| Indian / Sri Lankan vs Burmese Star Tortoise
What's the difference?
Burmese Star tortoise (Geochelone platynota)
The Indian Star tortoise (Geochelone elegans) is native to India, 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 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) is from Myanmar, formerly Burma. It is also called the Myanmar Star tortoise.
Indian / Sri Lankan and Burmese Star tortoises are related, but they are two separate species. Both species come from dry areas and require similar diet and care. 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.
Carapace (top shell)
The Burmese Star tortoises have a very clear six-point, or less, pattern on most of their vertebral (top) and costal (side) scutes. In contrast, each star pattern on the Indian Star has more than six lines and the number varies among individuals. The number of these radiating lines on the Indian Star increases as the tortoise grows.
In the wild, Burmese Star tortoises typically have smooth shells, but Indian / Sri Lankan Stars may be smooth or "lumpy" with conical scutes. Neither species has a nuchal scale (scute behind the head). Per CITES identification guide, Indian Star tortoises have five vertebral scutes, but Burmese Stars may have five or six.
Burmese Star tortoise -- The Burmese Star tortoise has a clear pattern of (mostly) six radiating lines in each star shape. The number of rays in each 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. See the shell scutes diagram. Rays in the star patterns meet each other exactly and form a beautiful net pattern. The number of lines does not increase with age, but faint lines may become more noticeable with age.
Sri Lankan Star tortoise -- Indian / Sri Lankan Star tortoises grow more lines with aging. Eventually,
will have eight or more radiating lines. In Indian / Sri Lankan Stars, many star rays are dead-end lines and the rays do not always meet exactly.
Sri Lankan Star -- A young Sri Lankan Star. Beginnings of new lines are showing as yellow spots.
Burmese Star -- Burmese Star tortoises have a fairly even slope in the front and back of the carapace. The top of the shell is shaped kinda like an oval.
Sri Lankan Star -- Some Indian Star tortoises, especially Sri Lankan Stars, may be higher domed and have a somewhat steeper carapace slope than Burmese Star tortoises.
Burmese Star -- Burmese Star tortoise (Geochelone platynota) 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 and some have widening lines (flower petal or fan shape).
Sri Lankan Star -- Indian / Sri Lankan Star tortoise (Geochelone elegans) 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.
Plastron (bottom shell)
Indian / Sri Lankan Star tortoises have beautiful star patterns on their plastrons as well. The two middle stars look like suns with rays or multi-striated pinwheels. The plastron of the Burmese Star is yellow with dark spots which are often shaped like triangles. It has no radiating lines.
Sri Lankan Star -- Indian / Sri Lankan Stars have stripes and sunbursts on their plastrons. However, these markings are not present in hatchlings. It can be difficult to differentiate newly hatched Indian and Burmese Stars from each other.
Burmese Star -- Burmese Star tortoises have dark, triangular spots on the plastrons. No stars.
Head and limbs
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 / Sri Lankan Stars tend to be more spotted looking. Front legs are heavily scaled in both species.
Sri Lankan Star
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) 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 may be a Sri Lankan Star. Even then, you cannot be sure because Indian and Sri Lankan Stars have been mix bred in captivity. Unfortunately.
Most Geochelone elegans in the pet trade are mainland Indian Stars, not Sri Lankans.
Ps. See also the personality and pattern development pages.