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Burmese Star Tortoise (Geochelone platynota) Fact Sheet: Physical Characteristics

Physical Characteristics

Body measurements

Attribute Measurement
Straight Carapace Length Male: up to 25 cm (9.8 in)
Female: approximately 32 cm (13 in)*
Weight Up to 3 kg (7 lb); may weigh more or less, depending on timing of feeding and excretion, or in cases of gigantism (see note below)


*Largest female reported by Platt et al. (2019) was 45.5 cm (17.9 in) CL; may have had condition of gigantism, where grow exceptionally large (e.g., due to a hormone disorder). Platt and colleagues suggest typical maximum size for females is 32 cm (12 to 13 in).

Data sources: Platt et al. 2001; Platt et al. (2011), Platt et al. (2019); S.G. Platt, personal communication, 2022

General Appearance


  • Upper shell (carapace)
    • Oval-shaped (Ernst and Barbour 1989; Bonin et al. 2006)
    • Shell edge weakly “scalloped” (Ernst and Barbour 1989)
  • Lower shell (plastron)
    • Notched at front and rear ends (Smith 1931; Ernst and Barbour 1989)
    • Blyth (1863) describes the plates of this species as flat
  • Bony plates of shell (scutes) raised (called “pyramiding”) present in some individuals (Moll 1989; Highfield 1996; Platt et al. 2019)
    • Causes not well known (Fyfe 2007, cited by Kalyar Platt et al. 2014; Platt et al. 2011)
      • More common in managed care
      • May be due to overly dry conditions, improper diet as hatchlings, or genetic factors


  • Medium-size head with weakly hooked upper jaw (Smith 1931; Ernst and Barbour 1989; Platt et al. 2011)
    • Lower jaw has small hook (Platt et al. 2011)
  • Pupil large and dark with brown iris (Theobald 1868)


  • Front of legs covered by pointed and rounded yellow, bony scales (Bonin et al. 2006; Platt et al. 2011)
  • Patch of enlarged scales on thighs (Smith 1931; Bonin et al. 2006)


  • Tail tip tough and spiny (Theobald 1868; Smith 1931; Pritchard 1979; Ernst and Barbour 1989)
    • Described as a spur, or as a horn- or claw-like structure


  • Pronounced differences in color at species level (Platt et al. 2018)
  • Upper shell
    • Light brown to black with typically 1-6 stripes radiating out from yellow patches (Blyth 1863; Theobald 1868; Smith 1931; Ernst and Barbour 1989; Platt et al. 2011)
    • Yellow V-pattern along edge of shell (Ernst and Barbour 1989; Platt et al. 2011)
    • Pattern camouflages star tortoises under grasses (Pritchard 1979)
  • Lower shell
    • Yellow to orange base color with dark brown or black blotches (Smith 1931; Ernst and Barbour 1989; Bonin et al. 2006; Platt et al. 2018)
      • Blotches sometimes resemble rounded triangles in shape
  • Head, legs, and tail yellowish (Theobald 1868; Smith 1931; Ernst and Barbour 1989; Platt et al. 2011)

Sexual Dimorphism

Body size and shape

  • Females larger than males (Platt et al. 2001; Platt et al. 2003)
  • Female shell shape more round, “presumably to accommodate eggs” (Kalyar Platt et al. 2014)

Shell shape

  • Lower shell (plastron) more concave in males (Platt et al. 2011; Kalyar Platt et al. 2014)
    • Accommodates copulation


  • Males have longer, thicker tails with the vent nearer the tip (Ernst and Barbour 1989; Kalyar Platt et al. 2014)

Burmese Star Tortoise

Burmese star tortoise

These tortoises are named for the star-shaped pattern on their shell, which camouflages them under grasses.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

Many Shell Shades

Burmese star tortoise

The shell coloration of Burmese Star Tortoises varies from light brown to black.

Image credit: Myo Min Win, © WCS/TSA Myanmar Turtle Program. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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