All about Indian & Burmese Star tortoises, Angulates, and Golden Greeks...

Indian & Burmese Star Tortoises

- male vs female -

Burmese Star tortoise

Subadult Burmese Star tortoise female. Notice the short, stubby tail and the roundish shape of the bony tail opening to allow egg laying.

Boy or girl?

Determining the gender of young Star tortoises is not always straightforward because most of the gender characteristics apply to subadult and adult tortoises only. Burmese Star tortoises can be especially tricky to sex when young. Some young males can look more like girls for quite a while. Scroll down to example photos below.

Young male Star tortoises have flat plastrons and short tails, but the tail will grow and the plastron will concave as the male ages and matures. Many male youngsters start out looking more like females and then suddenly grow a big tail.

Some subadult individuals are easily sexed because one or more of the sex characteristics is quite obvious. With others, figuring out the gender is more difficult due to ambivalent sex traits. In those cases, you'll need to consider all the attributes as a whole.

Gender traits in ADULT Star tortoises

1.) Overall size

2.) Shell shape

3.) Plastron

4.) Tail

5.) Angle of anal scutes

Gender traits in young Star tortoises

1.) Growth rate

2.) Flashing

Note: For reference, see the shell scute diagrams.

Burmese star tortoises, 1 female, 2 males

Female Star tortoises grow larger than males. Here are three Burmese Star tortoises, one female and two males. They are all the same age, but the female is much larger.

Burmese Star tortoise male vs female

Breeding age Burmese Star tortoises. Notice the difference in the overall size, length of the tails, and the shape of the anal scutes. In males, the tail extends past the anal scute tips (red line).

Characteristics of ADULT females

Adult Star tortoise females have short, fat, stubby tails with a little tip. Angle of the anal scutes is narrower than in males, and the bony opening is often roundish to allow the passage of eggs. The supracaudal scute does not curve down as much as in males, but opens up for egg laying. The cloacal opening in the tail is roundish, looking kinda like a star.

adult female star tortoise

Female Star tortoise.

Characteristics of ADULT males

Adult Star tortoise males have long, thick, deep letter V shaped tails. Anal scutes can be shaped like a mustache with the tips pointing towards the sides. The supracaudal scute typically turns strongly inwards in adult males. Assumably, to protect the tail and male organ. The cloacal opening looks more like a slit towards the tail.

Note: The direction of the supracaudal scute varies among individual tortoises and different species. For example, in my Golden Greeks, both males and females have supracaudal scutes that open up. On the other hand, in my Angulate tortoises, both males and females have supracaudal scutes that turn under.

adult male star tortoise

Male Star tortoise.

Examples of young Burmese Stars

Burmese Star tortoise hatchling

This Burmese Star baby was easy to sex. As a hatchling, he already had a long, male shaped tail. Indeed, he turned out to be a boy.

Burmese Star tortoise baby

Here's another little Burmese Star hatchling. Eventhough the bony opening and tail look a bit boyish at this point, it's a girl. One clue for girlness can be a rounded, less oval, shell shape like here.

Burmese Star tortoise youngster

Ok, how about this Burmese Star tortoise youngster. Is this a boy or a girl? Tail is short and stubby looking and the bony opening is circular. Must be a girl, right? Nope. This tortoise is too young to sex accurately because it hasn't developed the male gender characteristics yet. He turned out to be a boy!

Burmese Star tortoise

For comparison, here's a young Burmese Star female. She doesn't look that different from the male above. Tail is short and stubby and the bony opening is roundish.

Burmese Star tortoise

Here's a young male. Tail is big and long, but the bony opening is still roundish. It will change over time.

Examples of adult male Burmese Stars

Mature Burmese Star tortoises may have terminal nail spurs. They are not present in young males, but grow with age. These "tail nails" can also drop or wear off.

Burmese Star tortoise male's tail spur

Mature Burmese Star tortoise male with a tail spur (terminal nail). He later lost his tail spur. Assumably, due to wear and tear.

Burmese Star tortoise tail

For comparison, here's a another male Burmese Star tortoise. His tail has spur had not yet developed when the photo was taken. He was probably about 7 years old when his tail spur started to grow.

Examples of Indian Stars

Sri Lankan Star tortoise female

Adult female Indian Star, Sri Lankan type, with a short and stubby tail.

adult indian star tortoise male tail

Adult male Indian Star, Sri Lankan type, with a big and long tail.

adult Geochelone elegans male

Adult male Indian Star, Sri Lankan type. Notice how the tail extends beyond the anal scute tips.

geochelone elegans pair

Indian Star tortoise pair. Notice the size difference. Females may grow 2-3 times the size of males. Photo courtesy of Zoltán Horváth.

Flashing vs prolapse

Young, maturing male Star tortoises often "flash," i.e., show their private parts, in a warm bath. This is often the first sure sign that you have a male. The tortoise male part is sometimes described as looking like a purple flower, a cowboy hat, or the Starship Enterprise. :O)

Many new tortoise owners become alarmed when they see their male tortoise "flash" for the first time. They often think there's something terribly wrong with the tortoise, for example, an intestinal prolapse.

As long as the private part goes back in after a short while, everything is ok. If it prolapses and stays out, take your tortoise to the vet ASAP to have it treated. Otherwise, it may become necrotic and have to be amputated.

On a rare occasion, you may catch a glimpse of your female's private parts as well. The female part looks similar to a male's, but it's smaller and doesn't have a long stem. More likely though, it's probably just a young, maturing male tortoise showing his immature bits. In boy tortoises, the bits start out small and then grow bigger as the tortoise matures.

Link - Here's a link [Scientific American, offsite] to a science blog with photos of "flashing" male tortoises, including a male Geochelone elegans. WARNING: Photos on that page are very graphic. They many not be suitable viewing for young children.

Link - For comparison, here's an article about intestinal prolapse with photos [Tortoise Trust, offsite]. Intestinal prolapse, or prolapse of any other internal parts, is an emergency.

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