The mother tortoises are totally selfish. They will leave the nests right after depositing the eggs and never return. Hence, your responsibility as the owner is to hatch the eggs in the right environment. I will discuss how you can hatch tortoise eggs naturally in this article.
Take a big tub for the starter and fill it with loose substrate. Do not bury the eggs, but place them in such a manner that their upper portion is exposed. Spray the substrates regularly for humidity and install a heating lamp to regulate temperature. Use a lid with small holes to cover the tub.
Read the following articles to get all your answers.
- You can build a natural incubator or nesting box at home with a plastic or wooden box and suitable substrates.
- The incubation temperature should be around 85F – 90F, and humidity should be between 70 – 80%.
- Do not change the orientation of eggs when transferring them from the nesting site to the incubator. It can kill the embryo.
How To Hatch Tortoise Eggs At Home Without An Incubator?
Generally, keepers use incubators to hatch tortoise eggs at home. But are there any alternatives to the incubator? Can you hatch tortoise eggs naturally, just like they do in the wild?
You can definitely hatch the tortoise eggs naturally. But always consider the risk that the clutch may not come out successfully. Also, there are too many things to take care of when you want to hatch the eggs without an incubator.
Here is the in-detailed process,
1. Select The Perfect Nesting Box
Generally, we move the eggs from the nesting area to an incubator for successful hatching. But in this scenario, we will use the nesting box as a natural incubator. Therefore, put extra effort into building the site.
Some owners use the same nesting box as the incubator, which is definitely okay. Then again, you can prepare another nest solely for incubation purposes.
You will need two boxes for building the nesting site, a larger one and a smaller one. Wooden boxes, plastic containers, or styrofoam coolers, anything will work. Just make sure the containers are spacious enough to accommodate all the eggs and can be covered with a lid.
The congested boxes fail to offer the babies enough space to move right after they come out of the eggshells. Again, the lid is necessary to airtight the containers to retain moisture percentage.
One more thing. You can also create the nesting site with only 1 box. Thus, managing 2 boxes is not mandatory.
2. Fill The Box With Substrate
An empty box is of no good. Therefore, you have to fill the containers with suitable bedding.
I recommend the following substrates,
- Premium topsoil
- Sand and soil
- Peat moss
- Straw pellets
- Sphagnum moss
- Coconut husk, etc.
Mixing any 2 or 3 types of bedding also works. Remove any rocks and roots from the mixture before layering the enclosure with it.
It requires a minimum of 4 to 5 inches thick substrate to fill the nesting box. Make sure the container is not overflowing with soil.
If you have 2 containers, fill up 3/4rd of the small one with the substrate. Then place it in the larger box, keeping a 1/2 inch gap between the walls.
You have to fill the gap with water to hold moisture for the soil. In this case, drill 2 small holes on the side of large containers.
3. Collect The Eggs
Do not dig out the newly laid eggs. The eggshells are still soft, and any pressure will pop open the yolk. Instead, wait a few days before transferring the clutch to the prepared nesting box.
Use a spoon to dig out the eggs gently. Pick up the eggs with your thumb and forefinger, one by one. Mark the top of each egg with a pencil so that you do not mess up its orientation.
Remember, turning the eggs upside down will detach the yolk from the sac. In the end, you will have a damaged clutch.
Use a paintbrush to remove the dirt from the eggs and place them on the nesting box in an upright position. There is no need to bury the clutches. But press the substrates around the eggs so that they do not trip aside.
Be gentle during the entire transfer process. Even a slight pressure can break the eggs.
Place the eggs at a slight distance from each other and make sure there is no touching.
4. Focus On The Temperature & Humidity
Tortoise eggs will not hatch unless you recreate the same environment as in the wild. For the starter, raise the temperature from 85F to 90F.
In the outdoor arrangements, tortoises usually select a nesting site where sunlight falls directly. For example, wild tortoises will lay their eggs in hilly areas to avoid flooding. The nests are often south facing, as the ground can trap as much heat as possible.
Of course, you can not totally depend on the sun when hatching the clutches indoors. So, install a heating lamp directly on the eggs to provide the necessary heating. Use a thermometer to track the temperature fluctuation.
For the humidity, spray the soil every day with water. The moisture percentage must be between 70 – 80%. A hygrometer will help you monitor the humidity content.
Remember, low moisture content can crack the eggs open, while damp surroundings unleash a bacterial attack.
Now cover the boxes with the lid, and you are all set.
5. The Waiting Period
Generally, tortoise eggs hatch between 70 to 120 days, depending on the species. Do not expect the entire clutch to come out at the same time. But each egg will have a different time period to hatch.
Spend the incubation period by monitoring the eggs from time to time. You must check on the clutch and the surrounding setting at least once or twice a week. Do not pick up the eggs or tamper with their orientation during the time.
Again, open the lid once every 2 weeks for air circulation. Some keepers will drill small holes in the lid for smooth air passage. You can follow either method.
The babies will come out of the eggs within 120 days. Some hatchlings may take 150 days to break the eggshells. The time is relative and mostly depends on the temperature and humidity.
See, the babies will break the shells with their egg teeth. Even though the hatchlings may seem to be struggling, they are not. So, you need not to give them a hand.
Right after the hatchlings come out, transfer them to a well-equipped enclosure for further caring.
Are The Tortoise Eggs Fertile? Or Are You Wasting Your Time?
Incubating the tortoises naturally is tiresome and time-consuming work. How will you feel to find out the entire clutch is unfertilized? It is not only a waste of your money but also of your energy.
Thus, it is advised to check the fertility of the tortoise eggs. Go through the following signs to separate fertile eggs from damaged ones,
- The just-laid eggs are red or pink because of the fresh blood vessels. Eventually, they turn blueish-white.
- Veins are visible inside the eggshells.
- Soon you will spot white patches on the eggshells, which will cover the entire egg in no time. This is called chalking. It is the first sign of egg development.
- The embryo development is also noticeable with candling. For this process, pitch black the entire room and move a torch by pressing against the eggshells. You will notice a black dot inside, growing bigger over the weeks.
Why Should You Use An Incubator?
In captivity, risks are involved when you rely entirely on natural factors to hatch the tortoise eggs. For example, if the substrate is not thick enough, the gravid reptiles abandon the nesting area. It will cause egg binding.
Likewise, too dry or dry wet beddings are a curse for the tortoise eggs. Finally, the eggs will take forever to hatch if the ground can not trap enough heat. In fact, the entire clutch may go to waste.
Considering all these factors, it is wiser to move your tortoise eggs inside and hatch the clutch in an incubator.
How To Make An Incubator At Home?
If you are not an experienced keeper, I advise buying a commercial incubator for this job. However, you can always DIY an incubator at home. The steps are as follows,
- Fit a small container (spacious enough to accommodate all eggs at a considerable distance) in the large tub.
- There must be a 1/2 to 1-inch gap between the walls.
- Drill 2 small holes in the top right corners of the large container.
- Fill the smaller box with a suitable substrate.
- Pour water into the existing gap between the 2 walls.
- Cover the large box with an airtight lid.
The egg collection and transferring process are the same as mentioned above.
How To Know If The Tortoise Is Going To Lay Her Eggs?
Knowing that your tortoise is with eggs will give you time to prepare a solid nesting box. As the species has a hard shell, you see no baby bump. But don’t worry. You can always tell whether the tortoise is carrying eggs by observing its behavioral and lifestyle changes.
Here are some signs of a pregnant tortoise,
- The gravid tortoises spend most of their time sniffing the ground or banging their heads against it. This is their way of checking the soil quality, for example, temperature, moisture content, etc.
- Mother tortoises do not settle for a nest until they find the perfect one. So, you will notice the pets digging in the soil now and then. There will be more than one trial nest.
- Gravid tortoises may act restless and pace in the enclosure. They may even attempt to escape the habitat.
- Pregnancy makes the pets self-conscious and protective. Hence, the mothers may look for a hiding spot all the time.
- Weight gain is also noticeable in the tortoises, even though they eat less than usual.
- Tortoises will wiggle their legs as a practice session to push the eggs into the nest.
How To Take Care Of The Hatchlings?
Well, your responsibility does not end after the eggs come out of the hatch. In fact, now you have more work to do as you need to raise the babies. Remember, the hatchlings require more care and attention than the adult tortoises because they are more fragile and vulnerable.
A brief care sheet for the hatchlings is given below,
- Transfer the hatchlings to a separate tank right after they come out of the clutch. A 25-gallon tank will work for the tortoises for the time being.
- The enclosure must be equipped with a proper heating lamp and UVB bulb. Sometimes the baby tortoises require heat even during the night. So, manage a night heating lamp with zero brightness if necessary.
- Maintain a basking temperature around 90F – 95F. The lights should be installed in such a way that a temperature gradient is created inside the pen. At night, the temperature should be around 70F – 75F.
- The humidity percentage should be between 50% – 80%, depending on the species. Some tortoises enjoy even higher moisture content.
- A balanced diet with grass, green vegetables, hays, and plants is recommended. Add calcium supplements to the meal thrice a week and use fruits only as occasional treats. A baby tortoise needs meals every day.
You can get an insight into tortoise egg care from this article.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Use A Chicken Incubator For Tortoise Eggs?
Well, a chicken incubator also works for hatching tortoise eggs. But you must recheck the setting and program the temperature or humidity percentages as per requirements.
How Long Does It Take To Hatch Tortoise Eggs?
It may take 6 to 8 weeks for the eggs to hatch, depending on the external factors like temperature and humidity. In some cases, the time may extend to 150 days.
Can You Incubate Tortoise Eggs Without Sand?
Sand is not mandatory for tortoise egg incubators. In fact, the sand often prevents oxygen passage and kills the clutch. Thus, mix the sand with topsoil or other substrates to prepare the perfect nesting soil.
Why Are My Tortoise Eggs Not Hatching?
It is highly likely that your tortoise eggs are infertile. You must look for a chalking sign in the clutch to confirm its fertility. You can candle the eggs in a few weeks to confirm embryo development.
Can Tortoise Eggs Hatch In Water?
Tortoises do not lay eggs in the water. Sometimes turtles are forced to deposit eggs in the water when there are no suitable nesting sites. But the clutches will not survive due to the water pressure.
Before You Go…
Do you know it is possible to hatch turtle eggs without an incubator too? The procedure is quite similar to the abovementioned method. But do check the link below for more clarity.