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Burmese Star Tortoise (Geochelone platynota) Fact Sheet: Taxonomy & History

Taxonomy and Nomenclature

Taxonomy

  • Assigned to genus Geochelone in 1957 (Platt et al. 2011)
    • Previously member of genus Testudo (Blyth 1863)
  • No recognized subspecies (Platt et al. 2011)
  • See Platt et al. (2011) for detailed discussion

Synonyms

  • Geochelone platynota (Platt et al. 2011; Turtle Taxonomy Working Group 2021)
  • Geochelone elegans platynota (Platt et al. 2011; Turtle Taxonomy Working Group 2021)
  • Peltastes platynotus (Platt et al. 2011; Turtle Taxonomy Working Group 2021)
  • Testudo platynota (Platt et al. 2011; Praschag et al. 2020)
  • Testudo platynotus (Blyth 1863; Turtle Taxonomy Working Group 2021)

Evolutionary History

Fossil history and evolutionary relationships

  • Evolutionary clade group containing G. platynota originated in Africa and dispersed to Asia (Le et al. 2006)

Closest extant/living relatives

  • Indian Star Tortoise, Geochelone elegans (Pritchard 1979; Le et al. 2006)

Common names

  • Burmese Star Tortoise, Flatback Tortoise, Myanmar Star Tortoise (English) (Aye and Minn 2019; Praschag et al. 2020)
  • Tortue Étoilée de Birmanie (French) (Praschag et al. 2020)
  • Tortuga Estrellada de Burma (Spanish) (Praschag et al. 2020)

Local names

  • Kye leik (Platt et al. 2011)
    • Translates as “star turtle”
  • Mangyi leik, pankyar leik, seijo leik (Platt et al. 2018)
    • Appear to refer to shell patterns and culinary-related uses

Cultural History

History

  • Limited historical data on this and other tortoise species in Myanmar (van Dijk 1997)
    • Best historical data: from 1860 to 1940
    • Country closed to foreign scientists from 1962 to approximately early 1990s (S.G. Platt, personal communication, 2022)

Culture and folklore

  • Special uses
    • Shell previously used by Burmese people as a vessel (Smith 1931)
      • Used by Burmese people to bail “oil out of earthen vessels” (Blyth 1863)
      • Used by vendors to measure oil (Theobald 1868)
  • Local beliefs
    • Some Burmese communities believe that tortoise flesh causes skin diseases; tortoises not commonly eaten (van Dijk 1997)
      • Eaten only if no other food is available
    • Some local people (e.g., at Myaleik Taung) believe tortoises protected by mountain spirits (Platt et al. 2001; Platt et al. 2003)
      • “A person who harms or even unduly disturbs a tortoise faces retribution in the form of misfortune, sickness or even death” (Platt et al. 2003)
      • Provides some degree of protection in these rural areas but not from professional hunters who do not hold these beliefs areas (see Platt et al. 2011; Thanda Swe, cited by Platt et al. 2011)
      • Engraved religious markings on shell may deter some poachers (Platt and Platt 2020)

Classification

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Reptilia — reptiles

Order: Testudines (Laurenti, 1768) — tortoises, turtles, terrapins

Family: Testudidae (Batsch, 1788)

Genus: Geochelone (Fitzinger, 1835)

Species: Geochelone platynota (Blyth, 1863) — Burmese Star Tortoise, Flatback Tortoise- common name

Sources: Praschag et al. (2020), ITIS (2022)

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