The Indian starred tortoise is named for the pattern on their shell. The general shape of the shell is a dome. Each scute on the shell rises to a rounded point resembling a pyramid in its shape. The shell is darkly colored and patterned with yellowish-brown lines which radiate out from the centre of each scute. This is highly variable between individuals. Some have a central ‘X’ pattern with others having an intricate pattern made up of many lines.
Their pattern helps to break up their body shape and provide camouflage on the forest floor.
On the underside of the shell (plastron) they have a pattern of dark lines radiating across a yellow background.
Across the skin on the head, legs and tails they are colored yellow or tan though this can be marked with dark patches. Their front legs are heavily scaled.
Male Indian starred tortoises are larger than females. Their tail is longer and tapers to a point. Females will measure between 25 and 30cm (10-12in) long while males measure 15-20cm (6-8in) long. One extraordinarily large female was measured at 38cm (15in) long. Their weight can vary from 1-6.6kg (2.2-14.54lbs).
The Indian starred tortoise is a herbivore. Their diet is made up of grasses, weeds, cactus, berries, succulents, flowers and fruit.
Some reports exist of them eating insects, carrion and feces.
They require large amounts of water and as such are most active during periods of heavy rain.
— AD —
Asia is the native home of the Indian starred tortoise. Here they can be found in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Their range is broken in to three distinct areas.
They make their home in dry areas including scrubland, grassland, deciduous forests and desert edges. In areas where humans live they may move in to fields and plantations.
Breeding occurs during the rainy season which occurs from June to November. Pairs of males will battle one another and attempt to flip one another on to their backs.
The victor will attempt to mate with the female. He will circle her a few times before attempting to mate. Females typically pay little attention to the male and may continue to eat while this is taking place. While mating the male makes grunting noises.
Between 60 and 90 days after mating the female will begin to seek out a suitable nesting site. Once she finds a nesting site she will urinate to soften the soil before digging a hole in to which she deposits the eggs with her hind legs. This is dug 10-15cm (4-6in) deep.
In to this nest she deposits a clutch of between 1 and 10 eggs which are white and round. While each clutch is small they may lay up to nine clutches in a breeding season.
Once these eggs are buried they will incubate for 47-180 days. This range is created by the variability in temperature at which the eggs incubate.
Hatchlings lack the adult coloration with a dark colored shell. This is patterned with rectangular orange and yellow patches.
After hatching the young are entirely independent.
Males mature before females. The male reaches maturity between 6 and 8 years old while females reach this milestone between 8 and 12years. In captivity these milestones are reached earlier.
The Indian starred tortoise is active by day. To avoid the heat they are primarily active in the morning and late afternoon. During the heat of the day they will retire to a patch of vegetation where they can hide.
Activity levels will increase during the rainy season. During the coldest parts of the year they may become inactive in some parts of their range.
Predators and Threats
Due to their weight and hard shell they face no predators as adults. Eggs are taken by a wide range of predators including jackals, foxes, other large reptiles and birds of prey.
Humans affect their population through collection for the pet trade and hunting for their meat and the shell which is turned in to souvenirs. As many as 10-20,000 are estimated to be collected each year.
Another threat is habitat destruction and degradation.
It is thought that the shape of their shell may help them turn over when they tip on to their back.
Copyright. The Animal Facts
By Poorna Kedar – originally posted to Flickr as Indian Star Turtles, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8864236
Jacob.jose – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20546974
By Deepugn – Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15421476
Burnie, D., 2011. Animal. 3rd ed. London: DK
Australian Reptile Park – Wildlife Park Sydney & Animal Encounters Australia. 2020. Star Tortoise Habitat, Diet & Reproduction – Sydney. [online] Available at: <https://reptilepark.com.au/animals/reptiles/turtles-tortoises/star-tortoise/> [Accessed 18 October 2020].
Bouchard, K. 2009. “Geochelone elegans” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed October 18, 2020 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Geochelone_elegans/
Australia Zoo. 2020. Star Tortoise – Australia Zoo. [online] Available at: <https://www.australiazoo.com.au/wildlife/our-animals/star-tortoise/> [Accessed 18 October 2020].
Hoglezoo.org. 2020. Indian Star Tortoise | Utah’s Hogle Zoo. [online] Available at: <https://www.hoglezoo.org/meet_our_animals/animal_finder/indian_star_tortoise/> [Accessed 18 October 2020].
Choudhury, B.C., de Silva, A. & Shepherd, C. 2020. Geochelone elegans. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T39430A123815345. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-2.RLTS.T39430A123815345.en. Downloaded on 18 October 2020.
Columbuszoo.org. 2020. Animal Guide | Columbus Zoo And Aquarium. [online] Available at: <https://www.columbuszoo.org/guide/animal.html?id=5f59a526-7f3e-4ab6-83b2-66ff32d78467> [Accessed 18 October 2020].