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Indian & Burmese Star Tortoises

- male vs female -

female Geochelone elegans

Female Sri Lankan Star - notice the short, stubby tail

Male or female?

Determining the gender of young Star tortoises is not always straightforward because most of the gender characteristics apply to subadult and adult tortoises only. Burmese Star tortoises can be especially tricky to sex when young. Some young males can look more like girls for quite a while.

Very young male Star tortoises have flat plastrons and short tails, but the tail will grow and the plastron will concave as the male grows and matures. Many male youngsters start out looking more like females and then suddenly grow a big tail.

Some subadult individuals are easily sexed because one or more of the sex characteristics is quite obvious. With others, figuring out the gender is more difficult due to ambivalent sex traits. In those cases, you'll need to consider all the attributes as a whole.

Gender traits in adult Star tortoises

1.) Overall size:

2.) Shell shape:

3.) Plastron:

4.) Tail:

5.) Angle of anal scutes:

6.) Growth rate:

7.) Flashing:

Note: For reference, see the shell scute diagrams.

Rules of thumb for sexing tortoises

Young tortoises:

Subadult & adult tortoises:

Simple, right? :O)

Adult female Star tortoises

Adult Indian / Sri Lankan Star tortoise (Geochelone elegans) females have short, fat, stubby tails with a little tip. Angle of the anal scutes is narrower than in males, and the bony opening is often roundish to allow the passage of eggs. The supracaudal scute does not curve down, but opens up for egg laying. The cloacal opening in the tail is roundish, looking kinda like a star.

adult female star tortoise

Female Star tortoise

Adult male Star tortoises

Adult Indian / Sri Lankan Star tortoise (Geochelone elegans) males have long, thick, deep letter v shaped tails. Anal scutes can be shaped like a mustache with the tips pointing towards the sides. The supracaudal scute typically turns inwards in adult males. Assumably, to protect the tail and male organ. The cloacal opening looks more like a slit towards the tail.

Note: The direction of the supracaudal scute varies among individual tortoises and different species. For example, in my Golden Greeks, both males and females have supracaudal scutes that open up. On the other hand, in my Angulate tortoises, both males and females have supracaudal scutes that turn under.

adult male star tortoise

Male Star tortoise

Burmese Star tail spurs

Mature Burmese Star tortoises may have terminal nail spurs. They are not present in younger males.

Burmese Star tortoise male's tail spur

Mature Burmese Star tortoise male with a tail spur (nail)

Burmese Star tortoise tail

For comparison, here's a Burmese Star tortoise with no tail spur

Examples - Indian Star females

sri lankan star tortoise female tail

The tail is short in females

geochelone elegans female

Female tail

female geochelone elegans

Female G. elegans

Examples - Indian Star males

adult indian star tortoise male tail

The tail is big and long in males

geochelone elegans male

Male tail

adult Geochelone elegans male

Male - notice the long length of the tail

male geochelone elegans

Male - notice the inward curve of the supracaudal scute

male star tortoise's concave plastron

Adult male Star tortoise's concave plastron. Photo courtesy of Jitka.

Example - Indian Star pair

geochelone elegans pair

Female Geochelone elegans may grow 2-3 times the size of a male!

geochelone elegans mating pair

Geochelone elegans pair - notice the size difference

Flashing vs prolapse

Young male Star tortoises often "flash," i.e., show their private parts, in a warm bath. This is often the first sure sign that you have a male. The tortoise male part is sometimes described as looking like a purple flower, a cowboy hat, or the Starship Enterprise. :O)

Many new tortoise owners become alarmed when they see their male tortoise "flash" for the first time. They often think there's something terribly wrong with the tortoise, for example, an intestinal prolapse.

As long as the private part goes back in after a short while, everything is ok. If it prolapses and stays out, take your tortoise to the vet ASAP to have it treated. Otherwise, it may become necrotic and have to be amputated.

On a rare occasion, you may catch a glimpse of your female's private parts as well. The female part looks similar to a male's, but it's much smaller and doesn't have a long stem. More likely though, it's probably just a young, maturing male tortoise showing his immature bits. In boy tortoises, the bits start out small and then grow bigger as the tortoise matures.

Link - Here's a link [Scientific American, offsite] to a science blog with photos of "flashing" male tortoises, including a male Geochelone elegans. WARNING: Photos on that page are very graphic. They many not be suitable viewing for young children.

Link - For comparison, here's an article about intestinal prolapse with photos [Tortoise Trust, offsite]. Intestinal prolapse, or prolapse of any other internal parts, is an emergency.

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