Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance logo
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Library logo

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

Body

  • 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

Head

  • 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)

Limbs

  • 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

  • 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

Coloration

  • 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

Tail

  • 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.

SDZWA Library Links