Home » How To Care for An Indian Star Tortoise [A Complete Guide]
indian star tortoise setup

How To Care for An Indian Star Tortoise [A Complete Guide]

(Last Updated On: May 29, 2022)

Indian star tortoises come from arid climates across India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. They’re famous for their distinctive star-patterned shells.

Though smaller than other tortoise species, they need space to roam.  

To care for an Indian star tortoise, provide an indoor vivarium measuring at least 46” or an outdoor enclosure measuring 6 x 6 feet.

The temperature should be 90 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 70 degrees at night. Indian stars need 12 hours of natural sunlight or UVB-produced light.

Indian stars aren’t territorial, so they can be kept with others if you have a large enough enclosure.

They don’t enjoy being handled, so they’re not the best pets for children.

Where Are Indian Star Tortoises From?

Indian star tortoises inhabit dry, arid forests, shrublands, and grasslands. Because the regions experience monsoon seasons, Indian star tortoises are adaptable to wet and dry habitats.

According to the Journal of Parasitic Diseases, Indian star tortoises are a threatened species and have been listed on the IUCN Red List as ‘vulnerable’ since 2016.

Like many popular tortoise species, they belong to the “Testudinidae” family, consisting of exclusively land-dwelling animals.

What Do Indian Star Tortoises Look Like?

Indian star tortoises are widely known for their star-patterned shells.

Their shells are brown or black, with ridges marked with bright yellow streaks along the back and sides. These markings form the unique star pattern. The head, legs, and tail have light brown scales.

There are three Indian star tortoise variants. Northern Indian and Pakistani varieties are larger and darker than Indian star tortoises from southern India. Indian star tortoises from Sri Lanka have more yellow markings on their shells.

How Big Do Indian Star Tortoises Get?

Adult Indian star tortoises reach approximately 7 to 12 inches in length.

Sri Lankan females are slightly larger, growing to be 10 inches, while males reach 7 inches. Varieties from southern India are roughly 2 inches shorter, with females averaging 8 inches and males 5 inches.

How Long Do Indian Star Tortoises Live?

Indian star tortoises can live up to 80 years with the right diet and care.

However, it’s more typical for them to live between 30 and 55 years in captivity. Illnesses, poor husbandry, and health conditions can shorten their lifespans.

how to take care of indian star tortoise

Indian Star Tortoise Tank Setup

Indian star tortoises are slightly smaller than other tortoise species, but they still require lots of space to move around. Wooden vivariums make an excellent enclosure because the wood insulates heat and provides ample airflow in and out of the enclosure.

You can also house your Indian star tortoise in a large 55-gallon fish tank or plastic box. Unlike other tortoises, Indian stars don’t require too much height.

Whichever vivarium you choose, make sure it measures at least 115 cm (46”) to accommodate your Indian star tortoise’s size and provide enough space for it to thrive.

Indian star tortoises can also be housed in an outdoor enclosure measuring 6 feet by 6 feet. You’ll need to provide a protective cover and walls that your tortoise can’t see over. Fortunately, Indian star tortoises don’t dig, so you won’t need to worry about digging the walls into the ground.

Temperature

Indian star tortoises need to be able to regulate their temperature. That’s why maintaining the correct temperature is essential to help your tortoise thrive in captivity.

When keeping them outdoors, they need their enclosure to be at least 90 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. At night, the temperature shouldn’t drop below 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Indian star tortoises also need a basking spot that reaches 90 to 95 degrees and a few shading spots to protect them from the heat. Indoor enclosures require the same setup as outdoors. In fact, many owners find it easier to control the temperature indoors.

Providing a large enough water bowl that your tortoise can fully submerge itself in is just as important as providing the right temperature. This allows it to cool down.

Lighting

Indian star tortoises thrive in natural sunlight, as it enables them to absorb calcium and turn it into vitamin D3. Tortoises kept in an outdoor enclosure receive most of the sunlight they need with exposure to the sun.

Indian star tortoises kept indoors need UVB lighting to help them process vitamin D3. Not having adequate UV exposure can make your tortoise sick, as it prevents the absorption of calcium, leading to metabolic bone disease.

A mercury vapor lamp provides UVB and heat light and can help your Indian star tortoise thermoregulate and digest its food. Provide your tortoise with 12 hours of daily exposure to keep it healthy.

You can also use a fluorescent UVB tube at 10% with a reflector to ensure no UVB is wasted.

Humidity

Indian star tortoises are from humid areas, so they require a high humidity level to prevent dehydration. The enclosure should have as close to 80% humidity throughout the day as possible.

Maintaining the correct humidity is one of the toughest challenges in housing an Indian star tortoise. To help, place a humidity gauge or hygrometer in the cage to monitor the levels and ensure they don’t drop too much.

You can also make things slightly easier for yourself by installing an automatic dripper or mister.

Substrate

As mentioned, Indian star tortoises don’t burrow or dig. They need dry substrates that don’t raise the humidity within the enclosure too much.

Suitable substrates include:

  • Newspaper
  • Astroturf
  • Soil

According to the Royal Veterinary College, wood chip substrates should never be used because they can cause fatal blockages.

Enrichment

Like all tortoises, Indian star tortoises need suitable enrichment to keep them entertained. Provide yours with the following items:

  • Hides for security
  • Artificial plants
  • Cardboard boxes
  • Plant pots
  • Logs
  • Commercially-available hides

Indian star tortoises also benefit from puzzles, games, and mazes. Ramps, pebbles, and stones also provide tortoises with interesting things to explore.

If your tortoise starts exhibiting boredom-related behaviors at any point, try swapping its playthings around and alternate its foods. It may also benefit from more physical interaction if bonded with you.

What To Feed An Indian Star Tortoise

Indian star tortoises eat grasses and fibrous plant matter in the wild. This should be reflected in captivity, with their main diet consisting of grasses and hay.

Weeds and other vegetation should make up the remaining part. Suitable weeds include:

  • Sow thistles
  • Dandelions
  • Milk thistles
  • Plantains
  • Chickweed
  • Dock
  • Bindweed

Indian star tortoises also enjoy sedum, nasturtium, honeysuckle, and hibiscus. Above all else, they favor the fruits and pads of the prickly pear.

Your tortoise can eat fruits and vegetables as treat foods. However, only feed them in moderation and provide a balanced variety. Fruits and vegetables are high in sugar and akin to junk food to tortoises.

Indian star tortoises require a calcium supplement to ensure they receive enough to support their bodily processes.

What Not To Feed An Indian Star Tortoise

Indian start tortoises don’t need meat. Indian star tortoises must also never eat cat or dog food, as it’s highly processed and therefore unhealthy.

While they eat some insects in captivity, you shouldn’t try to replicate this in captivity. Many insects come into contact with pesticides, risking your tortoise becoming sick from dangerous chemicals.

There are some flowers that are poisonous, too. This includes:

  • Buttercups
  • Begonias
  • Daffodils
  • Ivy

Avoid feeding these things to your tortoise to prevent health issues.

Water Requirements

Indian star tortoises get the water they need through their food.

However, they must always have access to fresh water they can drink and, as we’ve mentioned, a bowl they can submerge themselves in. Change the water at least once a day to keep it clean and sanitary.

Do Indian Star Tortoises Like To Be Handled?

Indian star tortoises don’t like being handled too often. They’re relatively small and get stressed out from frequent interaction. As a result, they don’t make good pets in homes with children.

Some star tortoises become more comfortable with occasional handling, especially if their owner feeds them their favorite treats. However, trust can only be achieved by moving slowly and respecting your tortoise’s boundaries.

Are Indian Star Tortoises Aggressive?

Indian star tortoises aren’t aggressive in nature. They’re not territorial either, so they can be safely housed with other tortoises, provided their enclosure is large enough.

While Indian star tortoises are shy and not very outgoing, they’re docile, charming, and peaceful. They may not make the most loving pets, but they’re easy to care for and enjoyable to be around.

Do Indian Star Tortoises Bite?

Indian star tortoises rarely bite, but they may nip if threatened or mishandled. This serves as a warning to leave it alone. They’re also known to mistakenly bite if they view a brightly colored nail as a flower petal.

Unfortunately, because they have such strong jaws, the nip is likely to hurt. It may even draw blood.

Do Indian Star Tortoises Shed Their Skin?

Indian star tortoises routinely shed their skin, in which old, dead patches flake off from the head, tail, and limbs, leaving fresh skin and scales behind. The process produces a dusty appearance that looks alarming but is perfectly normal.

You mustn’t pull the skin off before it’s ready to come off. Doing so will cause pain and may result in bacterial infections. Instead, provide your tortoise with a soak to help the process along, or leave it to drop off naturally.

Common Indian Star Tortoise Health Problems

Indian star tortoises are prone to certain health conditions, including:

Respiratory Disease

Indian star tortoises commonly suffer from respiratory infections caused by insufficient humidity or unsanitary conditions. Respiratory disease is also the result of:

  • Nutritional deficiencies from a poor diet
  • A weak immune system
  • Sudden temperature drops

Wheezing and a lack of appetite are the most common signs. Tortoises with a respiratory infection will appear weak and lethargic. There’s also likely to be excess mucus around the mouth and nasal passages.

Respiratory infections are easy to treat with antibiotic drops administered by a vet, but your tortoise must be seen quickly to prevent the infection from getting worse.

Empty Gut Syndrome

Empty gut syndrome occurs when the digestive process moves too quickly. This means the gut empties itself before all essential nutrients are absorbed.

Indian star tortoises with empty gut syndrome have undigested food in their poop instead of it being brown or dark green poop with white urates, which is what healthy feces should look like.

Constipation

Constipation is a relatively common issue amongst Indian star tortoises. Healthy tortoises poop every 2-3 days on average. Because they poop so infrequently, constipation is easy to miss.

Constipation is caused by:

Egg binding is also a cause, though less common. You can help treat your tortoise’s constipation at home by soaking it in tepid water for 30 minutes.

Allow the water to cover the flat part of the shell (the plastron). A vet can provide a more specific and intensive treatment if this doesn’t work.

indian star tortoise care guide

Indian Star Tortoise Shell Problems

Indian star tortoise shells are extremely tough, but they are susceptible to the following problems:

Shell Rot

Shell rot is a potentially deadly condition. It starts when harmful bacteria get into wounds, such as cuts and lesions, and cause infections.

Thankfully, Indian star tortoises are less prone to shell rot because they don’t dig into the ground as much as other species. However, all tortoises can get cuts and scrapes from accidents, causing the shell to pit and rot.

Shell rot is characterized by white patches and holes beneath the shells.

Shell Pyramiding

Indian star tortoises exposed to dry conditions, poor diets, or nutritional deficiencies are prone to shell pyramiding. This is where the shell experiences raised scutes.

The condition isn’t always severe, but it cannot be reversed. The worse cases result in long-term mobility problems. 

Soft Shell (Metabolic Bone Disease)

Indian star tortoises are susceptible to metabolic bone disease. This occurs when they aren’t able to get enough calcium and phosphorus, usually because of a poor diet of insufficient UV light.

Without an appropriate calcium level, their shells don’t grow at a standard rate. Older tortoises will have trouble walking and experience painful bone fractures.

The symptoms of metabolic bone disease include:

  • Soft or misshapen shell
  • Broken or fractured limbs
  • Lack of movement
  • Poor coordination
  • Temporary or localized paralysis
  • Cloacae prolapse
  • Deformed limbs and jaw
  • Inability to lay eggs (in females)

Do You Have To Hibernate An Indian Star Tortoise?

Indian star tortoises don’t hibernate (brumate). They remain active throughout the entire year, so owners must provide optimum conditions, ensuring the enclosure receives the correct lighting, temperature, and heating, all year round.

Winter periods can be hard on Indian star tortoises who are used to hot conditions. They shut down when exposed to cold conditions for too long and eventually die. This isn’t the same thing as hibernation, though it’s easy for owners to get confused.

Even though Indian star tortoises aren’t the most confident and outgoing pets, they’re relatively easy to care for and don’t require as much space as other tortoises. However, they have very long lifespans, so they’re a significant commitment.