Indian Star Tortoise


Geochelone elegans

Order: Testudines

In the United States herpkeepers typically identify Indian and Sri Lankan star tortoises, but both are classified as Geochelone elegans.

Husbandry Information

Housing Requirements

  • An exhibit 6 feet long by 6 feet wide is sufficient for one to four tortoises with one-foot walls.
  • Temperature, Humidity, & Lighting:
    • Temperature: optimal temperature is between 75 and 90 F. Basking temps at 95 degrees
    • Humidity:
    • Lighting: Indoors, UVB can be obtained from fluorescent tubes specially made for use by reptiles or from mercury vapor bulbs, which also provide some heat. If fluorescent tubes are used for UVB, a separate lamp may be required for heat, so the tortoise can thermoregulate and raise its temperature to optimal levels for digestion
  • Substrate:
  • Star tortoises readily drink standing water, so provide a water dish, but check it daily, and clean it as required.

Diet Requirements

  • Omnivore. Tend to be more carnivorous when young and move more towards herbivorous when they are adults.
  • Star tortoises graze and feed on a variety of grasses and vegetation. They require a high-fiber diet rich in calcium. Under human care, their diet may include grasses, greens, vegetables, fruit, and prepackaged or commercial diets.
    • Grasses may include but aren’t limited to Bermuda grass, rye, mature alfalfa (not sprouts), blue grass and fescue. Greens may include but aren’t limited to collard greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, dandelion greens and flowers, hibiscus leaves and flowers, grape leaves, escarole, and mulberry tree leaves. Vegetables may include but aren’t limited to spineless cactus pads (Opuntia species), carrots, zucchini, butternut squash, pumpkin, snap or snow peas, mushrooms, sweet potato, yellow squash and bell peppers.
    • A small portion of their diet may include fruits, such as tomatoes, apples, papayas, cantaloupes, honeydews, watermelons, strawberries, raspberries, grapes, mangos and bananas.

Veterinary Concerns

  • It is recommended that tortoises have a calcium-rich diet with a calcium-to-phosphorus ratio of 2-1.
  • Star tortoises are prone to respiratory problems, which occur when a tortoise is cold or is kept in suboptimal conditions. Signs of a respiratory problem include labored breathing, a nasal discharge, a gaping mouth, puffy eyes, lethargy and a loss of appetite. If not corrected, minor problems can progress to more serious conditions, such as pneumonia.

Notes on Enrichment & Training


Colony or Breeding Management

Notes species is housed or managed socially or for breeding purposes.

Individual Identification

Dimorphism: Females grow larger than males.

Programmatic Information


Temperature Guidelines



    • Brandywine Zoo: small reptiles travel in a Coleman “Party Stacker” type cooler that has been amended with extra ventilation holes on the lid (with a wood-burning tool). The cooler is lined with newspaper and, during cool weather (under 65°F), supplemental heat is provided with a hot water bottle (wrapped in newspaper)

    cooler     hot water bottle

Tips on Presentation

Touching Techniques

Tips on Handling

  • Zoo America: Ours defecates frequently, making them not good holding animals. Good on walks and grazing.

Potential Messaging

  • In general, animals seen at the zoo do not make good pets. Most have specialized dietary, veterinary, housing, and social needs that are difficult or impossible for even dedicated pet owners to meet. Always ensure that your future pet has not been taken from the wild. Capture of wild animals for the pet trade has significantly damaged the survival prospects of species such as sloths, tamanduas, and many parrots. Captured animals are typically mistreated by profit-motivated traffickers and dealers, resulting in many animal deaths; well-meaning animal lovers may feel like they are rescuing animals by purchasing them but are really perpetuating the cruelty. In addition, many exotic pets are released by their owners when they become too dangerous or demanding, often with devastating effects on local ecosystems. Animals that should never be kept as pets include all bats, primates, and exotic carnivores. Birds, fish, and reptiles have specialized needs, are frequently wild-caught, and damage the local environment if released; guests should be advised to educate themselves and proceed with caution. Domestic dogs and cats are almost always the best option! Many deserving animals are available for adoption at animal shelters.

Acquisition Information

Only captive-bred star tortoises are available because they are protected throughout their natural range. There is no legal export of wild-caught specimens.

Comments from the Rating System

Natural History Information

Range and Habitat

Native to India, Sri Lanka and southeastern Pakistan. Although there are no formally recognized subspecies, there are geographically separate variants.

Physical Description

Yellow lines radiating from the center of each scute and contrasting with their black base color. Females typically attain a length of about 7 or 8 inches, and males typically only reach 5 or 6 inches in length. Specimens from Sri Lanka and northwest India grow larger. Sri Lankan females may grow to 15 inches long, but males only reach 8 or 9 inches long.

Life Cycle

30 to 80 years longevity


They also are not territorial. Multiple males and females may be kept together without the fighting, aggressive biting and ramming encountered during breeding by the European species.

Threats and Conservation Status


Did you know…


Cover image: JERRY D. FIFE


Any Documents to attach, species spotlights, etc.

Contributors and Citations