Getting started with your Indian star tortoise

Indian star tortoises

Juvenile Sri Lankan star tortoise
Juvenile Sri Lankan star tortoise

The Indian star tortoise is one of the most beautifully decorated tortoises, and is relatively uncommon as a pet. These tortoises are from the "dry-zones" of India and Sri Lanka, and this is the environment that we try to replicate when keeping them. They require different care than the more common Mediterranean tortoises. As hatchlings, they have a shell just a few cm (just over an inch) long. As adults, females can be 25 cm (10 inches) long, while males are usually under 20 cm (8 inches) long. Most of the growth happens in the first 10 years. They should normally live for about 30 years, but the current record is 55 years in their natural habitat. In British terminology, they are tortoises, not turtles, as they do not live in water.

As youngsters, they have beautiful yellow butterfly-shaped markings on a rich, black background. As they grow, the yellow markings extend into narrow star rays, pointing in all directions from the centre of each scute. They are a little more shy than the common Mediterranean tortoises, and do not demand so much attention. Indian stars are terrestrial, living on the ground. They can be quite sedentary, with a significantly slower walking speed, and can live comfortably in smaller spaces than equally sized Mediterranean tortoises, with lower requirements for attention and exercise. They are still, however, quite charming, and are intelligent enough to bond with their owners. They rarely bite humans (except when investigating brightly coloured items like painted nails, to see if they are food), but if they do, their beak can produce a painful pinch. They are a CITES II and EU Wildlife Trade Regulations Annex B protected species, which do not require paperwork or a microchip.


A tortoise's enclosure is its home and territory. The place where it is happy to spend its time, and the place it feels safest. Tortoises are generally happiest when kept in an appropriately sized enclosure. For their first few years, youngsters can be kept in smaller enclosures, with larger enclosures being provided as they grow. They will also use the floor of the house for exercise, and may use the garden for exercise on the rare days when the weather allows it. At all ages, tortoises need this indoor enclosure, which will provide their preferred natural conditions.

These animals are from humid environments, so although in some cases it is possible to use a tortoise table enclosure, wooden vivariums with sliding glass doors are best, as the humidity needs to be managed in the enclosure. The ventillation in most vivariums is not adequate, and extra vents will need to be added (for example, add 10 round 70 mm - just under 3 inches - soffit vents). Alternatively, the glass doors can be wedged open a few cm (an inch). All wooden joints should be sealed with aquarium silicone to avoid water damage. If using a tortoise table enclosure, the walls need to be taller than the length of the tortoise's shell, and must be slippery so that the tortoise cannot climb them. Pine enclosures must be coated in non-toxic paint or varnish, to prevent the pine from releasing toxins when it is heated.

The tortoise should not be able to see out through any glass in front of them. If they can see out, it makes them want to get out, which can be stressful. They cannot see glass, and may be injured by trying to climb through it. If needed, a visual barrier can be painted on the outside of any glass with non-toxic (eg. water-based acrylic) paint. This barrier should be taller than the length of the tortoise's shell. All-glass enclosures are difficult to heat and light correctly for a tortoise, and would still need to be modified to add visual barriers. They should not be used for tortoises.

An enclosure 90 cm (3 feet) long and 38 cm (15 inches) wide can serve one or two tortoises for their first 2 to 3 years, or an enclosure 120 cm (4 feet) long and 60 cm (2 feet) wide can serve them for their first 4 to 5 years, after which they can be given their adult enclosure. The height is irrelevant as long as it can be heated and lit correctly, but it is normally best to use a terrestrial vivarium that is about 45 cm (18 inches) high. Examples include the Vivexotic Repti-Home and Viva+ Terrestrial Large Deep vivariums.

Tortoises can escape if they are able to climb out. Escaped tortoises can live for several weeks hiding in a dormant state in a house but normally can be found before they come to harm. If they find their way outdoors, they may never be found, and will die in winter conditions.

The enclosure needs to have an unscented substrate (bedding) on the bottom that is designed for retaining humidity, can offer the tortoise something to grip onto, can allow them to dig shallow nests, and is safe if accidentally eaten. If the tortoise lives on a slippery surface, their muscles and joints will not form correctly, and they will be unable to get up if they fall on their backs. Substrate should be as deep as the length of the tortoise's legs, or a little deeper. Fine grade bark chips can work well, but compacted coconut fibre is another option. Freeze-dried grass (often marketed as Readigrass) is another good option, allowing the tortoise to eat it as well as live on it, though it needs to be changed more frequently to remove any mouldy patches, particularly under the water and food bowls. Some owners like to use more than one type of substrate (such as tortoise pellets, made from straw) at different locations in the enclosure, but note that the humidity-retaining substrate should be used under or near the basking lamp, and tortoise pellets degrade rapidly when exposed to moisture. Cypress mulch can contain sharp pieces and may cause injuries if these pieces are too large or sharp. Aspen, hemp, lignocell, beech and other wood chips are not suitable. Sand is especially dangerous, as tortoises drag their food onto the floor to eat it, and are prone to eating the substrate at the same time, and sand can cause severe internal blockages that may result in death. Although these tortoises can sometimes be found near sandy areas, they do not naturally eat on sand - the plants they eat grow above them. Sand also has a severe dehydrating effect. Soil is a little better, but still causes problems when eaten, does not absorb odours, and creates dust which is inhaled by the tortoise and covers them in a layer of dirt.

During the daytime, a basking lamp heats one end of the enclosure to over 30 to 35°C (86 to 95°F), leaving the other end at about room temperature. This creates a heat gradient with lots of choices of temperature, allowing the tortoise to warm up when it needs to, and cool down when it needs to. The tortoise chooses the temperature it wants. The bulb should be mounted so that it hangs above the tortoise, about half way between the front and back of the enclosure, and a similar distance from the end wall. Night time temperatures in nature are higher than a typical British house, and some source of night time heat is required. The intention is to have a warm part of the enclosure with a temperature of at least 24°C at night. This can be provided by a low power heat mat stuck to the ceiling or wall (not the floor) at the warm end of the enclosure, and ideally this is controlled with a mat thermostat so that it does not change throughout the year. Heat in nature comes from the sun, and tortoises are not adapted to using heat sources below them - they may burn on a heat mat if it is placed below them. Examples include the Habistat, ProRep or Lucky Reptile 4 Watt, 7 Watt or 11 Watt heat mats. Alternatively, a lower powered red basking lamp can be used at night, positioned next to the daytime basking lamp. Tortoises can see red light, but not as well as white light - red basking lamps may appear as bright as moonlight to them. There are other ways to heat the enclosure, such as ceramic heaters or Deep Heat Projectors, but the daytime basking lamp (and night time heat mat) is the best approach, as the tortoises are attracted to the light when they want to warm up, and the UVA (not UVB) that it gives off may improve their overall happiness. For larger encosures, Deep Heat Projectors or ceramic heaters are usually more effective than heat mats for night time heating.

Note that basking lamps and heat mats, like most heaters, work by radiated heat, not by heating the air. Thermometers usually measure the air temperature, so will give a false reading. The important temperature is the one that will be reached by an object - the animal or something representing it - when it is placed near the heater for long enough to absorb the radiated heat (a number of hours). Infrared thermometers allow you to measure the temperature of the substrate, ornaments, and animal, rather than the temperature of the air. Wet substrates will appear to be colder than dry ones. Test dry surfaces when measuring temperatures.

The enclosure should contain a hide ornament for the tortoise to hide under. The simplest approach is an arched piece of cork bark, big enough for the tortoise to crawl underneath and feel it on their back. The hide must be placed near the basking lamp so that it is warm when the basking lamp is on, but not directly underneath it; the tortoise should not have to climb to get warm, or they will frequently fall upside down under the lamp and could overheat without being able to walk away.

A food bowl and water bowl should be placed on the floor at the cold end of the enclosure. The water bowl should be quite shallow, as these tortoises cannot swim (though youngsters may float uncontrollably), and must not be able to get into water deeper than their armpits. Unlike many tortoises, they can see water fairly well, and drink regularly. It ideally should be big enough for the tortoise to stand in, and a 20 cm (8 inches) long bowl can help raise the humidity slightly in a 90 cm (3 feet) long enclosure. Ideally the food bowl should be slightly smaller than the amount of food it will contain, so that the food piles above it, allowing the tortoise to see it across the enclosure - weeds in nature grow from above, not down a hole in the ground. It should be shallow enough that the tortoise does not have an awkward climb to reach into it.

Indian star tortoises often hide beneath bushes in nature, and appreciate having many items to hide under in their enclosures, ideally all made of something the tortoise can grip on, such as cork bark. They are relatively poor at climbing, and should not have to climb over ornaments. Ornaments must be safe for reptiles, and must not be made of pine. Live plants are not recommended, but if used, they must be safe for the tortoise to eat - they will rapidly be destroyed by the tortoise. Plastic plants must never be used, as the tortoise will frequently try to eat them, and they can either be harmful if swallowed, or will tease the tortoise with fake food. After the initial move into your first enclosure, avoid making too many changes all at once, as this can make the tortoise feel insecure. Add decorations slowly, one at a time, with a few days or weeks in between for the tortoise to get used to the new content.

The enclosure should ideally be placed in the living room, not in front of a radiator, and not in direct view of sunshine. The tortoise should see people frequently, so that it can bond with them. At all times, the animal and enclosure must be kept away from smoke, fireplace and cooking fumes, aerosols, chemical/alcohol sprays, air fresheners, and any scented or fragranced products that are not safe for use with reptiles.


The basking lamp is a special spot lamp, designed to project its heat downwards and spread it the right amount for the tortoise. It is best to buy a dedicated bulb. It hangs downwards so that it points towards the floor of the enclosure. For a 90 cm (3 feet) long enclosure, a 60 Watt basking lamp is normally sufficient, but a 40 Watt bulb may be used on very hot days. For a 120 cm (4 feet) long enclosure, a 100 Watt basking lamp is normally sufficient, but a 60 Watt bulb may be used on very hot days. Ideally, a more powerful bulb is used, with a dimming thermostat reducing its power output so that the temperature in the centre of the vivarium is about 30°C (86°F), and does not change throughout the year.

Tortoises need vitamin D3, which they naturally obtain from UVB light. They require it in high levels, and they require a UVB bulb. It is essential equipment, and bone and shell problems are common with tortoises that are kept without adequate UVB lighting. Normally the problems are not seen for several months, then the tortoise suddenly deteriorates and dies, or becomes permanently disabled.

The UVB lamp must be replaced every 6, 9 or 12 months depending on the brand, even if it still appears to be functioning (human eyes cannot see when the UV output drops too far). Write the date on the bulb with a permanent marker to avoid forgetting. The UVB strength should be the correct strength for forest-dwelling reptiles, as they naturally hide under bushes in nature, which reduces the amount of direct sunlight that they are exposed to. Medium strength UVB bulbs are usually best, sometimes labelled as "5%" or "6%". Reptile Systems and Zoo Med lights are recommended. Strip lights are far better than compact fluorescents - compacts only project a useful amount of UVB for a distance of about 20 cm (8 inches) from the bulb, and it can be difficult to encourage the tortoise to spend enough time at this distance (if used, they must be placed right next to the basking lamp). The strip light can project a useful amount of UVB much further, over a larger area of the enclosure. A T8 bulb is usually sufficient (with an optional reflector), mounted about 30 to 38 cm (12 to 15 inches) from the floor, normally attached to the back wall or ceiling. In taller vivariums (eg. 60 cm - 2 feet - or more) with the lighting mounted further from the tortoise, T5 bulbs are usually best. The bulb can either be about as long as the whole enclosure, or about half of it, mounted at the hot end so that the tortoise can collect their heat and UV at the same time (just like in nature, where both come from the sun). Either way, the tortoise must still be able to shelter from it if needed, such as under their hide. The tortoise must not be able to climb high enough to look horizontally into the light, as it can cause eye damage. (Cheap fakes - household bulbs with their labels removed - have been found, and are often supplied with hand-made tortoise tables on certain websites. Make sure you are buying a legitimate, branded bulb from a reputable retailer.)

Lighting patterns should match the sun, switching on in the morning and off in the evening, eg. 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM, with no difference between summer and winter day lengths. Both daytime lights must switch off at night so that the tortoise can experience a natural sunlight cycle (with the red basking lamp being switched on at night, if one is being used). The tortoise must spend several hours per day in the enclosure to ensure that it has gathered enough UVB (though it can cope for a few days if it is being transported, or if the lamp has failed).

Care and cleaning

The water should be replaced every day. Weekly, or immediately if the tortoise has left faeces in it, the water bowl should be cleaned with a reptile-safe disinfectant, and the water replaced. Normal disinfectants can contain dangerous toxins.

These tortoises need increased humidity in their enclosures. Every day or two, preferably a couple of hours before the lights will switch off in the evening, spray lukewarm water onto the floor of the enclosure beneath the basking lamp or into the "wet" area - it will then evaporate to produce the appropriate humidity. This should preferably be done using a handheld spray bottle - one that has never contained toxic chemicals. The floor should appear visibly damp after spraying, but should not form puddles. Colder areas of the enclosure must not be wet or damp.

At least once a week, give the tortoise a bath in lukewarm water as deep as their armpits, for 15 minutes. The simplest approach is to use an old washing up bowl. Replace water if the tortoise soils it, or perhaps use a turkey baster to remove faeces. These tortoises normally drink through their mouth, but may sometimes drink through their nose instead - this can be mistaken for drowning. Carefully rub dirt off the shell with fingers or a gentle toothbrush. Do not scrub skin. Do not use oils or chemicals.

Tortoise faeces usually appear as black or white clumps. Check for them every day, and remove these with a tissue, as well as any substrate which has become wet with urine. Tortoises may intentionally eat each other's (or their own) faeces, in order to gain gut bacteria.

Once every 6 to 8 weeks, or whenever the substrate becomes dirty or begins to smell, clean the enclosure and ornaments with a reptile-safe disinfectant, and replace the substrate.

Adult enclosures

For adult tortoises, the same principle is used, but the vivarium needs to be larger. An enclosure 180 cm (6 feet) long and 60 cm (2 feet) wide is enough for a pair of tortoises, or 90 cm (3 feet) wide for three tortoises.

The water bowl still needs to be large enough for the tortoise to stand in.

Adult tortoise enclosures may still use the same type of lighting as hatchling enclosures. However, it may be more convenient to use a single mercury vapour "D3+Basking" bulb, which gives off both heat and UVB in the same bulb. These are substantially more expensive, and need to be replaced every 6 or 12 months depending on the brand. Reptile Systems and Zoo Med lights are recommended. A 100 or 160 Watt bulb is suitable for a 180 cm (6 feet) long and 60 or 75 cm (2 or 2.5 feet) high vivarium, and can be used all year. These lights are held in a dome fitting, and hung from the ceiling of the vivarium. This approach has the added benefit that when the tortoise is exercising around the house, the lamp can be attached to a piece of furniture hanging over the floor of the room, so that the tortoise can return to it whenever they need to warm up and collect UVB, allowing them to exercise in the room for longer. Young tortoises do not normally make use of this facility, as they tend to hide when they get cold, instead of returning to the light.

Living together

Indian star tortoises are usually able to live together in same-sex or mixed-sex groups without any problems, though they do not require company - they typically ignore each other. With mixed-sex groups, it is best to have many more females than males. Females will not normally produce eggs until they are an appropriate size to do so, so even if they grow up together, they might not breed while the female is too young. However, it can sometimes happen, particularly in the Indian varieties (the Sri Lankan variety mature when they are larger), causing medical problems and stunted growth. Repeated breeding from living together permanently can cause stress to the female, and may shorten her life. However, it is natural for these tortoises to frequently encounter each other in nature, so they may be better adapted to this than some other tortoises. It can still become a problem when they are elderly. If one tortoise (particularly a male) continually pesters others, they should be separated. Soil or coconut fibre nesting boxes are required if breeding takes place.

Sexing is possible by looking for a longer tail on adult (4 to 6 year old) males, which is almost always tucked sideways pointing to the back of their leg. This difference is not as extreme as it can be with other tortoise species. The tail has a slit-shaped opening on an adult male, and a star-shaped opening on females and youngsters. Adult males usually have an extremely concave plastron (bottom of the shell) while females and youngsters usually have a flat plastron, but in rare cases males and females can have the wrong plastron shape. Adult males normally have an oval shaped shell when viewed from above (longer than it is wide), and can have more significant natural pyramiding. Females and very young hatchlings normally have a rounded shell when viewed from above, with a very high dome shape, like the top half of a ball but a bit narrower, and often much less natural pyramiding. This difference may not be noticeable unless there are several tortoises to compare. Males may also show their reproductive organ in the bath as young as 3 years old or as little as 200-300 grams, which is quite long, and can be mistaken for a prolapse. Both sexes sometimes show male mating behaviour, and may attempt to mate with ornaments or other tortoises. Sexing young tortoises is sometimes possible after the first few months, as males may already start to show the shell shape, and a small number may already have noticeably longer tails. The plastron curve may be visible from 2 to 3 years old. An experienced breeder or supplier may be able to tell the difference visually, though it is important to re-check as the tortoise grows.

Indian star tortoises must not live with tortoises of different species and they should not be exercised with them, for health reasons.

Handling and exercise

Tortoises exercise in bursts of activity, sleeping in between. Ideally, they should be exercised every day or two, but may be left in their enclosure/territory all day if there is no time to exercise. Tortoises prefer to walk rather than be held, especially when young. They may urinate if held for too long (mostly just water, intended to surprise a potential predator). Indian star tortoises can be especially shy as youngsters, and may dislike being held or touched. Some may even freeze or hide as soon as they see someone move in the room. Remaining calm with them next to you for several minutes can get them used to seeing you, so that they can become more confident. They can be quite afraid of having their head touched. As youngsters they may tuck into their shell and refuse to show their head for several minutes, or they may stay as still as possible. With juveniles, stroking their shell first then gently sliding a finger from their shell onto their head is usually enough for them to realise it is not a threat. When excited or when relaxing after staying still, they often breathe heavily, pumping their arms, legs and neck in and out, and nodding their heads up and down. When they need to be picked up, lift them by the shell, and place them onto a hand or surface as soon as possible, so that their legs do not dangle for too long.

They need 1 hour to warm up after lights-on, giving energy to move. They should be in their enclosure for 1 hour before lights-off, deciding where to sleep. In between (eg. 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM) they may come out to exercise in the room. Once the tortoise becomes tired or has cooled down - maybe 10 minutes as a baby, 30 minutes as an adult - they should be returned to their enclosure to warm up for at least an hour. A carpet or towel is better for exercise than a smooth floor. All other pets should be kept away from a tortoise, especially cats and dogs (trustworthy pets may still mistake a tortoise for a toy). While exercising, they may attempt to bite varnished toenails or colourful shoes, or electrical wires, thinking that they are flowers.

Indian star tortoises are from very hot climates, which is rarely matched in Britain, even on our best days. Indian star tortoises therefore are never able to spend lengthy periods of time in a garden. On the hottest British days, if the weather matches their preferred natural habitat, they may spend their normal exercise time outside instead. A simple rule; the owner must be willing to sit and relax in the garden wearing a T-shirt, but would prefer to sit in the shade due to the heat. Sunshine is required. They need 2 hours to warm up in the enclosure first. Indian star tortoises are very poor at climbing and digging, so they do not normally escape from a garden or pen. However, they may be attacked by neighbouring pets, or wild birds like crows. Use a pen with a cage top to prevent predators, and solid walls so that the tortoise cannot see out and want to get there. Place it on grass or soil, with somewhere to hide and shelter from the sun, and a water bowl. Weeds in the pen must be safe. Remove any obvious animal faeces from the pen, so that it does not get eaten by the tortoise. They must never have access to garden ponds or other water features.

Tortoises should not have their shells painted for identification or decoration - microchips are the way to get escaped tortoises home. Tortoises must never have their shells drilled in order to have a chain fitted to prevent escape - this is a cruel and extremely painful practice that has no place in pet keeping. The shells have nerves like under human fingernails.

Do not exercise them for the first few days, so that they can get used to their new enclosure.

Upside-down tortoises

Tortoises can almost always get up when they fall on their backs, and should be allowed to learn how. If owners keep doing this for them, adult tortoises may wait for help for long enough to suffocate. After 15 minutes of trying (2 minutes if under the heat lamp), assist; place a finger beside their foot to offer a better grip. This makes them think that they did it themselves, and means that they will keep trying when it happens again. The shape of Indian star tortoises normally causes them to roll upright with minimal effort, but they can sometimes get wedged against objects and fail to right themselves, and may need assistance.

Living outdoors

Indian star tortoises should not be kept outdoors in Britain.


Indian star tortoises are adapted to their natural diet of various leafy weeds, flowers and grasses.

Every day, offer the tortoise fresh salad; loosely piled to the size of their shell. Start by using a good mix of fancy Mediterranean lettuces. Avoid iceberg/gem/round lettuce (which does not contain sufficient nutrition, and can cause diarrhoea) and spinach/cabbage/broccoli (which can cause bone/shell problems, and kidney stones). Many owners rely on Florette Classic Crispy, available all year in most supermarkets, or lamb's lettuce, which is very healthy. Give a variety of different leaves. Once per month or fortnight, offer Curly Kale or Spring Green cabbage (the only cabbages that may be used in this way). Indian star tortoises should not be fed fruit, vegetables, or some herbs - they may like the taste, but these can cause serious health problems. As they get older, add increasing amounts of fresh grass (they prefer the softer leaves, but can move on to rougher varieties as they grow) or moistened timothy hay into their salad mix, up to about 20% of the total mix for an adult. It helps to put some on top of the salad with youngsters, so that they eat it by mistake, and learn to like it. Exercise can be encouraged, particularly in adult tortoises, by feeding small amounts throughout the day (adding up to the correct amount). The tortoise will then walk around between feedings, foraging for food - a natural behaviour.

Tortoises must be given calcium and vitamin supplements several days per week, and it is best if that includes supplemental levels of vitamin D3. The calcium/vitamin dust is sprinkled lightly onto the salad (like salt on chips). In theory, adults (but not egg-laying females) can have it a little less often, but still should have some a couple of times a week at least.

As the tortoise grows, use more natural weeds and flowers from your garden, such as dandelions (leaves and flowers), hawkbit, and plantago. Avoid dangerous weeds like buttercups and ragworts, the tortoise may eat them by accident. The Tortoise Table website may be used to discover which weeds and garden flowers are safe, and which are dangerous. Weed killers, pesticides, and slug pellets must never be used. Safe, natural weeds should become the tortoise's primary diet by the time it is a few years old. Some suppliers, such as Shelled Warriors, offer seed packs that can be used to grow appropriate food. During winter, when weeds do not grow, use the same salad as was used for young tortoises.

Artificial, pelleted tortoise diets are available (typically formulated for Mediterranean or African tortoises, not Indian stars), which are moistened before serving to the tortoise. These should be considered a supplemental diet only - fresh food is much more important. However, it can help to feed these pelleted diets to a tortoise instead of their regular food once per fortnight or month, in order to train the tortoise to eat them. When the tortoise needs medicating (eg. for worming), liquid medicines can be soaked into the pelleted food and the tortoise will eat them.

On days when the tortoise is enjoying the garden, the amount of food and supplementation cannot be controlled, and tortoises may overeat if too many weeds are available in their pen (though overeating is not as much of a problem for these tortoises as it can be for Mediterranean tortoises). It is normally best to ensure there is only a small amount of weeds growing in the pen, and offer the remainder of the diet in a bowl as normal with supplements.

Tortoises (especially adults) should be offered cuttlefish bone to chew on, which files down their beak to prevent it overgrowing. This can be left in the enclosure at all times, and replaced if the tortoise eats it all. It also serves as a secondary source of calcium if the tortoise is craving it. It must not be the only source, as they may not eat it until some time after they needed it, and this could cause health problems.

It is important to feed tortoises a good diet. Do not rely on the advice of other tortoise keepers who say what their tortoise likes to eat - tortoises will eat a great many things that are extremely harmful to them (such as slugs, cat food, and toxic plants). When deciding if something should be offered as food for your tortoise, check The Tortoise Table website, and only use plants that are stated as safe for frequent or occasional use. Note that some fruits, such as tomatoes and cucumber, are sometimes suggested by tortoise keepers as food, but they are not appropriate as tortoise food. Tomatoes carry a potentially harmful natural insecticide, and cucumbers are basically just water. Owners used to use these as a source of water for their tortoises, because they did not want to give them a water bowl or baths. These have the effect of filling the tortoise's stomach, preventing it from being able to eat enough proper food. Give tortoises a good diet instead, and use a water bowl and baths to allow them to drink. For dehydrated tortoises that refuse to drink, a romaine lettuce works just as well as anything else, and also provides a good source of vitamins at the same time.

Hibernation (brumation)

Indian star tortoises are incapable of hibernation. Attempting to hibernate them will almost always result in the death of the tortoise. Do not attempt to hibernate these tortoises. The same conditions must be provided at all times of year.


Tortoises occasionally shed their skin. The skin peels off in pieces from their head (particularly their neck), legs and tail area. They should be left to complete this on their own - owners can rip the new skin if they attempt to assist the tortoise. They may appreciate more frequent bathing while they are shedding, perhaps twice a week.

Pets or breeders

Indian star tortoises can produce as many as 10 eggs up to 4 times in a year from a single mating, though most produce around 5 eggs a couple of times per year. The eggs require incubation in a dedicated incubator. For the first year, the hatchlings can be quite delicate, and ideally the breeder should raise them through this stage. Because registration and paperwork are not required, breeding is not as expensive as it is for Mediterranean tortoises. If breeding them, take extra care to select unrelated males and females, and select the healthiest possible youngsters from captive bred stock. There are currently very few major breeders of this species. Breeding these pets is not a bad thing, as long as it is done correctly, and as long as breeders can find homes for the offspring.


In the past, Indian star tortoises were regarded as being very unhealthy, and prone to dying without warning. This was due to the stress of the extremely long voyages required to get wild caught animals to Britain, and their failure to adapt to the new environment they were presented with. With captive bred stock and current care practices, this is no longer a major concern, but with Indian stars, prospective owners should ensure that the tortoise is captive bred either in Britain, or somewhere nearby, and has been raised with artificial heat and UV lighting.

Indian star tortoises are adapted to fighting the diseases that they encounter in their natural habitat. In captivity, they may be exposed to unfamiliar germs, particularly if owners also keep other animals. It is advised that owners wash hands before handling the tortoise or its food, to limit their exposure. The tortoises should not be allowed to encounter or eat the faeces of other species or animals.

Indian star tortoises are now generally healthy animals when cared for correctly, and rarely require veterinary care. Some of the more obvious signs of problems include:

Tortoises do not normally need their claws to be clipped - this can in fact cause them to become disabled, unable to climb properly, or unable to turn back over when they have landed on their backs. The tortoise's normal exercise will usually be enough to naturally wear them down to the correct length. They may need to be clipped if they have begun to twist around each other.

Female tortoises may regularly lay fertile eggs if they live with males, or may sometimes lay infertile eggs even if they have never lived with a male. Before or after laying, care should be taken to ensure that they are receiving adequate calcium in their diet. If a female appears to be repeatedly digging and straining without laying (not just digging a nest or burrow for sleeping), or becoming lethargic at a time when egg laying is expected, she may need to be checked for egg binding.

On a monthly basis, or whenever you suspect they are ill, you may wish to weigh your tortoise, after they have finished digesting any food that they recently ate (eg. after they produce faeces). This is known as their empty weight. This record of their weight can be very useful for a vet, if your tortoise appears to be ill at any point. Dramatic weight loss (eg. 10% in 2 weeks) suggests that worming or other veterinary treatments are needed. You may also wish to measure the length of their shell, but this cannot be used in Jackson ratio calculations, as those ratios do not apply to Indian star tortoises. The "straight carapace length" is the length of space that the top part of the shell can fit in, front to back, and is not measured over the curve of the shell (ie. if you put the front of the tortoise's shell up against a wall, how far from the wall is the back of the shell).

Indian star tortoises often naturally develop a lumpy ("pyramided") shell; this is normal for this type of tortoise, but very severe pyramiding is a sign of poor development.

Reptiles can be quite sensitive to non-reptile medications. Only use medications which can be safely used with reptiles, or which are prescribed by a vet. They are particularly sensitive to alcohol and solvents. Any use of treatments where alcohol is used as a solvent must be done in a well ventillated environment, not in the confined space of the animal's enclosure.

Quarantine and re-using enclosures

Quarantine is not needed with your first reptile. However, as you gain more reptiles, it becomes more important. The general idea is to keep newly acquired animals away from your existing animals for long enough that you can be sure they are not bringing in any illnesses which could harm the existing animals. This quarantine period could last around 2 to 4 weeks for a basic quarantine, or as much as 6 months for an ideal quarantine. If any existing animals become ill with a potentially communicable disease, they can also be immediately moved into quarantine to protect the other animals.

A basic quarantine would simply be to keep the animal in a separate enclosure from existing animals, even if they will end up sharing an enclosure later. A more advanced quarantine would be to keep the quarantine enclosure in a separate room, using bowls and feeding tongs that will never be used for the others. Disposable rubber gloves can be worn when touching the animal or any part of its enclosure, and thrown away after each use. Although animals in quarantine need to be monitored, all work with quarantined animals should take place after any other work has been done with non-quarantined animals, to avoid carrying illnesses back to the non-quarantined animals. If food is refused by a quarantined animal, the leftover food should not be offered to a non-quarantined animal.

A quarantine enclosure would ideally be made of something that can be easily and completely disinfected, perhaps even steam cleaned, leaving nowhere for any diseases or parasites to hide in it. All ornaments should be similarly easy to clean and disinfect, and considered disposable, so that they can be thrown away if an occupant turns out to be carrying a communicable illness.

If an animal (whether in quarantine or not) is to be put into an enclosure that was previously used by another animal, the enclosure and ornaments should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected with a reptile-safe disinfectant first, and any substrate replaced. If the previous occupant died from a communicable disease, it is perhaps better to dispose of the old enclosure and ornaments, and purchase a new one. Although rare, some of the most serious parasites (such as cryptosporidium) can survive for 2 years in an empty enclosure, and cannot be killed by simple disinfectants.


Tortoises can travel for many hours in a small, ventilated box, with tissue for bedding. The box should be placed on your lap in a car with the heating on if needed. They should not be heated from below with anything hot. Hot water bottles and electric heaters should be avoided. If they soil the box, replace the tissue.


Indian star tortoises do not require a microchip or CITES certificate, but may be optionally microchipped so that escaped tortoises can be returned to their owner.

Vets may either be able to implant the smaller type of chip (for tortoises of 6 cm or more) or the larger type of chip used for cats and dogs (not recommended, but may be used for tortoises of 10 cm or more if the small chip is not available). Check what the vets in your area can supply, and use a vet that is familiar with this process for tortoises. The vet will normally register the chip with a relevant organisation such as Petlog, Anibase or PETtrac, and the owner can then keep that information up to date.


This is just a quick guide to get you started. It is not intended to be a complete book, and cannot replace a well written book, or the advice of an expert. It is based on our own best knowledge at the time of writing, and advice may change over time as new techniques, technology, or medical advice becomes available. Owners are responsible for ensuring that their knowledge is kept up to date. This guide is based on the British Isles, but the basic principles may be applied to other areas too.