy of Nigel Wilson (cc).

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.

Plastron pattern

If the tortoise is a subadult or an adult, looking at the plastron is the easiest way to distinguish between the two Star tortoise species.

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.

a.) 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.

b.) 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

geochelone elegans

Adult Indian Star tortoise, Sri Lankan type, with starburst patterns.

burmese star tortoise

Juvenile Burmese Star with triangular markings and lines.

Burmese Star tortoise

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 (known lineage) and adult size. Sri Lankans tend to be larger than southern Indian Stars. Northwestern Stars can be large as well, but their colors tend to be less bright.

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

star tortoise in india

Indian Star tortoise at Crocodile bank in India. Photo courtesy of Pandiyan (cc) pwp.

star tortoise hiding in vegetation

Indian Star tortoise (Sri Lankan Star) in Sri Lanka. Photo courtesy of davida3 (cc) pwp.

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.

 

Related pages: personality, pattern development

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