Indian Star Tortoise Care
One of the more visually striking tortoises available today, the Indian star is a beautiful animal that originates from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Officially listed as ‘vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List, the biggest threat to their continued survival is habitat loss, with poaching for the food and pet trades coming in behind that.
A medium sized tortoise, the girls are bigger than the boys and can get up to 30cm, with the boys up to 20cm on average. The bright pattern on the carapace is made up of dark triangles on a light background; as they age, Indian stars often get lighter as the coloured portion of the carapace gets worn. In others of the ‘star’ group of tortoises (like the Radiated), the tortoises get darker as they age because they have a light pattern on a dark background.
Classed as a tropical tortoise, Indian stars do not hibernate. They are known to hide away from particularly hot weather, but in general are active for most of the year. The areas they are found in tend to be very dry through most of the year, but are subject to monsoon rains with the higher humidity that results. This can make them rather more challenging to breed, as with Mediterranean tortoises it’s just a case of using our winter to hibernate them, whereas the Star tortoise needs a wet and a dry season.
Despite being a tropical species, Indian stars do benefit from spending time outside when the weather is suitable. Like all tortoises, natural UV is very good for them, and the opportunity to forage naturally provides them with essential environmental enrichment.
Unlike their Mediterranean cousins, Indian star tortoises can be kept very effectively in a large vivarium of at least 120x60x60cm, equipped with a halogen basking bulb controlled by a dimming thermostat, and a T5 UV unit of appropriate size. They need to be able to regulate their heat, UV and humidity exposure, so the enclosure needs to be large enough to allow these variations in conditions. Once they are a few years old and somewhat grown on they can live quite happily in a large tortoise table; they are not the most active species, but will still need a significant amount of space as adults – something to take into account when planning your purchase. They can be rather shy as babies, and will need lots of cover to hide under and behind. Make sure that they can get out of sight easily, as they will build confidence more quickly if they know that there are secure hides close by.
You will need to create a hotspot of 30 to 35ºC at one end of the vivarium, dropping to a cool end of 25 to 28ºC. Night time temperatures should not dip any lower than 24ºC, so some supplemental heating will probably be required. Keep the cool end a little more humid, so that your tortoise can choose where to sleep.
As they come from a habitat that is very dry and arid for most of the year, their diet must be very high in fibre. The best way to provide this is to provide them with an arid tortoise specific dried mix, good quality timothy hay, or readigrass intended for rabbits and guinea pigs. Dried tortoise foods – NOT pellets – can also be very useful. If your star tortoise is reluctant to eat the high fibre diet, then mix fresh weeds and flowers in with it. Remember to always use a good quality calcium and multivitamin/multimineral powder on all foods.
Tortoises can make excellent pets, but before you commit to one please, please make sure that you are prepared for everything that their care entails – and be ready for their extraordinarily long lifespans.