Indian Star Tortoise
Geochelone elegans
Population size
Life Span
25-80 years
Top speed
km/h mph 
kg lbs 
cm inch 

The Indian star tortoise (Geochelone elegans) is a threatened tortoise species. Its name comes from the star-like patterns that feature on its high-domed shell. Because of these very distinctive patterns and its highly rounded shell, the Indian star tortoise is popular in the world's trade in exotic pets. The attractive markings on its shell, aside from looking very pretty, serve to help this tortoise more easily blend in with its surroundings, by breaking up the hard edge of the shell, so when the tortoise is grazing, it is not so obvious to predators passing by.


The carapace of the Indian star tortoise is very convex, with dorsal shields often forming humps; the lateral margins are nearly vertical; the posterior margin is somewhat expanded and strongly serrated. The plastron is large, truncated, or openly notched in front, and deeply notched and bifid behind. The head is moderate in size, with the forehead swollen, convex, and covered with rather small and irregular shields; the beak is feebly hooked, bi- or tricuspid; the edges of the jaws are denticulated; the alveolar ridge of the upper jaw is strong. The outer-anterior face of the fore limbs has numerous unequal-sized, large, imbricate, bony, pointed tubercles; the heel has large, more or less spur-like tubercles; a group of large conical or subconical tubercles is found on the hinder side of the thigh. The carapace is black, with yellow areolae from which yellow streaks radiate; these streaks are usually narrow and very numerous. The plastron likewise has black and yellow, radiating streaks. Females are considerably larger than their male counterparts. In addition, the females' plastrons are much flatter than those of the males, which have a concave shape.




Biogeographical realms

This species lives in three separate parts of the Indian subcontinent: western India and the extreme southeast of Pakistan (e.g., Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan in India, as well as the Thar Desert in Pakistan), in southeastern India (Kerala, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu), and on Sri Lanka. They occupy a wide variety of habitats, including semi-arid lowland forests, thorn scrub forests, semi-desert and arid grasslands. This species has a high tolerance for habitats that are seasonally wet or dry, with many populations inhabiting areas with a monsoon or rainy season followed by a long hot and dry period. Sometimes they live in agricultural areas.

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

Indian star tortoises are generally crepuscular, which means they are active in the early morning and the late afternoon during dry, hot weather. The rest of the time, they shelter under vegetation or some other cover. In the rainy season, they are much more active, moving around and feeding for much of the day. They become inactive in western India and Pakistan during the colder months of winter. These solitary animals do not hibernate, but when it is very dry and hot, or very cold, they stay inactive. Perception and communication appears to be mostly visual, though tactile and olfactory senses are also used during feeding, courtship, male competitive behavior, and nesting, and a male tortoise will vocalize to a female during mating.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Indian star tortoises are mainly herbivores (folivores and frugivores) and mostly eat grasses, herbaceous leaves, flowers, fruit, and sometimes insects, carrion, and dung.

Mating Habits

in south India: mid-June - November
47 to 180 da
47-180 days
1 to 10
0 minutes
1-10 eggs

These tortoises are polygynandrous (promiscuous), with multiple males and females all having mating relationships. Males compete for females by ramming rival males or flipping them onto their backs. In comparison to many other tortoise species, courtship is rather more subdued, often with minimal or no butting, shoving, or biting of females - which in this species are often much larger than males. Breeding starts when the rainy season arrives. (In south India this is mid-June to November.) About 60 - 90 days after mating, typically in the evening, females start to wander around and sniff the ground. When an acceptable nest site is found, a female will begin to dig a flask-shaped nest, using her hind feet. After laying her eggs, she fills in the nest, and, with her plastron, flattens down the soil. Each year females lay 1-9 clutches, with 1-10 eggs in each. Incubation is for 47-180 days. Once the eggs are laid, there is no care given to eggs or hatchlings. Females in the wild may reach maturity in 8-12 years while males are mature within 6-8 years, but the time may be much shorter for captive tortoises.


Population threats

Natural threats to this species are predation and flooding, but humans have drastically reduced their numbers through loss of habitat and collection for food and the exotic pet trade. In much of India, Indian star tortoises are important as a food source. They are also an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine, and they are susceptible to disease, particularly pneumonia, respiratory diseases, and overgrowth of parasites when stressed by handling, collection, and shipment, often under inhumane conditions. Many specimens caught to be sold as pets will die from unsuspected diseases.

Population number

The IUCN Red List and other sources do not provide the Indian star tortoise total population size. Currently, this species is classified as Vulnerable (VU) and its numbers today are decreasing.

Ecological niche

Being herbivores in their habitats when abundant Indian star tortoises may act as dispersal agents for various plants via the consumption of seeds and fruit.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • The Indian star tortoise’s shell enables it to pull its vulnerable head and legs into the shell for protection.
  • The radiating lines on the Indian star tortoise’s carapace break up the shell shape when it hides amongst tufts of grass.
  • These tortoises like water more than other species of the same genus, but they are sensitive to extended periods of high humidity.
  • If food becomes scarce, as it tends to in the seasonally hot, dry periods, these animals will become inactive and not eat for a long time.
  • Mathematicians think that the shape of the Indian star tortoise shell enables them to easily flip back the right way if they are accidentally tipped upside down.
  • Male Indian star tortoises have a long tail, and females have a short stubby tail.


1. Indian Star Tortoise Wikipedia article -
2. Indian Star Tortoise on The IUCN Red List site -

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