Indian Star Tortoises
- profile -
Adult Indian Star tortoise, Sri Lankan type
- Kingdom Animalia (Linnaeus, 1758) - animals
- Phylum Chordata (Bateson, 1885) - chordates
- Class Reptilia (Laurenti, 1768) - reptiles
- Order Testudines (Linnaeus, 1758) - turtles, tortoises, and terrapins
- Family Testudinidae (Batsch, 1788) - tortoises
- Genus Geochelone (Fitzinger, 1835) - typical tortoises
- Species elegans (Schoepff, 1795) - Indian Star tortoise
- Specific, scientific name = Geochelone elegans
- original name - Testudo elegans
- Testudo elegans (Schoepff, 1795)
- Testudo stellata (Schweigger, 1812)
- Testudo actinoides (Bell, 1828)
- Testudo actinodes (Gray, 1831)
- Testudo megalopus (Blyth, 1853)
- in some old literature, also Testudo geometrica was used; Testudo geometrica is really the original name for the Geometric tortoise from Africa, now called Psammobates geometricus
Testudo elegans from "Historia testvdinvm iconibvs illvstrata" (1792-1801) by Ioannis Davidis Schoepff. Illustration by Friedrich Wilhelm Wunder. The Indian Star tortoise was first described by Schoepff.
- Indian Starred tortoise
- Sri Lankan Star tortoise - Indian Star tortoises native to Sri Lanka
- Indische Sternschildkröte - German
- Indische stralenschildpad - Dutch
- Indisk Stjärnsköldpadda - Swedish
- Intian tähtikilpikonna - Finnish
- Tortuga estrellada de la India - Spanish
- Tortue étoilée d'Inde - French
- The Indian Star tortoise has numerous local names in India, here are a few:
- hooniam ibba (magic tortoise) - Sinhalese
- katu aamai (forest tortoise) - Tamil
- kattupota aamai (checked tortoise) - Tamil
- meta tabelu (land tortoise) - Telugu
- suraj kachba (sun tortoise) - Gujarati
- tariwala kachua (star tortoise) - Urdu
- vairan ibba (striped tortoise) - Sinhalese
- native to India, Sri Lanka, and part of Pakistan
- no recognized subspecies
- three geographical variants (races, morphs):
- southern India - smaller, with creamier background and richer black color, brighter contrasting colors
- Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) - similar coloring to southern Indian Stars, but grow larger
- northern India & Pakistan - larger and darker, coloring may be dark brown instead of black
- In general, Sri Lankan Stars can only be distinguished from mainland Indian Stars if their origin is known, especially when they are young. As adults, Sri Lankan Star tortoises tend to be larger.
- The width of stripes is not a reliable indicator of location of origin, even hatchlings from the same clutch can exhibit a variety of patterns.
- Sri Lankans may, or many not, have more "natural" pyramiding and more yellow in the markings.
- a beautiful medium-sized tortoise
- max size 10-15" (38 cm) and max weight 10-15 lbs (7 kg)
- females grow larger than males
- generally, females grow up to 10-12" and males up to 7-8"
- size varies by sex, individual, and native location
Color & pattern
- highly domed carapace (top shell) with radiating yellow lines that form star like patterns
- The shell is actually yellow with black or brown color over it. This yellow carapace can be seen in older individuals in shell areas where the dark color has rubbed off.
- plastron (bottom shell) also has star patterns
- cream or yellow-brown colored head and legs, with dark spots
- coloring and patterns vary by the individual and its native location
- Indian Star tortoises are born with yellow "butterfly" or "bow" patterns on their shells. These butterflies develop into star shapes with growth. Indian Stars also develop more stripes with age.
Adult Star tortoise in Sri Lanka. Notice the underlying yellow shell color.
- wide range of dry (xeric) region habitats including semi-deserts, grasslands, thorn scrubs, scrub forests and agricultural fields; mostly in scrub lands and semi-desert regions
- all native areas have dry seasons lasting several months
- In Sri Lanka, Star tortoises are native to the dry zone which accounts to almost 2/3 of the island.
- The average temperature in the dry zone stays between 80.6 °F and 86 °F (27-30 °C).
- The average rainfall in the dry zone is 47-71" (120-180 cm) per year. Most of the rain occurs during the north-east monsoon in Oct-Dec.
The star patterned carapace is not only beautiful, but also provides excellent camouflage among vegetation. It's very difficult to find Star tortoises in grassy areas. When I'm looking for mine, it can take a long time to locate them!
- active during the day (diurnal), especially mornings and afternoons
- in the wild, increased activity during rainy seasons
- stays active year round, unless it's very hot or cold
- not a digger (does not dig burrows) or climber
- does not hibernate, but stays inactive when it's very hot and dry, or very cold
- a calm, peaceful, and fairly shy tortoise
- can be very sensitive to stress
- personable, learns to recognize its keeper
- becomes more outgoing over time
- not aggressive
- does well in small groups of its own kind
- see the personality page
- likes warm conditions
- warm & humid is ok, but wet & cold is not
- babies need higher humidity than adults
- should be kept outdoors in warm weather, exposure to sunshine is important
- needs a heated tortoise house if kept outdoors in cooler weather
- see the housing and diet pages
- mostly herbivorous (eats plants) in the wild
- 100% herbivorous diet is recommended for captives
- graces on a variety of weeds, flowers, and other plants
- see the diet, supplements, and commercial foods pages
- Conflicting life span reports range from 30 to 80 years.
- The online edition of India's national newspaper, The Hindu, describes the life expectancy as 30-35 years.
- The National Zoological Park in New Delhi, India, reports the life span as 40-50 years.
- A life span of 80 years is documented by Sri Venkateswara Institute of Medical Sciences in India.
- On a personal note, I once read a message on a discussion forum from a lady who had kept her Indian Star tortoise as a pet for over 50 years!
Male vs female
- Adult females are larger in size with shorter, stubby tails.
- Adult males are smaller and have longer tails. Males may also have flattened shells, concave plastrons, and narrower post anal caps.
- Determining the gender of young Star tortoises is not always straightforward, but many boys start to flash, i.e., show their male organs, in a warm bath when they reach the weight of 200-300 g.
- See the male vs female page for more details and photos.
Reproduction, eggs, incubation
- See the Star tortoise books page
- In the wild, natural populations of Star tortoises, both Indian and Burmese Stars, are declining rapidly due to habitat loss and illegal collecting.
- The Burmese Star tortoise is especially vulnerable. It's one of most endangered tortoises in the world.
- Support tortoise conservation. Never collect tortoises from the wild! Always buy captive-bred Stars.
- Indian Star tortoises have a reputation for being difficult to keep in captivity. This especially applies to wild-caught (illegal) specimens. They may have already been sick when collected, or may have became sick during transportation due to stress, cold conditions, and exposure to other tortoises and reptiles. In addition, most wild tortoises carry heavy loads of parasites.
- Indian Stars can be somewhat delicate and they tend to be sensitive to cold and long periods of high humidity in cold conditions. They are prone to respiratory problems if kept too cold and damp.
- Indian Stars are also susceptible to pathogens carried by other tortoise species. Always keep them separately from other types of tortoises.
- Not the best choice as a first tortoise, but captive-bred Star tortoises can do quite well when provided with the correct environmental conditions and appropriate diet.