How To Tell If Tortoise Is Pregnant?

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Gravid tortoises need special attention and care as they are carrying eggs. For example, a separate house, suitable nesting area, nutritious diet, etc. But how to differentiate a gravid tortoise from others?

A gravid tortoise shows less interest in food yet experiences weight gain. You will spot the pet wiggling its legs under a heating lamp and sniffing the ground frequently. The tortoise spends most of its time searching for nests and digging soil. Behavioral changes are also noticed in the pet.

Catch more details below.

Key Takeaways

  • Sudden weight and weird behavioral changes are two signs of pregnant tortoises.
  • You can pressure the pet’s abdomen sides to feel the presence of eggs. It is called the palpate technique.
  • Tortoises can stay pregnant for 6 to 8 weeks.
  • The gravid tortoises require separate housing with nesting sites and a nutritious diet with sufficient calcium.

8 Sings That Your Tortoise Is Pregnant

Well, do not expect a baby bump on the gravid tortoises. Even if the pets have one, it will go unnoticed because of the solid-rock shells.

But do not worry. There are multiple ways of telling whether your tortoise is pregnant or not. Such as,

1. Less Appetite

In humans, pregnant mothers generally lose interest in food during their first trimester. Apparently, such behavior is common with gravid tortoises too.

The eggs in the tortoise oviduct are pressed against the stomach, reducing the food-storing capacity. The creatures will limit their food intake because there is no extra spot to fit the meals.

Even though tortoises eat less, they may demand more frequent meals. This way, the mothers ensure a proper nutrition supply and get more time to process and digest the food.

The hormonal changes are also responsible for the reduction in appetite. As pets eat less during pregnancy, you must ensure a balanced diet. Otherwise, the tortoises suffering from malnutrition will lay deformed eggs or weak babies.

2. Sudden Weight Gain

I just said gravid tortoises eat less than usual. So the pets must weigh less. Right?

Surprisingly, no!

Generally, egg-carrying tortoises weigh 500 grams or more than their usual body weight. The sudden weight gain indicates that the pets are pregnant.

3. Leg Wiggling

Tortoises rotate their legs to push the eggs through the cloaca during nesting. Likewise, the creatures use their legs to bury the clutches in the egg chamber.

Apparently, the gravid tortoises prepare themselves for such intensive tasks from the beginning. Therefore, you will often notice pregnant tortoises rotating their legs in a circular motion.

Usually, the pets practice leg wiggling when they feel warm and cozy, mostly under the basking spot.

4. Scratching & Sniffing The Ground

A pregnant tortoise is mainly occupied with searching for a suitable nesting spot. As a part of the procedure, you will find the pets sniffing the ground too frequently. Besides, the gravid reptiles tend to scratch the soil and bang their heads against it.

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Scratching the top bedding and sniffing are tortoise’s ways to predict the soil quality. The pet requires moist ground with moderate temperature. While the too-dry substrate cracks the eggs open, the too-damp soil will damage the yolk.

Likewise, gravid tortoises look for a nesting ground that can trap heat. It is why the wild creatures select an egg chamber located at an angle with the sun. The trapped heat helps the clutches to incubate.

5. Building Trial Nests

Well, pregnant tortoises can be really tricky when selecting a nesting spot for their eggs. No wonder why the pets dig so many trial egg chambers in the enclosure.

If you see your tortoises scratching the soil and digging holes for days or weeks, the chances are that they are carrying eggs.

6. Change In Behavior & Lifestyle

Of course, a pregnant tortoise experiences physical changes to an extent. Apparently, the pets also act out of character when they are carrying eggs. For example,

  • Change In Food Preferences: We know that each tortoise has a distinct taste in food. But during the pregnancy, the pets seem to grow a distaste for their favorite meals. Instead, they will become fond of a different diet altogether for the time being.
  • Calm & Quiet: Tortoises are usually playful during the day. But the creatures grow quieter and less vocal when they are with eggs. Gravid tortoises will hide in the shelters to avoid drawing attention to themselves and save the clutches from predators.
  • Restlessness: As the nesting time approaches, tortoises become more restless. They will examine the enclosure parameter to find a suitable spot. You will often see them pacing in the pen to release the build-up energy.
  • More Defensive: Apparently, the mother tortoises act more aggressively to locate a suitable nesting spot and save the clutches. The pets behave violently not only towards their tank mates but also to the owners. Ramming, biting, and nipping are common defensive behavior among pregnant tortoises.

7. Unusual Basking Habit

Tortoises need sufficient heating to operate their day-to-day functions. These reptiles usually bask under the heating lamp for this purpose.

Gravid tortoises also need heat. But apparently, they are not into the usual basking routine. It is evident that pregnant tortoises may not bask for days. Then suddenly, they will spend more hours under the light.

8. Attempt To Escape

Gravid tortoises are really protective of their eggs and want a perfect spot to nest. No wonder the mothers are all over the place and so restless most of the time. Some tortoises even try to make an escape.

As tortoises can climb walls, you must secure the tanks well.

Can You Tell If A Tortoise Is Pregnant By Looks?

As I said, you get to see no baby bump in your gravid tortoises. So, maybe you need more observation to be sure of their pregnancy. The palpate technique is more common to feel the eggs growing inside the pet’s belly.

The palpate technique steps are as follows,

  1. Lift The Pet: Gently pick up the tortoise by the sides. You should not lift the reptile by the plastron or carapace. Harsh handling can damage the eggs in the pet’s tummy.
  2. Upside Down: Flip the tortoise gently so that you can access its belly. The pet will manage to stay upside down for a couple of minutes. But do not keep the reptile in the flipping position for long.
  3. Block A Leg: Obviously, the tortoise does not like being in the upside-down position and will kick back. Use your finger to block one rear leg of the pet. It will ease the entire process and provide more access to examine the abdomen.
  4. Bump Or Not: Apply gentle pressure on the sides of the abdomen to feel the bump. If you encounter hard and round objects, your tortoise is definitely gravid. A soft and squashy abdomen indicates no pregnancy.
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While the palpate technique delivers accurate news, there are 2 major drawbacks. Such as,

  1. The eggs can get damaged if you are not gentle and apply slightly more pressure.
  2. You have to wait for weeks to find out the pregnancy of the tortoise.

Well, the safest option is definitely to go to the vet. He can tell you the result by x-raying the tortoise’s belly.

How Long Does A Tortoise Stay Pregnant?

The gestation period for tortoises is not fixed. It can be 6 to 8 weeks, depending on the species.

Some keepers think the gestation period may last for 3 to 4 years. Well, tortoises can indeed store semen for years. But you can not count it as a pregnancy period until the pet has fertilized its eggs.

Sure, the female tortoises can lay eggs 3 years after they have mated with a male. But over time, the chances of successful egg fertilization decreases.

Generally, wild tortoises deposit more eggs (6 – 10) in a clutch. On the contrary, the captive ones lay 4 to 8 eggs on average.

When Do Tortoises Lay Eggs?

Tortoises get involved in mating right after they wake up from hibernation, generally in Spring. The breeding season extends to mid-summer.

After a gestation period of 6 to 8 weeks, tortoises will look for a nest in early May. The nesting season will last until mid-July. Most gravid tortoise species usually lay 2 clutches with a break of several weeks.

What To Do If Your Tortoise Is Pregnant?

It is very difficult to pull off successful breeding in captivity. Therefore, you must be careful with your gravid tortoises. Here are the steps to follow,

1. Housing Management

Though female tortoises can tolerate tank mates, you should keep the gravid pets alone. Any additional stress is harmful to the mothers.

Also, do not compromise with any enclosure decoration. You must put all the essential supplies in the pen. Go through this article to find out more details on tortoise care sheets.

2. Consider The Security

Mother tortoises often try to escape the enclosure. Besides, they are always at risk of a predator attack.

Therefore, you should put extra effort into their safety. In case of an outdoor enclosure, do proper fencing and even cover the roof with chicken wires. Similarly, make sure the tank lid is tightly closed.

3. A Balanced Diet

Gravid tortoises tend to avoid meals and eat less. Even though the pets have less appetite, you can not just stop providing meals. Instead, offer the tortoises a delicious feast every day and allow the pets to eat at their own pace.

As the pregnant reptiles will reduce meal size, you must add only nutritious items to the diet chart. Malnutrition can cause severe damage to both the mother and the unborn babies.

Calcium and vitamin D3 are a necessary addition for gravid tortoise meals. It is because calcium makes the eggshells hard and formable. Hence, without this mineral, the eggs will not form properly, and the babies will be born with deformities.

In short, do not forget to sprinkle calcium powders or offer the tortoises cuttlebones regularly.

4. A Nesting Area

A suitable nesting area is a must-have for the gravid tortoises. Otherwise, the pets will experience egg retention. It is a condition where the tortoises refuse to lay their eggs. As a result, the eggshells keep growing a harder surface, leading to binding.

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Egg retention causes severe health damage. In fact, it can kill the mothers.

Therefore, you can not take risks by not providing the tortoises with suitable nesting areas. For the outdoor enclosure, lay a thick layer of loose and moist soil. Spray the ground every day for moisture retention. Also, if the weather is off, you have to install a heating lamp with a suitable fix over the nesting ground.

Again, you have to build an artificial nest for the indoor habitat. Start by chalking a separate area for nesting with bricks or wood. You can also use a plastic tub or box for a similar purpose.

Next, fill the area with loose soil that can hold moisture and heat. The bedding depth has to be twice the plastron length of the pet. Follow this same law when preparing the outdoor nest too. Remember, the tortoise will abandon the nesting ground if the soil depth is not enough.

Pour lukewarm water over the soil to dampen the ground. Later install a heating lamp over the area to recreate a wild environment. Set up a ramp if the nesting area is located at a height.

Many tortoise owners do not want to go through all these hustles. So, they prefer buying a readymade commercial nest from pet stores.

5. Tortoise Egg Collection

Apparently, mother tortoises do not nurture their babies. They will leave right after depositing their eggs in the chamber.

Do not tamper with the eggs for a few days. Then use a spoon and dig out all the eggs. Brush away the dirt and transfer them to an incubator.

6. Fertilized Or Not

You should not waste your time and energy incubating unfertilized eggs. It is why you must check the fertility of the clutch. Some positive signs are,

  • Fertile eggs show veins and blood vessels.
  • The eggs will chalk as the first sign of fertility.
  • Candle the eggs in the dark to spot the embryo.

Throw any infertile, damaged, or infected eggs, as they can ruin the entire clutch.

7. Incubate The Eggs

If everything goes fine, it will take 90 to 120 days for all the eggs to hatch. You must maintain a 77 – 95F temperature and 80% humidity inside the incubator. You can either build an incubator with a plastic box and vermiculite or buy a commercial one at a reasonable price.

Remember, the lower incubator temperature yields male tortoises, and the elevated temperature produces females.

Tortoise Pregnancy Complexities

Pregnancy is a sensitive phase in the tortoise’s life, both mentally and physically. The pet often feels stressed, restless, and drained out. You must offer the reptile enough space with sufficient hiding spots and leave it alone.

Additionally, you have to keep your eyes open to spot any physical abnormalities. Some red signs are,

  • Endema
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Runny nose
  • Red eyes
  • Head swelling
  • Less hunger
  • Skin problem
  • Shell disease
  • Weight loss

If you see any of the abovementioned symptoms in your gravid tortoise, take it to a vet urgently.

Before You Go…

In captivity, you can not rely on nature to hatch your tortoise clutch successfully. Remember, the yard ground may not trap sufficient heat and moisture. Therefore, you should follow a proper guide to hatch the eggs. The attached link has all the answers related to tortoise egg care.

Tortoise Egg Care Guide [Common Questions Answered]

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About Author

Muntaseer Rahman started keeping pet turtles back in 2013. He also owns the largest Turtle & Tortoise Facebook community in Bangladesh. These days he is mostly active on Facebook.

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