If you plan to breed your tortoises, you must gather information on egg care first. Hence, I am here to answer the most frequently asked question regarding tortoise egg care.
Generally, tortoise egg care starts from the nesting period and ends with hatching. Thus, build a nest for the tortoise with a suitable substrate. Then, place the eggs in the commercial or DIY incubator after digging them out of the nest. The eggs will hatch at 80 – 86F and 80% humidity within 70- 120 days.
Let’s clear all confusion on tortoise egg care once and for all.
How To Care For Tortoise Eggs?
Taking care of tortoise eggs is not as challenging as it sounds. First, you have to build a proper nest for the gravid tortoises so that they do not retain eggs.
The gravid tortoises may take hours to deposit the whole clutch in the nest. After laying all the eggs, the mothers fill the nesting hole with dirt and leave the place forever. Wait a few days and allow the freshly laid eggs to develop a hard shell.
Then, scoop out the eggs using a spoon. Next, take a paintbrush and remove dirt from the eggs carefully. Now it is time to put the eggs in an incubator for hatching. Either a DIY or a commercial incubator will work fine in this case.
Do not rotate the eggs after placing them inside the incubator. Otherwise, you may damage the yolk development. However, you can keep the eggs in any direction once the embryo is matured.
You need to pay extra attention to the incubator temperature and humidity. The ideal incubation temperature for tortoise eggs is 80 – 86F. A temperature more or less than this range can damage the eggs.
Similarly, the ideal humidity level inside the incubator is 80%. The safe range here is 50 – 90%.
Humidity is important for the tortoise eggs. A less humid environment can dry out the egg yolk, while too much moisture will make the embryo watery.
Temperature and humidity regulation is easier in commercial incubators. You can also check the temperature, and humidity level using a thermometer dipped in the incubator sand and a hygrometer.
Check this article if you want a detailed mating and breeding guide for pet tortoises.
How To Hatch Tortoise Eggs At Home?
As I have mentioned, you would require an incubator to hatch the tortoise eggs. As newbies, you can go for commercial incubators. But if you have experience with tortoise breeding, DIYing the incubator is also a great idea.
Nevertheless, homemade incubators have a greater success rate for hatching. Anyhow, those are not cheap.
You can build an incubator at home by following the steps below,
- Collect two containers, one large, airtight container and a small tub.
- Fit the small tub in the big container, allowing at least one inch of space around it.
- Use Vermiculite or a mixture of soil and peat moss to fill the small tub.
- Make small holes on the lid of the large container for air passage.
- Place the tortoise eggs in the small container in a half-buried and upright position.
- Fill the gap between the small and large containers with water.
- Place a thermometer and hygrometer inside the incubator to track temperature and humidity.
- Cover the lid of the large container, and your homemade incubator is ready.
You can maintain a suitable temperature range by using artificial heating sources. Keeping the incubator under the sunlight is also a good idea. As for the humidity, spray water on the soil every day.
However, a commercial incubator is perfect if you want none of these hassles.
If the incubator environment is right, the eggs will hatch within 70 – 120 days. But remember, not all babies will come out together. Instead, there will be a delay of days and even weeks between the emergence of the hatchlings.
How Can I Tell If A Female Is Going To Have Eggs?
A gravid tortoise behaves strangely as the nesting period approaches. For example, illogical aggression, hyperactivity, bullying other tortoises, etc.
To be more clear, here are the symptoms of a gravid tortoise,
- Hostile behaviour towards other tortoises
- Climbing rocks or other obstacles
- Constant leg wiggling
- Frequent pacing
- Attempt to mount both male and female
- Make high pitch sound
- Less appetite
- Sniff the ground
- Dig false nest as trials
- Nudge the soil
- Rub heads against the substrate
- Walk around the enclosure more often, etc.
If you notice the above symptoms in your tortoise, consider building a proper nesting spot. Tortoises generally prefer soft, loose soil with moderate pressure that can trap high temperatures and high humidity.
However, if you are still confused, take the tortoise to a surgeon for an X-ray.
Also, there are some traditional tricks to learn about your tortoise’s pregnancy. For this, you need to press the abdomen of the pet gently. A soft and squishy belly indicates no eggs. But if you feel a firm spot, then yes. So your tortoise is carrying eggs.
What Sort Of Nesting Site Does A Gravid Tortoise Require?
Most female tortoises are picky about the nesting site. In the wild, gravid tortoises select south-facing hillside spots for nesting. Unlike the flat grounds, those sites are flood proof and receive more daylight as they are south-facing. Hence, the soil can trap more heat to keep the clutch warm.
The mother tortoise usually nudges her head on the ground and sniffs the substrate to sense the soil temperature and humidity level. Then, she will start digging the soil only if it suits the eggs. Generally, the tortoise uses her rear legs and an inward and outward movement to dig the nest.
Moreover, most gravid tortoises always avoid sandy soils. It is because such substrates can bind and damage the egg clutch.
In short, the preference for nesting sites depends on the tortoise species. While some tortoises want sloppy, sandy, well-drained nesting spots, others are happy with loose, moist, and flat nests.
Now, you have to mimic the wild nesting sites inside captivity. Otherwise, the tortoise may avoid laying eggs for a long time, which will cause egg-binding. A tortoise can even die because of this condition.
You can buy a commercial nesting box for the tortoises from your local pet store or build one yourself. DIYing the nesting area is not a challenge at all.
For example, a small cardboard or plastic container with a suitable substrate and perfect temperature is fine if your gravid tortoise is small. In the case of a big tortoise, build the nest on a wooden or concrete construction.
You can regulate the substrate temperature with any artificial source. Again, mist the soil by spraying water to maintain humidity.
How Many Eggs Does A Tortoise Lay At Once?
On average, a healthy female tortoise lays 4 – 8 eggs at once. But the number can go up or down depending on the species. For example, one Hermann tortoise subspecies deposits 6 – 10 eggs, while a pancake tortoise lays 1 – 2 eggs.
Similarly, Mediterranean tortoises deposit 5 – 6 eggs per clutch. But, again, the Russian tortoises lay 2- 6 eggs at once.
Generally, the tortoises deposit 2 – 3 clutches consisting of 4 – 8 eggs each nesting season. These eggs are hard-shelled, oval, whitish and about the size of a ping-pong ball.
What Happens If You Rotate A Tortoise Egg?
I am sure you have heard the strict rule of keeping the tortoise eggs the same way up as they were when laid. Well, that is true to an extent.
When the tortoise eggs are just laid, the embryos are underdeveloped. If you keep rotating the eggs, it will deform the embryo’s growth. So, you can expect no hatchlings from those eggs.
Instead, keep the tortoise eggs in the same direction until the embryos are developed. Then, you can track the movement by simply marking the top side of the eggs.
Is It Okay To Move Tortoise Eggs?
There is no harm in moving tortoise eggs for incubation. But of course, you have to be extra careful while doing this task. Use a spoon to dig out the eggs from the nest and clean them using a brush before transferring them to the incubator.
You can not move the eggs just after they are laid. Instead, wait for a few days and let the egg shell to harden. Otherwise, you may end up damaging the egg embryos.
Finally, do not tamper with any wild egg clutch unless they are exposed. Transferring the clutch indoors can mess up the nesting temperature or pressure and ruin the whole clutch.
When Should You Candle Tortoise Eggs?
Owners often candle to see the embryo development of the eggs. Generally, experts suggest that candling the eggs after 2 – 3 days after they are laid is perfectly healthy.
Take a pencil light or a narrow beam of light and hold it on the eggs. There you will notice the yolk resting at the bottom. In some eggs, you may get a glimpse of the blood vessels of the babies too.
However, it is better not to candle the eggs too often. Handling the eggs frequently can impact the embryo negatively and ruin the yolk.
What To Do If The Eggs Are Not Hatchling?
If you maintain the right temperature range, pressure and humidity level, the babies will come out within 120 days. Yes, it may take a few days more, but there is a high chance of successful hatching.
The hatching period somewhat depends on the incubator or nest temperature. As per the rules, the higher the temperature, the sooner the eggs will hatch. But then again, a high-temperature incubator only yields female tortoises, while a moderate temperature produces male tortoises.
What if your tortoise eggs are not hatching after the expected period? Should you force hatch the eggs?
The answer is no!
It is a fact that all the tortoise hatchlings will not come out together. But one or two babies will crack the shell first, and then the rest will follow. In some tortoise species, an 18-day of delay is observed between the emergence of the first and last hatchling.
The baby tortoises have egg teeth biologically put in them for breaking the egg shells. So, the hatchlings may come out late but need no help.
Nevertheless, you can not ignore the possibility of a few dead eggs. You can candle those eggs to observe the yolk development.
How Long Do Tortoise Eggs Take To Hatch?
The tortoise eggs will hatch within 70 – 120 days. However, depending on the incubator set-up, some eggs may hatch sooner or later than this period.
The babies develop a tooth while inside the eggs to break the hard shell and come out. This hatching process starts by making a small hole in the egg shell. Next, the baby makes this small hole to suck oxygen from the air. Before this point, the hatchlings exchange gas via the eggshell.
The hatchlings will enlarge this entrance over time, slowly. But the babies do not come out of the eggs until the egg sac is completely absorbed. Before that, the tortoises are vulnerable and exposed to diseases. This whole hatching process can take 8 – 24 hours for the babies.
Can You Bury The Eggs In Sand During Incubation?
Sand is nowhere a good candidate for hatching eggs. The compact sand does not allow gaseous exchange, which can suffocate the eggs and ruin the embryo at the end.
Instead of sand, use a mixture of light soil and peat moss or Vermiculite to bury the eggs in the incubator. You can go with any granular in that sense as long as it is safe and non-toxic.
Can A Tortoise Lay Unfertilized Eggs?
Though it sounds unbelievable, female tortoises can actually lay unfertilized eggs. But yes, you will not get babies from those unfertilized eggs.
Usually, a sexually matured tortoise can produce an ovum for laying eggs even when she does not mate. However, a healthy adult female tortoise can lay unfertilized eggs only once a year.
At What Age Do Tortoises Lay Eggs?
Of course, a tortoise has to be sexually mature to lay eggs. Though wild tortoises gain sexual maturity at 15 – 20 years, it is different for captive ones. The pet tortoises will be ready to mate within 10 -15 years and even sooner.
Do Tortoises Lay Eggs Without Mating?
As a matter of fact, tortoises can lay eggs without mating. I have already mentioned that a female tortoise can deposit her unfertilized eggs once a year. But yes, hatchlings won’t be coming out of those eggs.
Again, the female tortoises have the ability to carry fertilized eggs for years. According to researchers, these creatures can lay her eggs even years after mating.
Tortoise egg care is not challenging as long as you know the business. I have tried answering the most common answer regarding tortoise egg care. Feel free to shoot any more questions in your mind.