Asian Forest Tortoises (Indotestudo)

General

Indotestudo comes from ‘Indo’ for India and ‘testudo’ for turtle. As the name implies, these tortoises are from southern Asia, if not always specifically India. They are forest and omnivorous tortoises, much like the Red-footed Tortoise. They probably originally ranged throughout southern India and southeast Asia, but like other species (also such as the Red-footed Tortoise) saw their habitat become fragmented as the climate in the region changed over time. All three species are under pressure from hunting (as food and for the pet trade) as well as habitat loss. Besides that, they are an ingredient in a concoction used by oriental men to restore “vitality” –a dangerous status for many species around the world. Forsten’s and the Travancore are considered endangered; most known Forsten’s Tortoises are in captivity or preserved.

Indotestudo are unique among tortoises for changing colors during breeding season. Normally yellowish to grey, the head will turn bright yellow, pink or white during the mating season. The difference is amazing, and makes the male very visible on the forest floor. The carapace is elongated and rather low, slightly flared in the front and back. Males are generally slightly larger than females. In general, much of their natural history is very similar to that of the Yellow-footed Tortoise.

They do not brumate but may aestivate at least partially in hotter or dryer weather. They have been observed foraging at night in hot weather.

The genus includes these species:

  • Indotestudo elongata, Elongated Tortoise (Blyth, 1853) Asia, 13in/33cm, forest
  • I. forsteniiForsten’s or the Sulawesi Tortoise (Schlegel & Muller, 1845) Asia, 11in/29cm, forest, endangered
  • I. travancoricaTravancore Tortoise (Boulenger, 1907) Asia, 12in/30cm, forest, endangered

Description

Elongated Tortoise (Indotestudo elongata)
To 13 inches/30cm with females only to 11 inches/29cm. Scutes are dark in the center, becoming paler or greyer on the outside. The rear carapace is slightly flared and serrated on the rear sides. There is a long, narrow nuchal scute with parallel sides. The plastron is pale greenish to cream with some dark spots on the abdominals. The seam between the humerals is slightly longer than the seam between the pectorals.

Forsten’s tortoise (Indotestudo forstenii)
11 inches/29cm. Distinguished from the Elongated in that it is smaller, may or may not have a small wedge-shaped nuchal scute (based on where it is from: southern populations have one, northerns do not), and the pectoral seam is much longer than the humeral seam.

Travancore tortoise (Indotestudo travancorica)
12 inches/30cm. Differentiated from the others by a total lack of nuchal scute, and a pectoral seam that is only a little longer than the humeral seam.

Range and Habitat

Southeast India to central Indonesia and southern China. Forsten’s are restricted to smallish ranges on the island of Sulawesi (formerly Celebes) while the Travacore is only found on the southwestern coastal areas of India. Habitat is primarily humid forests, but also includes rocky and dryer regions as long as there is sufficient rainfall. They find shelter in leaf litter and animal burrows, often those of the pagolin. They can use their heavy limbs to scrape out beds or nests for shelter. At least the Elongated is tolerant of high temperatures and one source states that it cools itself off with its own saliva.

Tortoise Trust has a good article about wild and semi-wild tortoises in Myanmar

Reproduction

Comparatively little is recorded about their reproduction cycle but most Forest Tortoises mate at the beginning of the rainy seasons. It is noted that they make loud groans during sex or if interrupted, and the Travancore is noted for immobizing the female for an extended period. There are 2-4 clutches of largish eggs (40-55mm, slightly oval, with Travancore being larger) with 1-5 eggs per clutch, depending on the species with Forsten’s often only laying 1-2. Incubation takes as little as 100 days in the wild.

(Nesting I. elongata, by Kelly Hull)

For more information, see the articles on nesting and incubation and neonatal care.

Indoor housing

Aim for as much space as possible. 20 gallon tanks or tubs are the minimum for very young tortoises. 40 gallon tubs or tanks are OK for up to about 6″ long. 8′x4′ is suggested minimum for adults. Habitat should be waterproof and secure. Hides and shelters are necessary. Live, ‘baby safe’ plants are helpful but may be eaten or knocked over. Some simple substrates are cypress or other hardwood mulch, or ‘Orchid Bark’ (high-grade Douglas fir bark). Many books or websites have good examples.

Outdoor housing

Outdoor pens should be spacious, secure from escapes and predators (or theft), and well-planted with vegetation they can eat and foods and plants they can hide under. Fresh water and hides are also needed. If nights are below 65-70F, there should be a heated shelter. If the days are hot and/or dry, there should be a misting or sprinkler system available.

Environment

Warm, humid climate.

  • 80-85F preferred range. Can tolerate 65-70F lows short term. Tolerant of heat; it has been seen active at 118F/48C
  • Needs high humidity (80-100%) when young, less important when older. High humidity hides and spaces are OK if you cannot humidify the whole habitat. 
  • Gentle lighting with low-levels of UVB lighting are recommended. (Tortoises with regular access to unfiltered sunlight do not need UVB lighting.)

Water

A wide, shallow, easy-to-clean bowl of fresh water should always be provided. The bowl rim should be level with the substrate.

Diet

Considered primarily a frugivore, it does well on a typical omnivore diet of greens, fruits, and small amounts of protein. Prepared tortoise chows may be used instead or along with fresh foods. Fond of mushrooms and slugs.

  • Plant materials can be most lettuces, greens, flowers, mushrooms, hays, grasses, leaves or flowers of edible plants such as hibiscus, and leaves of fruit trees such as mulberry. Avoid using only a few items over and over, especially items like spinach, cabbage, and Iceberg lettuces.
  • Vegetables and fruits can include shredded carrot, squash, pumpkin, bell pepper, apples, kiwifruit, etc. Some very good options are figs and papaya. Keep bananas, grapes, and citrus to a minimum. Fruits may be up to about 50% of the diet.
  • Meats should be about 10% or less of the diet. Live bugs and worms, snails and slugs, lightly cooked eggs, chicken, “oily fish” (salmon, mackerel, etc.), dog or cat food and so on.

Feed daily. Remove food when it goes bad. One way to help prevent overfeeding is to
limit the higher calorie foods (such as fruits and meats) to an amount smaller than the tortoise’s head.

Other

  • This is an interesting genus that deserves attention and a good captive breeding program, as well as more field research.

Resources