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Indian star tortoises are popular based on their size, personality and appearance. Their care is similar to the leopard tortoise. With yellow lines radiating from the center of each scute and contrasting with their black base color, star tortoises are one of the world’s most attractive tortoise species. The attractive star-like patterns on the shell of the Indian star tortoise actually help the tortoise to blend into it's surroundings more easily, as well as looking very pretty. The distinctively marked shell of the Indian star tortoise, actually breaks up the hard line of it's shell when it is grazing, making this reptile not so obvious to passing predators.They also are not territorial. Multiple males and females may be kept together without the fighting, aggressive biting and ramming encountered during breeding by the European species.
Indian star tortoises are native to India, Sri Lanka and southeastern Pakistan. Although there are no formally recognized subspecies, there are geographically separate variants. In the United States herpkeepers typically identify Indian and Sri Lankan star tortoises, but both are classified as Geochelone elegans.
Due to the very distinctively marked, and highly rounded shell of the Indian star tortoise, this species of tortoise has become a popular pet in the world's exotic pet trade. Indian star tortoises are of a medium size. Females grow larger than males. Females typically attain a length of about 7 or 8 inches, and males typically only reach 5 or 6 inches in length. Specimens from Sri Lanka and northwest India grow larger. Sri Lankan females may grow to 15 inches long, but males only reach 8 or 9 inches long.
The Star tortoise can, contrary to many other tortoises, but together with certain other species in the subfamily Geochelone (among them G. pardalis) possess a shell with naturally raised scutes, something which looks similar, but not identical to the pyramiding often seen in tortoises marked by malnutrition and poor husbandry. This feature is highly variable in the Star tortoise - both smooth and quite bumpy specimens exist in the same populations. The cause or function of this phenomenon is unclear - it might be a genetic trait, or it could simply be a result of individual differences in diet composition or access to food.
The Indian star tortoise begins its mating season with the coming of the monsoon, so the exact time is dependent on the area in which the individual lives. Female Indian star tortoise lay an average of 7 eggs per clutch although, this can be as many as 10. The Indian star tortoise is known to be difficult to be breed in captivity and so should only be attempted by experience breeders.
Sometimes, one hears explanations about how mainly Sri Lankan Star tortoises have bumpy shells and that 'smooth' stars are mainland animals., but smooth shelled Sri Lankan animals and bumpy wild Star tortoises in the north-western parts of the Indian subcontinent have been seen and recorded. One might suspect that the theory about Sri Lankan animals being significantly more bumpy works as a means for less serious dealers in the advertising of animals who have pyramided due to bad husbandry - it makes sense that it is easier to sell '…a healthy and well built specimen of Sri Lankan type' than '…a specimen with a malformed shell, caused by long-term incorrect husbandry'.
The species ranges over large parts of India, in South-eastern Pakistan (SE Sind) and in Sri Lanka. At least three geographically separated variants can be perceived, and there is a distinct possibility that the species will be divided into several subspecies, or maybe even seperate species in the future. Star tortoises from the northern parts of the Indian subcontintent (Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Pakistan) are very large and have a relatively dark ground colour. The 'black' fields of the shell are often more brown than black. These animals give a 'dirty' appearance compared to specimens from the southern populations. Animals from the southern parts of the subcontinent (Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka) are much smaller than their northern relatives, have a more contrasting pattern with a creme-yellow ground colour and jet black dark fields. Sri Lankan specimens look much like the animals from the southern mainland, but grow nearly as large as the animals from northern India and Pakistan.
The species has been placed on CITES appendix II, which regulates the legal international trade, and it is also protected under Indian law making it illegal both to possess and trade in Star tortoises inside India without a permit. Sadly, the enforcement of this law seems to be lacking, as star tortoises are still openly offered for sale in pet shops. In the US, only captive-bred star tortoises are available. There has been no legal large-scale exportation of Star tortoises from India for many years, and there is no indication that such exports will again be permitted.