Indian and Burmese star tortoises are related, but they are two separate species. Both species come from areas with dry and rainy 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 color in older tortoises' shells where the dark color has worn off.
Head and legs are yellow or light brown / beige 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 very prone to pyramiding, especially if kept in too dry conditions during active growth periods.
The thickness and shape of the yellow lines in adult Burmese star tortoises varies. Some individuals have thin lines while others have thicker lines. Some have even-width lines while others have widening lines called flower petal or fan pattern. The lines join each other in a beautiful net pattern. See the star tortoise shell patterns page.
Adult Indian star tortoise in Sri Lanka. 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. See the star shell patterns page. Above photo courtesy of Nigel Wilson (cc).
1.) Burmese star
Burmese star tortoises have a clear six point pattern on most of their vertebral (top) and costal (side) 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 five lines and the first costal scutes more than six.
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.
2.) Indian / Sri Lankan 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.
Burmese star tortoise with a beautiful "flower petal" pattern. Notice how the yellow lines join each other exactly at the ends forming a beautiful net pattern.
Burmese star tortoise with thin, straight lines. Notice how the yellow lines again meet each other exactly at the ends.
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.
1.) Adult tortoises
If the tortoise is a subadult or an adult, looking at the plastron is a simple way to distinguish between the two star tortoise species. Adult Indian / Sri Lankan stars tortoises’ plastrons (bellies) have a star burst pattern. Adult Burmese stars’ plastrons have dark triangular markings and possibly some dark lines.
2.) Baby tortoises
In hatchlings, the plastron markings are not yet as easy to distinguish. Novice keepers often find it difficult to differentiate newly hatched Indian and Burmese stars from each other.
Indian star tortoise at Crocodile bank in India. Photo courtesy of Pandiyan (cc) pwp.
Indian star tortoise 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.
As Indian and Sri Lankan star tortoises are one species, you can only differentiate them if you know their background and lineage. Adult size may be a clue because Sri Lankans tend to grow larger than southern Indian mainland stars. However, northwestern Indian stars can be large as well, although their colors tend to be less bright.
Indian stars shell patterns vary so much, sometimes even within the same clutch, that Indian and Sri Lankan star tortoises cannot be reliably identified by looks only. Thick yellow bands or widening lines on the shell are NOT a dependable indicator of a Sri Lankan star.
If you know your tortoise's parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents 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 bred with each other in captivity. Unfortunately. Most Indian stars in the pet trade are mainland stars, not Sri Lankans.
Related page: shell patterns