Star Tortoise Garden @
Star Tortoise Garden @

This and That

Testudos, stars & leos

The Indian / Sri Lankan star tortoise is said to be closely related to the leopard tortoise from Africa. Thus, most leopard tortoise care info also applies to star tortoises. Both stars and leopards are herbivorous grazers (eat grasses) and browsers (eat leaves, shoots, vines, scrubs, etc.). Both are non-hibernating grassland species and require warm conditions year round, but leopards grow much larger than star tortoises.

Mediterranean Testudo species, like Greek tortoises and Hermann's tortoises, have similar diet and environmental requirements as well. Unlike stars, Greeks like to dig and burrow. Also, many of the Mediterranean region tortoises hibernate (brumate) in the wild during the winter. Stars do not.

In addition to star tortoise caresheets, read also care info for leopard and Testudo tortoises, and see what ideas from them you can implement in your star care.

Choosing your first tortoise

1.) Lifetime commitment

Before acquiring your first tortoise, research, research, and research. Tortoises are lifetime pets and may outlive you. Do not buy a tortoise on an impulse. Take your time and be well informed.

2.) Compare species

Learn as much as you can about the different species you are interested in. How big do they grow? Do you have adequate space for them? Are they a temperate or a tropical species? Do they hibernate (brumate) in the wild or are they active throughout the year? Is your climate suitable for keeping those species outdoors? Is your climate too hot, too cold, too dry, too wet, or just right? What are the ideal temperature and humidity levels for the species? What are their diet requirements? Are they herbivores or omnivores?

3.) Choose a species that does well in your climate

Ideally, choose a species you can keep successfully outside all year round or at least much of the year. The more time your tortoises can spend outdoors (weather depending), the happier you and they will be. You will have less work and more enjoyment, and they will live healthier, more natural lives.

4.) Follow your passion

Most of all, pick a tortoise species you are passionate about. Choose what you love!!! Caring for tortoises you love and adore will bring you so much more joy than a species you merely like. Make your choice based on your passion, not on the price of the tortoise. The purchase price, even if higher, is only a tiny part of the future care costs. Over the years, you will end up paying so much more for the enclosures, heaters, basking bulbs, UVB bulbs, daily food, medical care, and so on.

Use common sense

There's a lot of conflicting tortoise care info in tortoise books and especially on the web. Often you will not find only one correct answer, but many possible right answers. Nobody has all the right answers for you because everyone's circumstances are different.

Don't limit your research to one reference only, but read as many sources as possible. For example, you can read both US and European books and forums to get a wider view on the topics you are researching. Then decide what's safe and correct for your tortoise in your specific situation.

If you follow online tortoise discussion groups and forums, be cautious of the "group mentality" or "herd mentality." This is common in forums and the "accepted" tortoise care practices vary from group to group. Sometimes, it becomes the "group way or no way."

Use common sense and create your own personalized care plan while ensuring the correct temperature, humidity, and diet for your species. Observe your tortoise and adjust your habitat and care as needed.

Sri Lankan star tortoise

An Indian star tortoise, Sri Lankan type, enjoying a sunny day outdoors.

New tortoise

Do set up the indoor enclosure before bringing your new tortoise home. This way everything will be ready when he comes, and you can sit back and enjoy watching your newest family member explore his new place. Or not... Many tortoises are shy and cautious in new surroundings and keep on hiding for a while. Others may be overactive for a day or two pacing the enclosure and trying to climb the walls in a desperately attempt to get out.

If your new tortoise is hesitant to eat, offer him his favorite foods (ask his breeder what they are) and give him daily warm soaks before feeding. A warm bath often stimulates appetite. Otherwise, don't overhandle a new tortoise, just let him be and settle into his new home. This may take a few days, several weeks, or even months.

Healthy tortoise

Basically, to keep a tortoise healthy, you'll need to provide lots of outdoor time with free access to sunshine, a healthy diet high in fiber and nutrients, additional calcium at least for babies and egg carrying females, a vitamin & mineral supplement if diet is not ideal, proper temperatures, good hydration, room for exercise, and a low stress environment.

Tortoises are creatures of habit. They don't like changes and often find them stressful. Avoid making extensive redesigns to your tortoise enclosures and stick to your daily care routine as much as possible.

Growth charts

1.) Record babies' growth

Creating growth charts for baby tortoises is not only useful but also fun. Record the weight and length at regular intervals, e.g. weekly or monthly, to keep track of weight gain and growth.

Record keeping is beneficial for adult tortoises as well. A loss of weight can indicate health problems, and a sudden weight gain in a mature female tortoise is a good indicator that she's carrying eggs.

For weight measuring, I use a postal scale. It measurers up to 15 lb and is great for smaller tortoises. Digital kitchen scales work well, too. For length measuring, I use a 12 inch digital caliper.

2.) How to measure SCL, CCL & SPL

For length, the most commonly used measure is the straight line carapace length (SCL). It is the distance from the carapace (top shell) front edge to the back edge measured straight across the plastron (bottom shell). You can also measure the curved carapace length (CCL). It's the the distance from the carapace front edge to the back edge over the carapace. Straight line plastron length (SPL) can me measured as well.

If you don't have a caliper, you can mark the carapace edges on a piece of paper or draw the outline of the shell. Do this monthly on the same paper, and you can instantly see how much your tortoise has grown!

You can also use two books for a "bookend style" measuring of the SCL. Place the books standing up at the head and tail ends of the carapace and then measure the distance between the books.

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