Breeding a tortoise is not an easy task. But with the proper guide in hand, anyone can do it. I have been breeding my tortoises for a long time at home, and now it is time to share some experiences.
While mating and breeding the tortoises, you must select a healthy adult pair. After successful mating, separate them and prepare a nesting area. Once the mother lays her eggs, dig them out and put them in an incubator for hatching.
Give this article a quick read for a detailed tortoise mating and breeding guide.
Tortoise Mating & Breeding Guide For Beginners
As I mentioned, mating and breeding can be stressful for tortoises. Hence, you can not take any risks with pets. Here are the steps you need to follow throughout this breeding journey,
1. Identify The Gender First
Of course, you can not put two same gender tortoises in an enclosure and expect successful breeding. So, it is safe to determine gender first.
Several tricks are available to find out the sex of your tortoise. For example,
- Tail Trick: Short and stubby tails indicate a female tortoise, while males own long tails.
- Stomach Method: Boy tortoises have a curved, bowl-like plastron. On the other hand, girls have flat stomachs.
- Notch Shape: Female tortoises have a U-shaped notch at the end of their shells. On the contrary, male tortoises have a V-shaped notch.
A tortoise may exhibit sex dimorphism. But those characteristics totally depend on that particular species or subspecies.
Again, you can not determine the gender of your tortoise based on only one method. Instead, go through all of the techniques for 100% surety. However, you can take the pet to an expert for sexing.
2. Are They Adults?
Only adult tortoises are eligible for mating and breeding. Generally, tortoises gain sexual maturity at the age of 10 – 20. Some creatures may reach the mating age earlier, depending on the species. Moreover, the males become sexually active sooner than the females.
Sexual maturity age of different tortoise species,
|Tortoise Species||Sexual Maturity|
|Sulcata tortoise||5 – 15 years|
|Desert tortoise||13 – 20 years|
|Hermann’ tortoise||12 years|
|Indian Star tortoise||6 – 12 years|
|Egyptian tortoise||5 – 7 years|
|Red footed tortoise||4 – 5 years|
|Russian tortoise||10 years|
|Gopher tortoise||9 – 21 years|
|Elongated tortoise||10 – 14 years|
|Radiated tortoise||15 years|
Hence, you have to note the age of these pets to track their sexual maturity. You can tell the age of a tortoise by counting scute rings, performing blood tests, examining fungal growth, etc.
Again, a tortoise happens to gain sexual maturity at a certain carapace length. Thus, you can also guess the breeding age of the pet by measuring the shells.
3. Health Checkups Is Mandatory
When selecting pairs or suitable breeding candidates, go for the healthy ones. A sick tortoise can not bear the stress of mating and falls sick. In addition, male tortoises often go rough on the females when copulation, which can cause bleeding and injury.
Therefore, you have to select a healthy adult for this task.
So, what are the signs of a healthy adult tortoise? For the starter, the pet will have average growth. Next, consider its activity level, eating habits, and sleep cycle. A sick tortoise happens to be lethargic and avoids food.
Finally, look for any sign of sickness or abnormality in the tortoise. For example, nose, eye, or mouth discharge, puffy, shut, or swollen eyes, foul odor, fatigue, shell rot, skin infection, etc.
Taking the pet to the vet for a proper checkup is better.
Usually, experts advise preparing the tortoises beforehand for the breeding process. Such as feeding the pets right and taking special care of them.
4. Male-Female Ratio
Male tortoises reach sexual maturity sooner than females. Not to mention that they are more aggressive and dominating in nature.
So, when you put male and female tortoises in a single enclosure, the males will approach the females for courtship. But the males can only mount the females if they receive a green signal.
While mating, the male tortoises can get hostile. For example, they can bite the females or scratch their skins. Such behavior is mainly observed when the males outnumber the female members in the colony.
For these reasons, experts advise putting more females and fewer males in the breeding colony. A 2:3 ratio of male and female tortoises is always recommended. You can even make the ratio 2:10 – 15. But in that case, you would require a huge space.
5. Creating The Environment
Now that you have selected the breeding candidates, it is time to ready the enclosure. Remember, mating will be the last thing on the pets’ minds if the environment is messy.
Hence, start with managing a huge space, depending on the number of your tortoises. An outdoor habitat will be perfect for this job. There the pets will get everything naturally. However, install proper lighting if you decide to set up an indoor pen.
Moreover, take care of the habitat temperature. A slight fall in the temperature can slow the tortoises’ metabolism, while a rise can make the pets uncomfortable.
The ideal temperature for a tortoise is 95 – 105F on the warmer side and 75 – 85F on the cooler side. Similarly, at nighttime, the temperature should be around 65 – 75F. A slight drop in the temperature helps the tortoises sleep better.
Furthermore, you have to feed the tortoises right. Basically, tortoises are herbivores, and their diet includes mostly grass, hay, and vegetables. Animal protein and processed food are no less than poison for these creatures. This article describes the feeding guide and safe diet list for tortoises.
Finally, selecting the right season is essential for breeding tortoises. Usually, most tortoise species can get involved in mating throughout the year. But they are sexually active mostly from spring to summer, right after hibernation.
6. Successful Courtship
The next thing you should do is to put the tortoises in the same enclosure. Though the females get along well, the males can get at each other’s throats. So, watch out for them until they settle.
In most cases, the male tortoises try to entice a female to participate in copulation. They try to mount the females, spin around them, or bully them.
The couple will get involved in mating if the female agrees to the proposal. Otherwise, the female will scare away the males by biting them or kicking them.
Again, sometimes, the females leave a scent trail and invite the males for courtship. The males will pick up the hints and find their partners.
So, the tortoises start mating by the male mounting the female from behind. The male gets a grip by holding the female with the rear legs. Also, the concave plastron of the males fit perfectly with the female’s shell curvature, offering the couple a stable balance.
Right after getting into the position, the male tortoise lines up his ventral opening with the female’s opening by wiggling his tail. Next, the male will enter his penis into his partner’s opening and start humping.
Mating in tortoises can be abusive and intensive. In fact, the male tortoises force the females into submission by ramming, butting, biting, bobble heading, etc. As a result, the female tortoises often bear physical pain after courtship.
The copulation can last for hours in the tortoises. Usually, the couple finishes with a high pitch squeaking, a sound similar to crying. According to reports, a male penetrates a female tortoise several times before letting it go.
7. Gestation Period
A successful mating fertilizes the tiny eggs of the female tortoises and segregates them into clutches. Though the gravid tortoise can lay more than 30 eggs in one breeding season, she deposits all her eggs into several clutches. Each clutch contains 2 – 5 eggs.
During the gestation period, one clutch grows at a time. Once the tortoise lays that clutch, another one gets in line.
Now, the gestation period of tortoises is not fixed. The funny thing is that a gravid tortoise can carry fertilized eggs for up to 4 years. So, it all depends on the environment, nesting conditions, and of course, on the tortoise.
8. Here Comes The Nesting Time
Gravid tortoises are very picky about their nesting zones. They select a place that will be perfect for incubation. For example, the nesting area is well-drained and receives a considerable amount of sunshine.
In the wild, south-facing hillsides are the favorite nesting spots for the tortoises. While flat landscapes have a risk of drowning, the hillsides are flood proof. Now, remember, too much water can damage the tiny tortoise eggs.
Another reason behind choosing the south-facing hillsides is the sun. Apparently, the south-facing sides get extended daytime and thus receive sunlight for a long. As a result, the soil can trap more warmth to keep the eggs safe for the chilly night ahead.
Of course, the situation in captivity is not the same as in the wild. Thus, you must manually prepare a nesting area for the gravid tortoises. You can buy the nesting soil or collect it from the wild.
The nest selection process of the tortoises is actually interesting. Here, the gravid tortoise will nudge along the soil with her nose to sense the moisture, pliability, temperature, and ground condition. If everything fits alright, the tortoise will start digging.
Digging the nest can be a long and tiring process for the tortoises. But wait! These creatures are actually smart and use a little trick to make the digging less challenging.
The mother tortoise digs with her rear legs, following a downward and outward movement. She continues this motion until she sees a hole. Finally, the depth of the nest varies from species to species. Generally, a depth equivalent to the third quarter of the mother’s shell is perfect for the nest.
Now that the nest is ready, the gravid tortoise will start laying her eggs one by one. After depositing each egg, the mother usually takes some time to move it to a side. This way, two eggs do not collide with each other or crack.
It can take hours for the mother tortoise to lay a clutch. Once she is done, she will cover the nest with dirt and leave the spot.
9. Get The Incubator Ready
You can not dig out the eggs right after the mother has laid them. The eggs are too fragile at that stage. Hence, give the clutch a day or two and dig them out with a spoon. Be very careful, and do not harm the eggs at any cost.
If you are breeding in captivity, it is wiser to incubate the eggs manually. You can not create a suitable temperature and pressure in the yard.
After digging out the eggs, you need to place them in an incubator. A store-bought incubator is always appreciable, but you can make one at home too. It is easy to control temperature, pressure, and humidity levels in commercial incubators.
Experts always emphasize maintaining a suitable temperature and pressure range inside the incubator. Researches prove that a low-temperature yields all male tortoises, and a high temperature produces female tortoises. The ideal temperature range for hatching tortoises ranges from 80 – 86F.
Moreover, humidity is another crucial factor. Too dry or too moist an environment can damage the eggs. Make sure the humidity level does not fall below 50% or exceed 90%. However, the ideal humidity level is 75%.
Furthermore, it is advised to keep the eggs in the same direction from the beginning. Turning the eggs can mess up the development of the yolk. Also, you should avoid handling the eggs unnecessarily.
If everything is right, the babies will come out within the next 50 – 150 days. Remember, not all the hatchlings break the shells at the same time. In any case, do not force the babies out of their eggshells.
10. Hatchling Care
Once the babies come out of the eggs, they are your responsibility. Move them to a proper indoor setup with food, water, and lights. Make sure the heating lamp works fine, and the UV light radiates quality UVB rays.
You have to bathe the babies in lukewarm water to keep them hydrated. Also, the hatchlings need a trip into the outside sun at least once every day. Besides, ensure a healthy and balanced diet for the babies.
Do not keep the hatchlings in an outdoor pen. Instead, an indoor setup with the proper covering is safer for these babies.
You can take the hatchlings to the vet for health checkups and proper guidelines.
How To Know If Your Tortoise Is Carrying Eggs?
It is important to check whether your tortoise is carrying eggs. But how would you do that?
Here are some signs of a gravid tortoise,
- Weird Stuff: A gravid tortoise starts acting abnormally. For example, she will not tolerate petting or participate in social interaction.
- Always Tensed: You will notice restlessness in the gravid tortoises. They will always be between digging, climbing, rambling, or searching for the right nesting spots.
- Less Appetite: Your gravid tortoise can often refuse to eat at all. It is because the eggs take up an enormous amount of space and might push into the stomach. Hence, the pet can always feel full and less hungry.
- Nesting Trial: The mother tortoises are sometimes found to excavate trial nests in preparation for the final one.
Breeding pet tortoises is a long journey. From the breeding pair selection to the hatchling care, you need to be observant and cautious in every step. Never try experimenting while breeding the tortoises just because you are confused. Instead, ask for help from professionals.