Saturday, 15 December 2012

Care of Indian Star Tortoise (Geochelone elegans):

My Star Tortoise "Rocky"

You can see from the above picture why it is called as Star Tortoise ( due to multiple star like markings on its shell) .

it can also be found in Indian pet trade although its not very common when compared to Red eared Sliders. They are somewhat costly than red eared sliders (about 700-800 / tortoise), depending on its size and availability in your area, a bigger sized tortoise may cost more.
it is a species of dry and scrub area so please don' t I repeat don't leave it into a water tank because it is a tortoise not a turtle and it can swim for only some time and then it will sink and die ( I am saying this because i have heard about the death of 1 tortoise due to this reason). 
It has a dome shaped and very distinctively marked shell in black color  with yellow lines radiating from center of each scute , plastron is likewise with yellow and black radiating lines. it can grow upto 10 inches long. sexual dimorphism is quite apparent with females larger than males and female plastron is much flatter than males, males have a concavity in their plastron which help them in climbing atop female while reproducing.


Space Requirement:    The preferred method of housing for them is outdoors if possible, because in a climate like India, they would be very happy outside with ample of sunlight and place to roam providing them Sufficient vitamin d and exercise, however they can also be kept indoors. The optimum size for outdoor hosing can be 6 feet by 6 feet cage, in this about 1-3 tortoise can be kept easily, the walls should either be made from 2 layers of fencing one large and one fine wrapped over each other (large and fine refers to size of the holes, you can find them easily in any hardware store just ask them about wire fence,  they are cheap, at my place large one costs about 40 rs/foot and fine one costs around 30 rs/feet). the walls can also be made from wooden blocks at least 2 feet high from the ground so that the tortoise cannot look through or over the cage. the ground can either be soil or covered with grass (grass is better) on one side tall grasses can be planted so that they may eat them. a shelter like a cave or box etc should be provided for them to hide. they can also be housed indoors in that case you can house them in a tub or a tank but you need to provide a hiding spot, a source of warmth ( a bulb can be a source,exercise your imagination and you will come up with a source), newspaper could be used for a substrate or soil can be put into the tank for natural look or the tank can be made a combination of both newspaper on one side and soil on another side. even if housing indoors you need to take out your tortoise outside once in a while in sunlight for Vitamin D, I used to leave mine on my roof where they would roam as much as they like and hide behind flower pots. they are very vulnerable at younger age so you need to be extra careful in case of a younger tortoise, also keep safety measures for predators like Cats, Mouse and kite etc. they are especially dangerous for a younger tortoise; even a mouse can kill and eat them easily if it gets the chance. provide a bathing tray if enclosure is inside or a small pond like area if the enclosure is outside so that they can drink, bathe, and cool themselves. I provided my tortoises with a fixed tray which i glued to the base with quick fix so that it won't move because many a time they would like to soak themselves in water and go inside the tray for fun.

Temperature range: 

temperature may range from 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit or around 28-32 degrees Celsius although warmer temperature up to 35 degrees may be no problem if drinking and bathing area and a shade is provided in the cage. the moisture should be kept in check which means that take care to not leave the enclosure wet and moist, if you see that the substrate is wet (in indoor setting) change the substrate and dry it, outside it may not be a problem. In India, take care during the summer season especially in afternoon because the temp. may go up-to 47 degrees Celsius which may become a problem especially if the cage is outdoors, like at our place during summers the temp goes up-to 48 degrees so I kept them indoors only and limited their basking time to 1-2 hrs in the morning instead of  whole day in other seasons.
Indoors, you can keep them in any room even without cooler and AC and i would suggest you to keep them in a room where no cooler or ACs are present because of 2 reasons; 1. it provides them with a natural environment climate which they would have found in the wild and 2. coolers and ACs may cause too much cooling or humidity especially in case of cooler, which may be harmful to them.


They like to bask in sun and it is essential for synthesis of vitamin d in them which is needed for proper bone growth
so in outdoor setting provide them an area to bask and an area to cool themselves in shade; a patch of grasses is best for them or a small bush can also work well. in indoor settings; 
Some suggestions can be-
1. you can either go for complete tortoise setup or Professional UV set up available online or if by chance available at your local fish store but they may be costly.
2. you can attach a table lamp with a cover around the bulb (to concentrate the light on an area) to any side of the tank or tub and let it hang over that area and keep it on and use bulbs not CFLs because they don't provide that much heat.
3. or you can attach an aquarium water heater or thermostat with a heater guard( used for large fishes like Arowana etc. so that they don't break the heater) on it and cover it with a rock or metal sheet (take care that metal sheet doesn't touches the heater  only wraps closely to it to conduct heat and no electricity) and keep it on one side of the enclosure and additionally you may provide a combination of both bulbs and heaters.
whatever you do, nothing can substitute natural sun light, so try to take your tortoise outside at least 3-4 times in a week.


diet should be strictly herbivorous, i fed them spinach, grasses, a variety of flowers from my garden like hibiscus, petunias even rose petals which was very much liked by one of my star tortoises, i even fed them sprouts without their seeds like removing the wheat portion and giving the sprouted parts to eat, grasses from lawn, and fields, grape leaves, i also fed them with all types of green leafy vegetables mostly ( called as bhajis in India, the "Lal Bhaji" which is red in color was not liked by them but they ate all the others especially after basking, all types of "bhajis" are readily available in vegetable stores or "sabji- mandis" in India), i also fed them cucumber and tomatoes, although don't let them eat tomatoes and cucumber regularly it is bad for their health; any type of wet food should be given with caution because it may cause diarrhea in large and regular doses. wet foods may include cucumber, tomato, lady finger, radish (although radish leaves an be given readily and mine loved it), "kakdi" the cucumber like vegetable which comes in summers only(I can't recall it's english name) etc. give these with caution. also i fed them with Peas but i would recommend you to not give them peas because i think it is like sweet dish for them and they get addicted to eating peas, mine got addicted to it and from a mixture they would sort out peas only and eat it,  i got headaches trying to get them leave this habit because it caused them diarrhea. Also try to habituate them to commercially available food also, although, this should not be whole of their diet regimen but they should be able to eat them, if they are not eating it, try to soften it in water before giving it to them so that it can be eaten easily. give them calcium supplements like "calcium sandoz"  etc. crush the tablet and spread it over the food before giving it to them this would take care of their calcium requirements. you can also give them hay and cactus after removing its thorns , even if it's a thorn less variety clean it thoroughly and then give it, otherwise it could harm the tortoise. Take care to wash your food properly before giving it to them and if possible use organic food.
you can feed them twice a day when they are small and once a day when they have grown enough (that is about 8 inches in diameter according to me).
Take care not to give them wet food, high protein diet and non veg food. aim for a diet which is dry, low fat and low protein and very high in fiber.
Tortoise poop should be dark in color and firm in texture, if the tortoise is having loose poop or green colored or any different colored  poop then their is a problem with the diet and the food should be checked or the tortoise may be suffering from intestinal parasites
the pic of how a poop of star tortoise should ideally look like can be checked from this link-

rocky eating vegetables

Miscellaneous tips:

1.  if your star tortoise is new, the preferable enclosure would be indoors. provide them with dry substrate and warm conditions do not let them be in humid or wet conditions for too long.

2. know as much as possible about the species and then use your common sense because on internet many pages discuss many different things and many of the things discussed may not be applicable to Indian conditions or you may not be able to buy them in India at all. for eg.; I searched everywhere for UV lamp in my area but couldn't find it, so had to come up with my own plan for their care. That's why read as much as possible then use your mind and see what is working and what's not with your tortoise because every individual tortoise is different, out of the 4 which I have one of them likes rose petals while others don't like them that much even though they are of same batch and same age.

3.  Bathing: it seems that they like to bathe if  they are bathed properly.The correct method is either hold them in your hands and then keep them in running tap water (flow should be slow and water temperature should be warm) or alternatively you can put them in a box or bucket which has some warm water in it which is enough to  soak them  up to their legs and then slowly pour Luke warm water over them with help of a mug. Take care that the tortoise doesn't drowns or tries to swim in the water. When the water level is up to the ends of their legs and beginning of shell then stop and let them roam in water for some time this will help them in defecation, the tortoise will poop in the bucket if the temp. of water is warm enough, this will also prevent your substrate from getting soiled. take care to remove them immediately once they have pooped and if doing daily then do it with caution especially in winter and rainy seasons.

4. If they are sick and have a stomach upset or you suspect they have stomach infection/ systemic infection you can give trustogyl to them, you can either give this medicine from its dropper if your tortoise allows you to do so or you can give it mixed with food, or you can  try to tempt your tortoise with a slice of his favorite food and then as soon as he opens his mouth you can insert the dropper inside and make him drink the medicine.

5. they also love Ivy gourd (kundru in India normally), Ladies finger (Bhindi), spring onions (green onions and their leaves), boiled potatoes (in small amount) and Bell Pepper (Shimla Mirch). You can give these food items also to them for a change. 
 [but major part of their diet should be leafy vegetable and leaves and food full of fibers and having less water content]

6. if you are keeping them in your room and touch and hold them many times in a day then you can keep a hand sanitizer (like one from Dettol) for sanitizing hands after touching them, this will reduce your need of washing hands every time you touch them and decrease chances of infection.

7. If they are hurt or are wounded due to any reason then don't touch the wound much, just clean it with a diluted solution of dettol for 1 day and apply neosporin powder over it at least twice in a day, this will help them in healing along with their usual dose of sunlight and food.  

8. you can make a diluted solution of dettol in water and use it to wipe clean the enclosure of the tortoise once every 2-3 days and whenever it gets soiled due to poop and pee so that it remains germ free.

9. If you give them calcium additionally then keep an eye on them because many times it may cause them loose motions if given regularly (so if you give it to them then give in 2-3 days and in less amount)

10. If some one cannot find trustogyl as a brand then you can buy its ingredients separately and give them together, the ingredients are metronidazole and norfloxacin, adjust the dosage according to age and size, i think in trustogyl they are in combination of 100mg metronidazole and 120 mg norfloxacin which is given twice a day normally. These dosage are for a tortoise having shell size of 5-6 inches in diameter, adjust your dosage for a bigger and smaller tortoise.

  By:  Dr. Siddharth Mishra

Disclaimer: The medicines/ treatment and methods of taking care of the turtle/tortoise described here are in no way perfect on their own and patented by the author, they are the result of collective experiences of the author and his readings and by his associations to other keepers and should not be used as an alternative to Professional Vetrinarian advice, Readers should use their discretion when using the medicines and/or care sheet described here, the authors can't be held responsible for any damage, loss, side effect or death of any animal / pet due to negligence of the keeper or the caretaker using any of the above methodologies and treatments.
The images displayed from other sources are the property of their owners and the author no way claims ownership over images from other sources, Original images are the work of author and should be treated as author's property when using for reference or any other miscellaneous use