How to Care for Indian Star Tortoises as Pets

This breed is beautiful and relatively small

Indian star tortoise

Asif Sherazi / Getty Images

Indian star tortoises are found in and around India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. They are typically shy tortoises with beautifully patterned shells. They are relatively small tortoises.

Breed Overview

Common Names: Star Tortoise, Indian Star Tortoise,

Scientific Name: Geochelone elegans

Adult Size: 7 to 12 inches long

Life Expectancy: Possibly up to 80 years but at least 30 years

Difficulty of Care: Intermediate. They are not suitable for homes with small children.

Behavior and Temperament

Unlike some other tortoise breeds, star tortoises are not territorial, and since they're on the small size, it's perfectly fine to house several of them together. 

Indian star tortoises do not like being handled; the stress caused by frequent handling can affect their health. For this reason, it's probably best that these animals not live in homes with small children. 

And these tortoises tend to be shy, like most of their brethren, but eventually, they grow more comfortable when they get to know their owners (especially when that owner brings them food). 


Even though they are smaller than most other tortoises, Indian star tortoises still need their space. They can be housed indoors in a large fish tank or plastic container, like an under-the-bed box or storage container.

They don't need much height to their enclosure but should be protected from other pets in the house (cats and dogs) with some sort of a screen top.

Outdoor enclosures should be roughly six feet by six feet, with walls that your tortoise cannot see over. Star tortoises typically don't dig so you shouldn't have to worry about burying the walls in the ground as you would with many other tortoises.

A secure covering should be placed over the tortoises when left unsupervised to prevent wildlife from getting to them. Birds, raccoons, opossums, and other wild animals have been known to hurt and eat pet tortoises that are trapped in outdoor enclosures.

A moist hide box and a large water bowl that they can easily climb into should be provided at all times. They also need bedding made of potting soil (no chemicals), peat moss, or even hay or grass.


Tortoises of all kinds require both heat lights and UVB lights. Heat lights are meant to keep your star tortoise warm and UVB lights help process vitamin D3 so calcium can be properly absorbed. Without both kinds of lighting, your star tortoise will not do very well in the long term.

Large heat lights are needed to heat the large enclosures that star tortoises require. Many owners opt to use a mercury vapor bulb which is a combination of UVB and a heat light if they have a turtle room or large pen for their pet.

Otherwise, traditional reptile heat bulbs and a separate UVB bulb should be utilized to provide a basking area temperature near 90 F degrees and not let the rest of the enclosure drop below the 70s. The UVB bulb should stay on for a 12-hour cycle and be replaced every six months, even if it doesn't burn out. 

Food and Water

Star tortoises are herbivores. This means they should never be fed dog or cat food but instead get plenty of fresh and dark leafy greens and grasses. Timothy hay, Bermuda grass, orchard grass, rye grass, alfalfa, and fescue are all acceptable.

Fresh greens good for tortoises include kale, endive, parsley, dandelion greens, escarole, spineless cactus leaves, and mustard greens. The goal with selecting greens is to find varieties with a higher calcium-to-phosphorus ratio, to ensure your star tortoise's health.

Calcium powder should be dusted on the greens daily to make sure your Indian star tortoise is getting enough calcium in their diet. A very small amount of fruit may also be offered from time to time.

Common Health Problems

Pet tortoises that were raised in the wild are more likely to suffer from respiratory infections, but they're fairly common among captive tortoises as well. Respiratory infections usually are caused by unsanitary conditions or insufficient humidity. Early signs of a respiratory infection include wheezing and a lack of appetite, but a sick tortoise also may appear lethargic and show excess mucus around its mouth and nasal passages.

Star tortoises, like most tortoise breeds, also are susceptible to metabolic bone disease (MBD), which occurs when the animal isn't getting the proper balance of calcium and phosphorous. Tortoises and most other reptiles need exposure to ultraviolet radiation A and B (UVA/B) to be able to absorb calcium. Tortoises in the wild typically bask in the sun for most of their waking hours to get this level of UVA/B exposure. 

If a tortoise doesn't get enough calcium, its shell may not grow at a rapid enough rate. Older star tortoises with MBD may have difficulty walking and suffer bone fractures. 

As with any changes in your pet's behavior, if you think your star tortoise is sick, don't try to treat it with home remedies. Consult a veterinarian who has experience treating reptiles. 

Choosing Your Indian Star Tortoise

Star tortoises are very long-term pets and while very beautiful, can also be an expensive purchase. Be sure you're up to the task of caring for a tortoise before taking one home.

The best way to acquire any reptile or amphibian as a pet is to seek out a reputable breeder. You'll want to look for a captive-bred animal because they're less likely to have parasitic infections, and a reputable breeder will have its health history.

Examine the tortoise's shell. Tortoises with patchy dry spots on their shells are likely suffering from shell rot, caused by a fungal infection. If the tortoise seems lethargic or doesn't eat when food is offered, it may be ill. A healthy tortoise has clear eyes and skin, and its shell should be smooth and mostly free of blemishes. 

Similar Breeds to the Indian Star Tortoise

If you're trying to decide which tortoise is the right pet for you, here are a few similar breeds you may want to consider: 

You also can check out our profiles of other breeds of tortoises to find the right pet for you.