Mating is a very natural behavior of matured turtle. if you have a matured pair of water turtles, then you can definitely see them mating in the tank. Water turtles, especially red-eared sliders show interesting behavior during mating. Some people also call it the mating ritual. In this article, I am going to explain how do turtles mate in a tank. However, keep in mind that, in most states of the USA, breeding turtles in a tank intentionally is not recommended because turtles in those areas are considered as invasive species.
When do turtles mate?
Pet water turtles, commonly red-eared sliders start to show mating behavior when they have reached maturity. Generally, male red-eared sliders reach maturity at 2 to 4 years old whereas females take at least 5 to 6 years to be mature. On the contrary, box turtles need at least 5 years before they reach sexual maturity. You can easily identify a male turtle from a female one by observing the plastron. The males have a slightly concave plastron which helps them to mount on top of the female. On the other hand, the females have a flat plastron. (Plastron is the undershell of the turtle)
In the USA, it is illegal to sell or buy pet turtles that are smaller than 4 inches in diameter. Likely at that stage, the female is still immature. However, the male can be matured at this size too. Common pond turtles, including red-eared sliders, generally mate during the months from March to June. The spring season is generally the optimum time in the wild for turtle mating. The slowly increasing temperature and the day length often triggers the turtles to mate. However, pet turtles in an indoor setup can start to mate anytime throughout the year.
Here is an interesting fact. The female turtle can store the male’s sperm for years. She will lay the eggs whenever she prefers.
Reproductive organs of turtles:
The cloaca is the main reproductive organ of turtles. it is located near the base of the tail of the turtle. it is a vent type organ. Male turtles have a penis in their cloaca while female turtles have a track which leads to their ovaries.
When mating, the male turtle gets on top of the female and tries to insert its penis through the female’s cloaca. The ovaries of the female store the sperm of the male.
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Turtle Mating Behavior:
When turtles start to mate, they show pretty interesting behavior. Before starting the mating ritual, the male will often follow the female turtle and sniff its cloaca. When its time to start the ritual, the male starts to come towards the female by back swimming through water in front of her. The male also tickles the face of the female with its claws. Turtles can do this typical behavior for other reason than mating too.
During the mating time, this ritual can go on for hours or even for days until the female gives permission to the male to get on top of her. After getting the permission, the male will mount on top of the female turtle’s shell and stay there until it can insert its leg through the females. Thus, the eggs inside the female turtle get fertilized.
How to identify a gravid turtle:
When a turtle is pregnant, it is called a gravid turtle. if you observed that your turtles are mating, then you can identify your turtle has been pregnant within 2 or 3 weeks’ time. To check if your turtle is having eggs, you can gently insert your finger between your turtle’s hind legs and the shell. You should feel lumps. These lumps are the eggs inside your turtle.
If you find out that your turtle is having eggs, you need to separate her from other turtles and prepare a separate habitat for her with a nesting area. The nesting area will be where she’ll lay the eggs. Also, you need to provide plenty of UVB lighting to the gravid turtle along with proper diet.
Is the turtle ready to lay eggs?
When the turtle is ready to lay eggs, she will start to look for an optimum place to lay her eggs. You can often observe the female turtle digging here and there to find the right spot for laying her eggs. When she finds the right spot, she will dig a hole almost as deep as her body. Then the turtle will start to lay her eggs. The process can take even an hour. When the turtle is finished laying her eggs, she will cover the hole with dirt and leave the spot forever.
After about 60 to 90 days, depending on species, the eggs will start to hatch. It can take several days for the whole clutch of eggs to hatch. The hatchlings will instinctively come out of the hole and go to the nearest water body.
Making a nesting box for the turtle:
Most of us keep their turtles in an indoor setup. In an indoor setup, the turtle can’t dig when she is ready to lay eggs. If the turtle can’t find an appropriate place to lay her eggs, she may hold the eggs for a long time which can cause serious health issues. I have also seen turtles laying eggs in the water, which is deadly for the egg. So, if you are keeping the turtle in an indoor tank, you need to make a nesting box for her.
A nesting box is a container filled with soil where your turtle can dig up the soil and lay her eggs. It is actually very easy to set up a nesting box. All you need is a suitable container. Plastic bins are fine if they are large enough for the turtle. Now you need to fill the container with topsoil. Make sure the soil is at least 4-5 inches deep. Now, when the turtle is ready to lay eggs, place her on the nesting box. She’ll know what to do then instinctively.
I have written a detailed blog post on nesting box for turtles here.
How to take care of the eggs?
When the turtle has finished laying eggs in the nesting box, you need to transfer the eggs in an incubator. An incubator increases the survival rate of the eggs many times. You can either use a professional incubator like zoo med’s ReptiBator or go for a DIY one.
If you want to know how to make an incubator for turtle eggs, click here. Basically, you need to take a container and fill it partially with vermiculite. make sure the container has a lid. Drill some holes along the top of the container for ventilation. Now you need to mix water with the vermiculite. Be very careful when doing this step. You need mix the vermiculite with water by 1:1 ratio (according to the weight). So, if you have used 500-gram vermiculite, then you need to use 500-gram water. The mixture should be such that if you squeeze it, no water drips from it, but the vermiculite gets clumped.
Now that you have prepared the incubator, all you need to do now is transfer the eggs from the nesting box to the incubator. Before transferring the eggs, make an incision on the vermiculite with your finger. Then transfer the eggs from the nesting box to the incubator. Fill the eggs partially under vermiculite.
Make sure that, whenever you are transferring the eggs, their orientation is not disrupted. If the eggs get oriented in any way, then the embryo inside can get detached and die. So, what I like to do is, take a marker and make a mark on top of the eggs before moving them from the nesting box. This way, I always know which side faces upwards so the orientation stays the same.
If you want to know more about how to care for turtle eggs, click here. It will take you to my detailed article on how to care for turtle eggs.
When the eggs hatch?
It mainly depends on the species. Generally, it takes about 60 to 90 days for the turtles to hatch. Once the eggs start to hatch, it may take several days for the whole clutch to hatch. The hatchlings will come out of the shell instinctively. You don’t need to do anything. At this stage, the hatchlings will have an egg sac attached to their plastron. This egg sac will give them necessary nutrients to survive for the first few days.
Once the hatchlings come out of the shell, you can transfer them in a separate container. You don’t need to have water in the container. Just, keep the container wet by spraying a good amount of water. Also, place some wet tissues inside it. The hatchlings can stay there unlit the egg sac is completely absorbed. After that, you can transfer them to the main tank and start feeding them.
Frequently Asked Questions:
What is the turtle mating season?
Turtles generally start to mate in the spring season when the temperature and daytime is increasing gradually. Generally, the mating time continues from March to June.
How do painted turtles mate?
Like most other water turtles, painted turtles mate in spring and autumn. Their mating process is much like red-eared sliders. The male start to follow the female and sniff her cloaca before starting the mating process. Once the mate gets the female’s permission, he mounts on top of her and puts its penis inside the female’s cloaca.
What time of year do turtles mate?
Turtles generally mate from March to June in the wild. However, in captivity, as the temperature remains constant all the time, they can mate anytime throughout the year.
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