Petkeen is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commision. Learn More

Indian Star Tortoise

Oliver Jones

The Indian Star Tortoise is a shy but beautiful tortoise that has become a popular pet. Endangered in the wild, the Indian star tortoise adapts well to breeding in captivity, allowing eager owners the chance to add an interesting new pet to their household.

If you are considering purchasing an Indian star tortoise, the first step is to learn how to properly care for them. In this article, we will discuss what you need to know about the daily care, diet, tank setup, and other important information on how to keep your Indian star tortoise healthy and safe.divider-turtle

Quick Facts about Indian Star Tortoise

Indian Star Turtle
Image Credit: Indian star tortoise. Hafiz Issadeen, Flickr, Attribution CC 2.0
Species Name: Geochelone elegans
Family: Testudinidae
Care Level: Difficult
Temperature: 90-95 degrees F for basking
70-85 degrees F in enclosure overall
Temperament: Very shy but docile and not territorial
Do not tolerate handling
Color Form: Dark brown or black shell with yellow, star-like markings
Lifespan: 30-55 years
Size: 7-12 inches
Diet: Herbivore
Variety of grasses, leafy greens, etc.
Minimum Tank Size: 50 gallons if kept indoors
Prefers to live outdoors in a 6’ x 6’ enclosure
Tank Set-Up: A thick layer of soil at the bottom, hiding box, basking lamp, plants, and a shallow water container
Compatibility: Indian star tortoises get along well with each other. They do not tolerate other pets.

Indian Star Tortoise Overview

Native to India, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan, the Indian star tortoise is one of the most popular species of pet tortoises due to their striking appearance and docile nature. These tortoises are considered endangered in their native habitat. Because of this, it’s illegal to capture and export Indian star tortoises, although unfortunately, this does still occur.

Indian star tortoises are used to a warm, wet natural environment. To stay healthy, their captive environment will need to be as similar as possible to the natural one. Indian star tortoises prefer to live outside if they are able.

Indian star tortoises will not be the right pet for everyone. They are shy and don’t tolerate handling well. In addition, they do have some pretty specific care requirements. Indian star tortoises are sensitive creatures who won’t tolerate many variations to those requirements either.

Keeping an Indian star tortoise will require a daily time commitment and attention to keeping their enclosures and diet just right. If you think you are up for the challenge, read on to find out more details about caring for the Indian star tortoise!

How Much Do Indian Star Tortoise Cost?

As we discussed, Indian star tortoises cannot be legally caught and sold from the wild. Fortunately, these tortoises breed well in captivity so there are many captive-bred tortoises available for sale.

The cost to purchase an Indian star tortoise can run anywhere from $500-$4,000, depending on the age of the turtle. Baby tortoises are less expensive while breeding females will fetch a much higher price.

Typical Behavior & Temperament

Unlike many tortoise species, the Indian star tortoise is not territorial or aggressive. Several tortoises, either male or female, can be safely kept together provided their enclosure is large enough. Indian star tortoises are not big diggers or climbers like many other types of tortoises.

Indian star tortoises are very shy and spend a lot of their time hiding either in a hiding box or in tall grass. They do not tolerate handling and can become stressed if handled too much.

Appearance & Varieties

A big reason why the Indian star tortoise is so popular is its beautiful markings. Indian star tortoises feature a dark brown or black shell, with a pattern of ridges along the back and sides. Each of these ridges is marked with bright yellow streaks, forming the star patterns that give this tortoise its name. The head, tail, and legs of the Indian star tortoise are covered with light brown scales.

Technically, there are three separate variants of Indian star tortoises, depending on where they are found. These tortoises are native to India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Indian Star varieties from Pakistan and northern India tend to be larger and darker colored than those from southern India. The Sri Lankan tortoises are larger than the southern India variety and usually have more yellow on their shells.

divider-turtle

How to Take Care of Indian Star Tortoise

Indian star tortoises can be a bit tricky to care for. While their needs aren’t too complicated, they won’t tolerate if they don’t have just the right living conditions and may become sick or unhealthy. Here are some guidelines on how to properly care for your Indian star tortoise.

Habitat, Tank Conditions & Setup

Outdoor Enclosure

If you live in a warm climate, Indian star tortoises will happily live outdoors.

Indian star tortoises can be kept in a 6’ x 6’ outdoor enclosure. The fence surrounding the enclosure only needs to be about 8 inches high since these tortoises are not good climbers. If there is a danger of predators in your area, you may need to provide protective screening over your tortoise enclosure.

Within the enclosure, your tortoises will need a hiding box, heated if necessary. There should also be a grassy area, including tall grass for hiding, as well as a bare dirt area for basking or laying eggs. Also, be sure to include a shallow water dish large enough for the tortoises to soak.

Indoor Tank Setup

If you are keeping your Indian star tortoise indoors, one adult tortoise will need at least a 50-gallon tank to live comfortably. Make sure the tank has adjustable vents or a screened side for proper ventilation.

Place at least 6-8 inches of substrate like peat moss or organic potting soil in the bottom of the tank. You can add rocks or other features if you want but they aren’t necessary. Add some live plants to the tank but make sure they are safe for your tortoise to eat.

Your tortoise’s tank will also need a hiding spot and a shallow water dish big enough for the tortoise to soak in.

Temperature

Indian star tortoises need to live in very warm conditions. The tank will need a basking spot, heated to about 90-95 degrees F. The rest of the tank should always stay above 70 degrees, with an ideal temperature in the mid-80s F.

Besides heating lamps, heating pads can be used to keep your tortoise’s tank nice and warm. A tank thermometer is recommended to help keep the temperature in a safe range.

Humidity

Indian star tortoises need high humidity as well. The tank humidity should be kept at around 80%. Dry tank conditions can lead to respiratory problems so this is one of those living conditions we mentioned that needs to stay just right to keep your tortoise healthy.

Installing a hygrometer in your tank is the best way to monitor the humidity and make adjustments as needed. Keeping the substrate moist and adjusting the tank vents can help keep humidity high. You can also place an automatic mister in your tank.

Lighting

Indian star tortoises require UV light to stay healthy. Outdoor tortoises will get their UV rays from sunlight, but you will need to provide your indoor tortoise with a UVB light.

You will want a 10% UVB light which covers your tortoise’s entire tank. The tortoise will need 8-12 hours of UVB exposure daily.divider-turtle

Does The Indian Star Tortoise Get Along with Other Pets?

Indian star tortoises get along very well together, unlike many species of tortoise. Even male Indian star tortoises can live together without aggression or becoming territorial. Several male and female tortoises can happily co-exist in a large enough (usually outdoor) enclosure.

Because they are so shy and sensitive, Indian star tortoises don’t get along well with other animals, especially predator-type animals like dogs and cats. You will need to make sure your Indian star tortoise is secure and feels safe from any other pets in the household.

Make sure outdoor enclosures are secure and that your tortoises can’t see out of their fence if they are sharing their yard with dogs or cats. Indoors, you will want to keep your tortoise tank safely away from other pets. Even if your dogs and cats don’t behave aggressively towards your tortoise, just the stress of knowing an animal they consider a predator is present can cause problems with your tortoise.

What to Feed Your Indian Star Tortoise

Indian star tortoises are herbivores and natural foragers who will eat a range of plants and vegetables. To keep your tortoise healthy, you should feed a high-fiber, calcium-rich diet with as much variety as possible.

Some healthy food choices for your tortoise include:
  • Grasses, including alfalfa, Bermuda, and ryegrass
  • Leafy greens such as lettuces, mustard greens, or dandelion greens
  • Prickly pear cactus leaves
  • Vegetables such as carrots, squash, or bell peppers
  • Commercial tortoise diets

Avoid feeding your tortoise fruit, which can cause diarrhea and lead to dehydration. You should also not feed vegetables such as spinach and kale because they can interfere with how your tortoise uses calcium in its body.

Feed your tortoise about as much as they can eat in 15-30 minutes every day. Another good gauge for how much to feed the tortoise is to feed about as much food as the size of their shell.          divider-turtle

Keeping Your Indian star tortoise Healthy

Providing the correct living conditions and feeding a healthy diet are the best steps you can take to keep your Indian star tortoise healthy. The two most common health concerns in Indian star tortoises are directly related to improper diet and living conditions.

  • Respiratory Issues – Indian star tortoises can develop respiratory issues if they become too cold or dry. You will notice swelling and discharge from your tortoise’s eyes, nose, and mouth if this happens. Keeping your tortoise’s tank humid and warm will help you avoid these problems. Dirty tanks or enclosures can also contribute to respiratory problems. You should make time to spot clean your tortoise’s tank every day and change their water when it becomes dirty. Once a month you will need to deep clean and sanitize your tortoise’s full enclosure.
  • Metabolic Bone Disease – If tortoises aren’t getting enough UV light or a calcium-rich diet, they can develop issues with their bones and shell. Not getting enough calcium leads to brittle and weak bones as well as shell disease. Your tortoise’s shell may crack or develop holes, putting them at risk for other health problems. To avoid any issues with calcium, make sure your tortoise gets the recommended amount of daily UV light. Change the bulb in your UV lamp every 6 months to be sure it’s always working. Feed a varied diet and ask your veterinarian if you need to add calcium or vitamin supplements to your tortoise’s food as well.

Breeding

Indian star tortoises breed well in captivity. They usually breed and lay eggs in warm and wet conditions, which will be seasonal for outdoor tortoises, typically fall or winter. Indoor tortoises may breed and lay eggs year-round if conditions are suitable.

Female tortoises burrow into the sand or dirt to lay their eggs, so they must have access to an area of substrate deep enough for them to accomplish this. Indian star tortoises may lay eggs 1-4 times per year, producing 2-6 eggs each time.

To successfully hatch Indian star tortoises, it is recommended that they be incubated between 100-180 days at a temperature of 80-89 degrees F. The sex of the baby tortoises is determined by the temperatures at which they are incubated. Higher temperatures of 88-89 degrees will develop more quickly and produce females. Male tortoises arrive when the incubation temperatures are cooler, 84-85 degrees.

Hatchling tortoises should be kept indoors for safety as they grow. Their habitat and diet needs are similar to adult tortoises although they may require more calcium to grow properly. Consult your veterinarian to be sure you are providing the right nutrition for your growing tortoises.

Are Indian Star Tortoises Suitable For You?

Keeping an Indian star tortoise as a pet might be the right choice for you if you are willing to devote the daily time to keep them healthy. As we discussed, they are not a pet that can tolerate dirty or incorrect living conditions without becoming sick or distressed. A good rule of thumb is to expect to spend about 45 minutes a day caring for your Indian star tortoise.

If you can provide a safe enclosure for the Indian star tortoise, as well as be diligent about keeping it clean, warm, and humid, you might just be a suitable owner for one of these beautiful creatures.

divider-turtle

Conclusion

Indian star tortoises make beautiful, if not very interactive pets. Keeping any kind of pet is a big responsibility and not one that should be taken lightly. Make sure you know what you are getting into by doing your research and learning all you can before committing to bringing an Indian star tortoise into your household. Also remember, that Indian star tortoises live significantly longer than pets like dogs or cats, as long as 30-55 years, so this could be a very long commitment indeed!

You May Also Like: Turtle vs. Tortoise: What’s the Difference? (With Pictures)


Featured Image Credit: Indian Star Tortoise  Sandeep Gangadharan, Flickr, Attribute CC 2.0

Oliver Jones

Oliver (Ollie) Jones - A zoologist and freelance writer living in South Australia with his partner Alex, their dog Pepper, and their cat Steve (who declined to be pictured). Ollie, originally from the USA, holds his master's degree in wildlife biology and moved to Australia to pursue his career and passion but has found a new love for working online and writing about animals of all types.