For More Turtle  and Tortoise Information visit the World Chelonian Trust Web Site

 

Geochelone Elegans  - Jeff Jenkins, Age 14

Geochelone Elegans (Indian Star Tortoise) is a close relative of the large Leopard Tortoise (Geochelone Pardalis). The Indian Star Tortoise can be found in Ceylon and peninsular India. It can also be found westward near Sind. It has also been spotted on the islands of Karaduva and Ramaswaran.

The star tortoise is striking when held in hand. It has radiating "star" patterns about it's carapace. It has a very high domed shell containing natural "pyramids". Females are larger than males in this species reaching ten inches long, and have much broader shells than the males. A large example of a male would be about six inches. The males have much slimmer, smoother shells than that of their female counterparts. Hatchling star tortoises are quite small, being around 1.2 inches at hatching. The hatchlings grow very fast, at six months they around one third larger than they were when they hatched. Hatchlings have very smooth shells. The shells begin to "pyramid" around one year of age.



Captive Husbandry


Housing

Housing for adult star tortoises (Outdoors) Adult Indian Star Tortoises kept outdoors should have a pen measuring a minimum of 6 x 5 feet (2 x 1.75 meters). I find this adequate for 3 adults. (This stocking density can be adjusted upward as necessity dictates depending on the amount of supplemental feeding) They should be given a hide spot to cool off. I would recommend using a small commercial dog house.  They should also be given a soaking area. I recommend using small paint rolling pans with a little bit of water (they cannot swim) buried in the soil. This is a dry climate species and will not go in the water much, but they need it to drink and occasionally soak to cool off. They need a basking spot which is fairly easy to provide. All you need to do is have an area of the pen with no shade so they can "catch some rays". If it is possible, you should plant edible greens in the pen. Try to plant opuntia over all. It is their natural food which is good for them and they love it! They will also feed on grass so make sure it is free of pesticides or you will have dead tortoises on your hands. If planting is not an option for you be sure to provide a mixed salad as you would do for tortoises indoors. The pen should be protected so animals cannot enter. Such animals are raccoons, opossums, dogs, cats and birds of prey. All will find tortoises a tasty treat! One danger I should mention is humans. Yes humans! There have been cases when people have taken tortoises out of other peoples back yards. It is strange but it can happen, so I would put a padlock on the cages just in case! Only keep star tortoises outdoors when weather permits. Don't put them outside when: it rains, is too hot (above 95 degrees F (35 degrees C) without a cool shady spot to shelter), at night, or when the ground is damp. To much wetness leads to skin infections, it may get too cold at night Also, that is when the predators prowl!

Housing adult star tortoises (indoors) The same sized pen should be used inside. For bedding use aspen shavings, dry cypress mulch, or clean soil. Some keepers claim good results with a mixture of one third soil, one third sand, and a third crushed oyster shell. They need to have lighting. I would use a full spectrum fluorescent lamp as a UV source and an incandescent or ceramic lamp for basking. Since you can't put a heat pad on wood, you should keep the room where you are keeping the animals in the 75 to 90 degree F range (24 - 32 degrees C)  They should have a hide box to retreat to as before. You can keep a water bowl in the indoor enclosure but if you have the time it is better to soak them in lukewarm water every other day. If you do keep a water bowl change it every day! The substrate should be changed every couple of weeks or as needed.

Housing of baby star tortoises (indoors) due to their small size young star tortoises can be housed in large aquariums though an open top wooden table type box is better. They should be kept on dry cypress mulch obtainable at any garden store. They should also have a a full spectrum fluorescent lamp and an incandescent or ceramic lamp for basking. Heat pads can be used but you should use enough so that they don't come in direct contact with the pad. This can lead to fatal burning of the skin and shell. They should be provided with a hide box to retreat into. I use a shoe box with a hole cut in the front of it. They should be soaked in lukewarm water every other day only coming up to their chins. They will drink and defecate at this time. I do not recommend putting them outside until they are about a year old.



Food

Star tortoises are to maintained on a 100 percent herbivorous diet. I recommend buying mixed salad greensobtainable at the local supermarket. (endive , loose leaf lettuce , escarole, kale, romaine, collards, Italian dandelion or specialty gourmet salad mixes).  It wouldn't hurt to wash them just to be safe. It is important not to feed the animals too much. It is instinctive for tortoises to eat all that they see in the wild since they may go without food for long periods of time. They practice this in captivity. Always keep the animal a tiny bit hungry (don't starve it!). If you feed the animals to much the become overweight and unhealthy just like people. And if you notice your tortoise looking like a blob between two shingles it needs to go on a diet! All this is is just cutting back on what you feed it. I've noticed my stars also take to broccoli, carrots, celery, and clover sprouts. So don't be afraid to try them. Foods to omit would be Dog Food, meat products, canned tortoise food, and iceberg lettuce. All are addicting and are not good for the animal.



Vitamins

I use a vitamin complex intended for reptiles and a phosphorus free calcium additive a calcium supplement. Star tortoises need allot of calcium, especially babies and egg laying females. Sprinkle the calcium daily, the vitamins about once a week.



Lighting

Use a quality full spectrum fluorescent as the UV source and a ceramic heat lamp or incandescent bulb  as a basking source. You can replace the UV light every year, but six months is best. These lights are obtainable at most pet stores. Keep an average light cycle of 12 hours a day.



Temperature

You should try to keep the daytime temperature on the basking end of the cage to be in the high 80's (31 - 33 C). At night it should be in the middle 70's (about 24 C). On the cool end it should be in the mid 70's (24 C) during the day and the low 70's (21 C) at night.



Behavior

The star tortoises become active in the early morning. That is their way of telling you they are hungry. That is when you feed them. After picking at their salad for a while they will sleep. I have noticed them occasionally wake up to get a little bite to eat, but then they return to their slumber. In the late afternoon they awake and will eat some more. They will be fairly active during this period. When you turn off the lights they will either borrow down and sleep or go in their hide box. When morning comes it's deja vu all over again!



Breeding

Copulation takes place during  June through October. Males will attempt to turn each other over on their backs at this time. When it is time to nest the female walk around sniffing the soil and sometimes trying to climb out of the enclosure. She may even try to mount other tortoises. When she finds the proper site she will urinate on the soil to make the ground softer so the excavation process is easier. After she has finished laying she will cover up the nest and go about her business. She will usually lay up to 3 clutches of 4-6 eggs. They will usually hatch around 100 days at 84 degrees F (29 degrees C). Eggs should be incubated between the temperatures of 84 and 86 degrees F (29 and 30 degrees C)



Basic Reminders

Provide a heat gradient! A heat gradient is a range of temperature in the enclosure, say from 78 degrees on the cool end to 89 degrees on the warm end. This is to allow the tortoise to regulate it's body temperature. Always have the hide box on the cool end. Provide plenty of room for the animal to roam around. Don't overfeed. If you are keeping animals outdoors make sure they are protected from predators. Change fluorescent lights at least once a year. Supply calcium supplement every day and vitamins regularly. Don't overheat. Keep in a dry environment. Soak 2 times a week. Feed a variety of foods.



Final Note

The Indian Star Tortoise is an endangered species. They are not easy to keep and are not for the beginning tortoise keeper. They are very delicate and require a lot of attention. If you decide to keep an Indian Star it is a HUGE responsibility! They are not for everyone. So think it over if you really want one. This care sheet is not saying that this is the only way to keep a star tortoise. These are the methods that work for me.


Back to Tortoise / Turtle Information and Articles
Main
Basic Setup   DietDaily Care and Health    Micro Climate Humidity Booster
Outdoor Husbandry  Gallery Links
"Nutritional Analyses of Replacement Tortoise Foods
   Poems