In Indian / Sri Lankan star tortoises (Geochelone elegans) and Burmese star tortoises (Geochelone platynota), adult females are larger in size and have shorter, stubby tails. Their plastrons (bottom shells, bellies) are flat. The bony opening for the tail, aka post anal gap, is rounder to allow passage of eggs.
Adult star tortoise males are smaller than females. Males have longer tails and concave (curved inward) plastrons. Both help in breeding. Adult male tortoises may also have more flattened shells and narrower post anal gaps.
Very young males have a flat plastron and a short tail. The tail will get bigger and the plastron will concave as the tortoise grows and matures. Many males start out looking like females and then suddenly grow a big tail.
For photos and more details on gender differences, see the star tortoise male vs female page.
1.) Indian star tortoises
In the wild, Indian star tortoise males have been observed to reach maturity around 6-8 years of age and females at 8-12 years.
In captivity, tortoises tend to grow and mature faster. Captive-bred star tortoise males may start siring as young as 3-4 years of age and captive-bred females may start laying eggs as young as 4-6 years of age.
In tortoises, size is generally more important for maturity than age. Female Indian stars typically won't lay eggs until they weigh at least 900-1,000 g (31.7- 35.3 oz). Sri Lankan females grow larger than Indians and may start laying fertile eggs at about 2,000 g (70.5 oz). Males mature at about half of the females' weights.
2.) Burmese star tortoises
Males tend to mature faster and some captive-bred Burmese star males have sired hatchlings as young as 3-4 years of age. Minimum egg laying weight for captive-bred Burmese star females is around 3,000-4,000 g (106-141 oz). They will reach this breeding size in about 4-8 years.
Caution! Breeding small, very young or very old females of any tortoise species is NOT recommended due to possible problems with egg laying like egg binding.
Burmese star tortoise hatchling with an egg tooth aka caruncle. It's the small, sharp bump on the beak used by the baby to pierce the egg from the inside.
In the wild, mating typically occurs during rainy seasons (wet monsoons), but in captivity stars may mate year round. Star tortoises are fairly docile maters. Males may grunt, but they do not generally butt, bite, or ram much during courtship.
Freshly hatched Burmese star tortoise baby.
1.) Groups & singles
Usually, star tortoises are peaceful animals and get along quite well in groups, but they should not be kept in too cramped conditions. Provide large outdoor enclosures for bigger groups. This allows animals to get away from each other when they desire some peace and quiet.
Every tortoise group has its own dynamics depending on the tortoises' personalities. Some tortoises get along well and others don't. Males can also pester females incessantly. In that case, it's best to house males and females separately most of the time to avoid overstressing the females.
Multiple star tortoise males and females can often be kept together, especially outdoors, if a large enough enclosure is provided. The number of females should always exceed the number of males. The male to female ratio should be at least 1:2, but preferably 1:3, 1:4, or higher.
Having more than one male in a group can stimulate breeding vigor due to the competition among males. However, in large tortoise groups, the strongest male can also dominate the other males and be the only one mating with the females. Separating large groups to smaller breeding units solves this problem (Lawkananda Burmese star tortoise breeding facility in Myanmar, TSA blog, Apr 2011).
Indoors, star tortoises can be kept singly or in smaller groups, because space is usually limited. For a SHORT time, TEMPORARY stay (e.g. overnight or brief winter indoors), a small Indian Star breeding group of 1 male and 2 females should have AT LEAST a 3ft x 6ft size enclosure. But as always, the bigger the enclosure, the better. Sri Lankans and Burmese stars are larger, so they require more space than Indians.
Keeping both males and females in single setups during winter indoor housing is the best way to reduce stress. Winter separation also tends to stimulate breeding activity when tortoises are moved outdoors in the spring and reintroduced.
2.) Published recommendations
For breeding group size, British & Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) recommends small mixed sex groups for Indian star tortoises and trios (1 male : 2 females) for Burmese Star tortoises.
Holger Vetter's (Terralog: Turtles of the World, Vol 4) recommendation is to keep 2 male and 2 female (2:2) Indian star tortoises as a group, and 1 male and 2 female (1:2) Burmese star tortoises as a group.
1.) Weight gain
If you weigh your adult female tortoise regularly, a sudden weight gain is a telltale sign that she's gravid. A large female star tortoise carrying eggs may weigh up to 500 g (1.1 lb) more than usual. She will also be restless, sniff the ground, and may dig test pits for egg laying.
2.) Indoor nesting
Do provide a proper nesting box or egg laying area if your female star tortoise must lay her eggs indoors due to it being too cold to go outside.
The nesting box or area should have at least 8"-12" (20-30 cm) deep soil. If the female hits the bottom of the tub with her feet during nest digging, she may abandon the hole as not acceptable.
Keep the soil warm and somewhat damp so that it will not crumble when excavated. Do not disturb the female during egg laying.
3.) Indian stars
Female Indian / Sri Lankan star tortoises typically lay 1-4 clutches a year. Clutch size varies from 1 to 10 eggs, the average being 4-5 eggs. Eggs are hard shelled, about 3.5-4.5 cm (1.4"-1.8") long, and weigh around 18-42 g (0.6-1.4 oz).
4.) Burmese stars
Burmese star tortoises do well in captivity and can be quite prolific egg producers. Each clutch typically contains about 6-12 eggs, but the number of eggs may be as low as 3 or as high as 17 or even more.
A large, mature female may lay 3-4 clutches and up to 50 eggs per year. Younger females tend to have lower fertility levels than more experienced egg layers.
Burmese star tortoises often lay eggs during the winter months from October to February, but they may also nest during the warmer summer months.
See the Indian & Burmese star tortoise incubation and incubators pages for info on incubation temperature, humidity, incubators, and incubation substrates.
1.) Yolk sac
If your hatchling is born with a large yolk sac, be extra cautious. You don't want the sac to rupture. Let the hatchling stay in the incubator inside the partially open egg until he has absorbed all of the yolk sac and is ready to come out himself.
If the hatchling has already left the egg, but has a large yolk sac, put him back into the incubator in a small deli cup lined with wet paper towels. You can form a paper towel "ring" that the hatchling will rest on. This will take the pressure of the yolk sac. Instead of moist paper towels, some keepers smear Vaseline (petroleum jelly) or antibiotic ointment on the remaining yolk sac and the bottom of the cup.
Keep the yolk sac clean and moist until it's absorbed. Once the sac is absorbed, you can move the hatchling from the incubator into his baby enclosure.
2.) First housing
Star tortoise babies like warmth and benefit greatly from higher ambient humidity. High humidity helps prevent dehydration and aids in smooth shell development.
Always provide many hiding places and place bunches of real or artifial plants in the enclosure. Baby tortoises feel stressed if they are too exposed and have nowhere to hide.
Little babies, up to 50-100 g (1.8-3.5 oz) or so, do well in smaller enclosures because it's easier to keep the temperature and humidity up in them. A 4 ft x 2 ft (48" x 24") or a 6 ft x 2 ft (72" x 24" ) size tub or vivarium works well for a newly hatched group of star babies.
For more detailed info, see the housing and diet pages.
Related pages: incubation, incubators