Scientific Name: Geochelone elegans
Bernard and Karen Lee, Mascot
Joel Prescott-Smith, Windang
Denise Hancock, Port Macquarie
Emily Sheehan, Lake Macquarie
The female star tortoise may appear totally disinterested during the mating process and will often continue to eat while the male performs his duty!
Aptly named for the star-like pattern on the shell this attractive land tortoise reaches a maximum length of around 35cm from a hatchling size of about 12cm. The upper shell or carapace is coloured in dark brown or black with light brown or yellow lines radiating out from the centre of each scale to provide the star pattern. The pattern itself varies greatly from a simple pale 'X' shape in some tortoises to an intricate and complex array of stripes spreading from the central hub of each scale. Males are smaller than females and have a longer tail that tapers distinctly at the tip.
In contrast to their delicate colouration and pattern, star tortoises survive in an extremely harsh environment. They inhabit the hot dry scrubland areas of central and southern India and Pakistan and are also found on the island of Sri Lanka. They are mostly restricted to the arid scrub vegetation but in some areas they will also utilise forest margins and coconut plantations.
Like most land tortoises they are vegetarian by nature. A huge range of seasonally available leaves, shoots, grasses, berries and fruits are taken, although during the dry season the choice may be somewhat limited and the food quality poor.
Courtship in star tortoises is fairly sedate compared to some if its relatives which employ butting and ramming of the females by males. The male star tortoise will usually circle the female several times before attempting to mate. Some two to three months after mating the female will dig a shallow hole in sandy soil and deposit 4-8 round white eggs, which hatch around 3-4 months later.