Does the Indian Star tortoise make a good pet?
How should you properly care for this tortoise species?
How do Indian Star tortoises fare in captivity?
Is this tortoise legal to keep as a pet?
The Indian Star tortoise is a fascinating animal with a striking star-shaped pattern on its shell.
This particular tortoise species is rather small and reserved in terms of its personality when compared to other types.
Despite being a desirable option for many reptile keepers, they have pretty specific care requirements and are challenging pets to raise and care for.
Table of Contents
Indian Star Tortoise Care
When caring for your Indian Star tortoise, the best way to ensure their health and happiness is to replicate their natural habitat as closely as possible while providing them with an adequately sized tank and a nutritious diet primarily made up of vegetables, greens, and grasses.
The Indian Star, also known as the Sri Lankan Star, is a relatively small species of tortoise native to the driest areas of India, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan.
They primarily live in semi-desert grasslands and moist deciduous forests but are also commonly found in sandy areas, humid jungle areas, scrub forests, and captivity.
These tortoises tend to be relatively small, ranging from 7 to 10″ inches (25 cm) in length as adults, with females being on the larger end of the spectrum.
While they are great pets, they are not recommended for beginners as they have precise care requirements and enclosure setups.
They have fairly long lifespans ranging from 30 to 55 years or even older in rare cases, so keep in mind these tortoises are long-term pets.
If you are considering getting an Indian Star tortoise of your own, follow this guide to cover all of their unique care requirements and dietary needs.
Baby Indian Star Tortoises
Indian Star hatchlings are usually only around 2″ inches (5 cm) long and are among the smallest species of tortoises.
Their shells have a yellowish color with large brown spots as babies, but as they grow into their adult size, these markings will take on a more star-shaped or X-shaped appearance.
They grow rapidly within their first few months of age, reaching their full size within 1 to 2 years but not reaching maturity until 6 to 12 years of age.
Baby Indian Star tortoises should be fed at least once per day and have plenty of grasses throughout their enclosure to forage on at their leisure to support their growth during this stage of development.
They are almost exclusively herbivorous in the wild, and captive tortoises should never be fed meat.
When you feed your tortoise, the amount or pile of food you give them needs to be around the same size as their shell.
Do not overfeed your Indian Star tortoise, as they will have lots of grass to forage on in addition to the vegetables you give them during meal times.
Calcium is vital to bone health as well as muscle and nerve function.
Be sure to feed your baby tortoise a diet rich in calcium and fiber, and give them a calcium supplement a few times a week as well to be on the safe side.
Calcium powder is the best option as you will be able to dust their food with it.
Provide your baby tortoise’s enclosure with a shallow water dish large enough for them to soak their bodies in.
As they grow, you will need to adjust the size of their water bowl.
Clean it once or twice a day, as they will often defecate in the bowl while they soak.
Despite being native to drier areas, they require plenty of hydration and moisture to thrive in captivity.
The substrate in your Indian Star’s tank needs to be moistened regularly.
The best option is to mist the floor of their enclosure daily and install a hygrometer in the tank to monitor the humidity level consistently.
Humidity for both baby and adult Indian Stars needs to be around 80% at all times.
Babies also require a dry hide to seek shelter from time to time, as they are shy animals.
The hide should be slightly larger than the tortoise’s size, so as they age, you will need to adjust the size as required.
Adult Indian Star Tortoises
Indian Star tortoises are a relatively small species of tortoise.
They get their name from one of the regions they are native to, India, and the star-shaped markings on their shells.
Your Indian Star tortoise will reach their maximum size of 7 to 12″ inches (30 cm) at around 1 to 2 years of age.
They reach sexual maturity at around 8 to 12 years old if female and 6 to 8 years if male.
Adult tortoises typically weigh anywhere from 500 to over 1,200 grams depending on their sex.
Females are both larger and heavier than males.
The lifespan of this tortoise varies based on their quality of care and genetics, ranging anywhere from 30 to 55 years, with some rare reports of them living to 80 years or more.
Be sure to have a plan for the tortoise’s care if something happens to you, as there is a fair chance they will outlive you depending on how old you are upon adopting them.
Your tortoise’s diet needs to be entirely herbivorous, being made up primarily of grasses, fresh greens, and vegetables.
Their habitat needs to have plenty of grasses for foraging.
They require warm, humid enclosures with plenty of UVB exposure.
It is possible to keep Indian Stars in outdoor enclosures if the climate is just right, but generally, they are kept in indoor tanks around 40 to 55 gallons or more in size.
Like baby tortoises, adults need a shallow water dish large enough to soak in comfortably.
Clean the dish as often as possible, as they will often defecate in the dish while they soak.
Keep their environment and substrate moist by misting the inside of the tank with water daily, and carefully monitor the humidity level.
Indian Star Tortoise Diet
Indian Star tortoises are herbivorous and primarily eat plants such as vegetables and leafy greens.
You should feed your tortoise once per day in addition to providing them with a variety of fresh grasses throughout their enclosure to graze upon.
When feeding your tortoise, the amount of food you give to them should be approximately the same size as their shell.
Although wild tortoises occasionally eat carrion in the wild, they should never be fed meat in captivity.
Like most reptiles, Indian Stars require diets rich in calcium and vitamin D3 to keep their bones, muscles, and nerves healthy.
Calcium also helps to maintain the structure and rigidity of their shells.
If your tortoise doesn’t get enough calcium from their diet, they become susceptible to health issues such as metabolic bone disease and shell deformities.
The best food options for your tortoise are listed below.
Vegetables, Grasses, And Greens To Feed Your Indian Star Tortoise
- Bermuda grass
- Timothy hay
- Fountain grass
- Hay cubes and pellets
- Bell peppers
- Mustard greens
- Dandelion greens
- Collard greens
Provide your tortoise with a varied diet high in calcium and fiber.
You should also dust their food with an additional source of calcium, such as calcium powder, a few times per week to be sure they get the appropriate amount of calcium their bodies require.
Make sure you cut vegetables into small pieces to prevent impaction and choking, especially for baby tortoises.
Their diet needs to be varied to be nutritionally beneficial for their health.
Feed them a selection of different types of vegetables and stock their enclosure with lots of different kinds of grasses for them to graze on throughout the day.
Avoid any foods high in oxalic acid as it prevents their bodies from absorbing calcium.
Oxalic acid binds with calcium, causing it to be passed in their waste rather than absorbed by their bodies.
Calcium bound to oxalates becomes nutritionally useless.
If they consume too many oxalate-dense foods, they could develop a calcium deficiency, which leads to metabolic bone disease and other health complications.
Fruit should also be avoided as it causes dehydration and diarrhea, and most fruits are generally nutritionally deficient and high in sugar.
Foods To Avoid
As mentioned earlier, foods high in oxalic acid should be avoided to prevent calcium absorption and cause calcium deficiency.
Avoid all fruits as they will upset your tortoise’s stomach and dehydrate them.
Indian Star Tortoise Habitat
Your tortoise needs an enclosure of at least 40 to 55 gallons or more in size.
They need plenty of space to roam freely and hide, as they are timid animals.
A large tank will also more accurately replicate their natural habitat.
Be sure your tortoise cannot see the outside of their enclosure, as this will distress them.
The walls of the tank should be opaque and provide a visual barrier.
Outdoor enclosures are possible to maintain in warm climates, but it is far easier to regulate temperature and humidity settings in indoor enclosures.
We strongly recommend keeping your Indian Star tortoise in an indoor tank with well-regulated heat and moisture.
Temperature and Lighting
Indian Star tortoises require precise temperature and lighting settings.
They need both adequate heat and UVB exposure to grow and survive.
These tortoises are cold-blooded, so they depend on their external environment to maintain a warm body temperature.
The temperature of your tortoise’s enclosure should have a heat gradient where most of the tank is kept at around 85° degrees Fahrenheit (29.4° C) while the basking area should be about 90 to 95° degrees Fahrenheit (32.2 to 35° C).
We recommend buying two thermometers for your tortoise’s tank: one for the basking spot and one for the tank’s slightly cooler area.
For indoor setups, you will need UVB lighting to cover all areas of the tank.
You may require more than one bulb depending on your setup.
Without UVB lighting, your tortoise will be unable to process and absorb calcium and produce vitamin D3, which are both vital to their overall bone and muscle health.
Be sure the UVB lighting is not obstructed by any screens or mesh, as this will filter out much of the UVB and render it useless.
It is best to mount the tank inside the tank to give your tortoise an adequate UVB rays amount.
Heat lamps, however, are fine to be placed on top of the tank’s screen, as long as the temperature inside is within the appropriate range.
Enclosure Size and Setup
The full size of your tortoise’s enclosure must be a minimum of 40 gallons in size, but we recommend at least a 50- to 55-gallon tank.
These reptiles need plenty of room to roam and shade spots to hide in to feel comfortable and safe in their enclosures, so bigger is always better.
Indian Stars are not diggers or climbers, so the height of the enclosure walls is not very important.
As long as the tortoise cannot see out of the tank and has adequate space to explore, they will not attempt to escape and will generally be quite happy with their environment.
Be sure to supply your tortoise’s tank with a warm, dry hide, a shallow water container or bowl large enough to soak in, and plenty of plants and natural-looking decor, so they feel comfortable and safe.
The bottom of the tank should be coated with a thick layer of a moist soil-like substrate such as:
- Peat moss
- Coconut coir, also known as coconut fiber
- Organic potting soil
This layer should be around 6 to 8″ inches (20 cm) deep and covered with an additional layer of grass clippings, preferably one of the edible grasses we mentioned earlier in the diet section.
Although artificial plants are an option for your tortoise’s tank, we recommend only using real plants as your tortoise will snack on them frequently as they graze from day today.
Provide a variety of grasses to supplement their diet.
Mist the tank with freshwater daily to maintain a level of 80% humidity and set up a hygrometer in the enclosure to monitor it at all times.
If the humidity level drops, add water.
Cohabitating Indian Star Tortoises
Although Indian Stars strongly dislike being handled and interacting with other animals, they greatly enjoy the company of other tortoises of their kind.
These tortoises are a great candidate for cohabitation with multiple members of their species, as they love to socialize with each other.
It is possible to safely cohabitate males and females together in groups of 5 or more, but be sure the enclosure has plenty of space to accommodate all of them.
They are quite sedentary, laid-back reptiles and benefit significantly from cohabitation with other tortoises of their kind, but never cohabitate Indian Star tortoises with different tortoises reptiles, or other animals in general, as this will cause them to become stressed and upset.
Indian Star Tortoise Common Illnesses
The primary health issues Indian Star tortoises are susceptible to developing are respiratory infections and metabolic bone disease.
However, these medical conditions are easily prevented by simply maintaining the appropriate enclosure settings and feeding your tortoise a nutritious, calcium-packed diet.
Indian Stars are particularly susceptible to respiratory issues as their humidity settings are exact.
If you keep your tortoise in improper conditions where they become too cold or moist due to insufficient humidity or heat, you will end up with a sick tortoise.
Unsanitary conditions will also cause respiratory issues, so keep the tank as clean as possible.
Be sure to maintain a level of 80% humidity in your tortoise’s enclosure at all times.
Keep in mind the combination of UVB and heat lighting will dry out the substrate in the tank very quickly, so mist it with water at least once per day.
If the humidity becomes too high, hold off on adding any extra moisture until it drops back down to around 80%.
Buy a humidity gauge, or a hygrometer, to monitor the precise moisture level at all times.
Maintaining the appropriate temperature is also very important to prevent this health condition.
Check your heat sources daily and install a thermometer in the tank’s basking area and the middle of the cooler area.
Your tortoise’s basking area needs to be around 90 to 95° degrees Fahrenheit (35° C), while the rest of the enclosure should be about 85° degrees Fahrenheit (29° C).
Adjust your lamps accordingly if the temperature becomes too hot or too cold to avoid respiratory issues.
Metabolic Bone Disease
If your tortoise lacks adequate UVB exposure or calcium in their diet, they will quickly become prone to a calcium deficiency, which leads to metabolic bone disease.
A calcium deficiency will weaken your tortoise’s bones and cause small cracks and holes to form in their shell.
If left untreated for a prolonged period, they will experience severe bone fractures and deformities, and this condition will quickly become deadly.
It is essential to avoid foods high in oxalates as the oxalic acid binds with calcium.
Calcium bound to oxalic acid will be prevented from being absorbed by your tortoise’s body.
Always provide your pet tortoise with foods rich in calcium as well as a calcium supplement a few times per week to make sure they get the amount they need.
Your enclosure must have adequate UVB lighting, as, without it, your tortoise will not be able to process calcium or produce vitamin D3, the main nutrients responsible for their bone health.
Change your UVB bulb at least twice a year.
The Indian Star tortoise is a popular pet thanks to its small size and adorable appearance, but keep in mind this animal requires a particular environment and diet, and constant care to thrive.
Your tortoise will be happy and healthy and live as long as 50+ years in captivity with the proper setup and diet.
Take good care of your Indian Star, and it will reward you with companionship and entertainment for many years.