Sulcata vs Indian Star Tortoise As Pets – Full Comparison

Between one of the most colorfully adorn land tortoises – ‘the Indian star’ and one of the largest species of land tortoises – ‘sulcata’, which would you prefer as a pet? This isn’t a question or decision you should answer or make in a hurry.

To make the best out of it, you need to read this article to the end. Choosing between two or more uniquely different species of animals for a pet can be such a burden to some people.

That is why this article is designed to take the burdens off your shoulders and help you in your decision process.

Both sulcata and Indian star tortoises make good pets to both experienced and beginner pet lovers. That notwithstanding, between these two species, some qualities set them apart and make one more desirable than the other.

These qualities can be their unique personalities, maintenance cost, or how easy it is to care for them in captivity.

Whatever qualities set them apart, in the end, you should know everything about these two species of tortoises and which species to go for.

That said, let’s look at their similarities and differences together.

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Cute Reptiles as Pets

Sulcata vs Indian star Tortoise As Pets

Although both sulcata and Indian star tortoises belong to the same family, they are entirely different species in terms of personality and size.

Indian star tortoises are calm and friendly species that don’t get agitated at all even when handled. Sulcata tortoises also are docile, calm when they want to, and can tolerate handling.

However, they’re slightly prone to aggression, especially during mating/breeding season. Besides having aggressive tendencies, sulcata tortoises are large in size.

They weigh over 100 pounds and are huge. Because of their large size, they can dig yards of tunnels in their outdoor enclosure and move heavy objects if kept within their reach. This characteristic is also the reason they are referred to as ‘living bulldozers’.

Indian star tortoises on the other hand barely get big. They measure about 12 inches and weigh approximately 4.9 pounds. With this size, it is easy to handle them as adults.

Sulcata vs Indian Star Tortoise: Full Comparison

This section aims to address all the differences between sulcata and Indian star tortoises. The factors to be discussed in this section are important things you must take into consideration when choosing a pet.

Ideally, a good pet that will be a good fit for you must not just be the one that is easy to care for but a pet with a great personality that meets your personality, location, budget, and is hardy.

Having said that, let’s look at these factors in detail and how these two species of tortoises are different.

Lifespan

How long these tortoises can live is one thing that sets them apart. Indian star tortoises have a long lifespan of about 50 years. This is a long lifespan compared to other kinds of pet animals such as dogs, lizards, or snakes.

However, since tortoises are naturally one of the longer-lived animals, 50 years is small compared to sulcata tortoises that live for over 105 years. Hence, when choosing these animals as pets, you should keep in mind that caring for them is a lifetime commitment.

Habitat

Where these animals come from inform us about the kind of environment they inhabit. Sulcata tortoises are from Senegal, Mauritania, Chad, Sudan, Niger, and Mali. All in the southern part of the Sahara desert.

In these regions, they inhabit hot deserts and can tolerate extreme temperatures (both hot and cold).

Whereas, Indian star tortoises inhabit dry forests, grasslands, and scrublands in India and Sri Lanka, and Pakistan. This implies that a perfect captive habitat for these animals will be that which allows them to bask and cool off as they desire.

Therefore, the temperature in their cage must be within the range they are exposed to in the wild. For sulcata tortoises that inhabit hot desert environments, they’ll need a mixture of rocky and sandy substrates to enable them to burrow.

Size/Weight

Sulcata tortoises measure longer and weigh heavier than Indian star tortoises. In terms of classification, Indian star tortoises can be classified as one of the smallest land tortoises after Russian tortoises. They measure approximately 12 inches long and weigh 4.9 pounds.

Sulcata tortoises on the other hand can measure over 30 inches and weigh over 150 pounds. On average, sulcata tortoises weigh 80 – 150 pounds (36287g – 68038.9g) and 2.5 – 3 feet wide.

This is how big they get as adults which makes many breeders want to rehome them once they reach this size. [Source: Lamp Keenan]

Looks

Indian star tortoises are known for their unique brown to black shell color with bright yellow markings. Their name ‘Indian’ (from India) and ‘star’ is informed by the star shape yellow markings on their scutes.

These star shapes on their scutes are formed when the bright yellow markings point to all directions from the center of the scutes.

As hatchlings, they have butterfly-shaped markings. As they grow older, the butterfly-shaped patterns turn to form stars.

One other feature that makes Indian star tortoises look unique is their highly doomed or convex carapace. This feature is so essential in their body because it allows them to flip back upward when they’re put on their backs.

Something other species of tortoises such as sulcata cannot do on their own without human intervention.

For sulcata tortoises, they have a brown or tan colored, broad, and oval carapace with large scutes. One other feature you can use to distinguish a sulcata tortoise from other species is its thick skin that is golden brown in color.

Active Levels

Sulcata tortoises are classified to be diurnal animals that are active during the day. Observing these animals in the wild and captivity reveals something remarkable about them.

They aren’t just diurnal, they are crepuscular in nature. This means that they are most active when the temperature is right or when the temperature permits. That is usually during the dawn and dusk hours.

During the mid-day to noon when the sun is scorching, they would hide in their burrows. This behavior explains why they stay in their burrow for 80% of their time.

As earlier stated, sulcata tortoises are the third-largest in the world weighing over 100 pounds. When they are this big, they can dig long tunnels and pull down heavy objects.

I have recently come across an 80 years old sulcata tortoise at Kamp Kenan weighing over 450 pounds. With this size, the keeper can’t carry the animal without help.

This is what you get when you keep this animal as a pet
This is what you get when you keep this animal as a pet

On the contrary, Indian star tortoises are sedentary in nature. They’re also slow-moving animals. They do not dig burrows with such strength as sulcata and even as adults they can still be housed indoors conveniently. 

Diet

Both species of tortoises are herbivores. This means that they feed majorly on green grasses and vegetables than on any other type of food.

As a rule of thumb, the grasses and vegetables they eat in the wild are those that are rich in fiber but low in protein. This implies that they need more dietary fiber in their diet than they need protein.

Hence, to offer them balanced diets in captivity, research the kinds of vegetables and grasses these animals eat before bringing them home. They do eat fruits too but on rare occasions.

Brumation

Only a few species of tortoises hibernate or brumate. Sulcata and Indian star tortoises are two among other species that do not brumate. These animals only slow down their metabolism in the wild to conserve energy during the cold months of winter.

Hence, any attempt to brumate them in captivity will cause serious health issues and may lead to death. One thing that usually induces brumation in captivity is when their cage temperature is way below the ideal range.

When this happens, it signals to them that it is winter and they need to eat less and hide more. When you see any of your tortoises behaving this way, firstly evaluate your temperature to ensure that it’s within the normal range.

If the temperature is within the normal range and your tortoise is acting lethargic (hiding more than normal) you should suspect a disease and get to the root of it before it gets worse.

Personality

Sulcata tortoises are heavy eaters, slightly aggressive especially during mating/breeding season, large in size, and good diggers. As discussed earlier, they will destroy your yard when they get big.

This is one reason it’s not ideal to house them indoors or in an undersized outdoor enclosure. These animals are likely to dig burrows near the fence so they can escape. They move fast even with their huge size.

On the flip side, Indian star tortoises are small in size, slow-moving, and diurnal. They aren’t big enough to require an outdoor enclosure.

However, if you still want to house your Indian star tortoise in an outdoor enclosure, ensure that you provide them a dry and comfortable habitat just like what they would have in the wild.

Required Enclosure Size

There’s no limit to what size of enclosure you should provide to your sulcata tortoise. If you can afford to give them a range, go ahead with it. They will be grateful to you for providing them such a large space to roam.

The rule of thumb for sulcata ideal enclosure size is that the bigger and stronger it is, the better. Sulcata tortoises love to roam and dig their enclosure. Therefore, an ideal enclosure size is one that will conveniently give room for that.

This translates to at least 80ft enclosure size. Hatchlings and youngsters below two years can be housed indoors in an 18 x 18 x 12 enclosure size.

On the contrary, Indian star tortoises can be housed indoors in a 3ft long and 15 inches wide enclosure. This size of enclosure is ideal for tortoises between 2 – 3 years of age.

When your Indian star tortoise is between 4 – 5yrs they would need a bigger enclosure of about 4ft long and 2ft wide. When they grow bigger than this, ensure to expand their enclosure to give more floor space for exercise. 

Lighting, Heating, Humidity Requirements

As these animals are native to different environments, so will their temperature needs differ. Sulcata tortoises inhabit hot arid environments, hence, they need high temperature and low humidity levels to thrive in captivity.

That said, their ideal temperature range is 77⁰ F– 95⁰ F during the day with a basking spot temperature of not higher than 122⁰ F. At night, the temperature should not fall below 63⁰ F.

Indian star tortoises on the other hand require a temperature range of 80⁰ F – 85⁰ F with a basking spot temperature of about 90⁰ F – 95⁰ F. During the night, the temperature should be maintained within 70⁰ F – 75⁰ F.

Suitability For Beginners

As a beginner, if you haven’t kept tortoises or large animals before as pets, avoid sulcata tortoises. Caring for these species requires diligence, if not your sulcata may dig its way through the fence and escape without your knowledge.

On the flip side, if you’re just starting your pet journey for the first time with tortoises, the Indian star species is ideal for you.

Aside from staying relatively small throughout their lifetime, they aren’t aggressive in nature and wouldn’t destroy your yard by digging large tunnels.

They are also docile and shy. You may not have to handle them much.

Cost

It’s not surprising to know that Indian star tortoises cost more than sulcata tortoises. The reason isn’t far-fetched. It’s because of their unique and appealing appearance.

They are one of the most sought after species of tortoises to be housed in homes as pets. Their unique personalities also make them more desirable.

Hatchling Indian star tortoises are sold between 123 USD to 249 USD. Adults range in price between 600 USD to 9,899 USD.

What amount you’ll get your Indian star tortoise will be determined by the size where you bought it from. Nonetheless, how much you’ll spend to get your pet Indian star tortoise shouldn’t exceed what is stated in this article.

However, it will not cost you that much to buy a sulcata tortoise. Where you’ll encounter the bulk of expenses while caring for them is in setting up their ideal enclosure and feeding them. This is because they are gigantic in size and they eat like cows.

Firstly, to set up an ideal habitat for hatchlings or juvenile sulcatas will cost you approximately 300 USD for the first time. The tortoise itself costs between 50 USD to 1000 USD.

In total, to buy and keep a young sulcata tortoise will cost you between 1500 USD to 2000 USD.

Ability To Keep In Groups

For Indian star tortoises, YES, they can be kept in groups of multiple males and females. This is good news if you’re looking forward to keeping many of this species as pets.

Unlike the Indian star tortoises, sulcata tortoises will fight and injure one another especially the males during mating season. Thus, it’s not ideal to keep many sulcata tortoises together in one enclosure.

However, when they are still small (hatchlings and juveniles) you can keep them together. But once they get big they would need a separate cage of their own.

Can You Keep Sulcata And Indian Star Tortoise Together?

I wouldn’t recommend that you keep two animals of opposing personalities together in one enclosure. Sulcata are heavy tramplers while Indian stars are shy and slow movers.

There is a great likelihood for your sulcata to inflict injury on your small Indian star. That said, if you have both species of tortoises to care for, ensure that you keep them in separate enclosures.

One other reason you shouldn’t keep these two species together is because they came from different environments and are exposed to different temperatures in the wild.

Your sulcata tortoise will need high temperatures in its cage while your Indian star tortoise that isn’t from a desert environment will need moderate temperatures.

To avoid giving room for diseases to set in via wrong cage temperatures/humidity level, give them separate individual homes.

Wrapping Up

This article promises to give you a detailed comparison between one of the largest land tortoises, sulcata and Indian star tortoises.

The goal of this article was not only to educate you about the major differences between these two species of animals but also to help you make the best choice of which species to pick for a pet.

That said, I hope that you have found this article helpful as always. Provided you can care for either of these two species, you’ll get a good pet out of them.

But if you fail to take into consideration any or all the factors discussed in this article, you may get frustrated in the long run. Caring for any species of tortoise is a lifetime commitment you should understand before going into it.

I advise that you do detailed research on each of these species to better understand how to care for them. Other related topics you should read include sulcata vs Russian tortoise and Aldabra tortoise.

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