Pets are amazing companions as they make life quite interesting with their habits and abilities. They can also surprise you at times by doing things that might not seem normal to you but are a part of their nature.
Most of the time such things happen with tortoise owners. Tortoises are not as vocal as other pet animals which makes them even more mysterious. They are known for doing many strange things like hibernation, frantic clawing, basking, while the most surprising one is laying eggs.
|Table of contents|
|2.||Understand how and when do tortoises lay eggs|
|3.||What to do when your tortoise lays eggs?|
|4.||How do tortoises hatch?|
|5.||What to do when tortoises hatch?|
This may not be new for people who have been raising tortoises for quite a long time, but it might be unusual for first-time owners.
If you belong to the first category, you probably have a fair idea of what needs to be done. But, if you belong to the second category or if you are seeing this phenomenon for the first time, here’s how you can deal with it.
Understand how and when do tortoises lay eggs?
If you don’t know much about tortoises, apart from being amphibians, they are oviparous reptiles. It means they have a reproduction system that involves mating, but they lay eggs to give birth. These eggs hatch after a few days or weeks to give birth to little tortoise babies called ‘hatchlings’.
In the wild, tortoises mate by the age of 14 to 15 years, but when they are raised in captivity, they tend to mate at a younger age which can at times be as low as 4 to 5 years.
The number of eggs depends on factors like age and species of the terrapin. Some tortoises lay around 1-2 eggs, while others can lay more than 20 eggs. Usually, the females lay eggs in the night due to the cold temperature and to protect them from other animals.
The female tortoises don’t necessarily start laying eggs soon after the mating. Some females can keep the sperm of the males within them for weeks or even months and self impregnate themselves when they find the conditions favorable enough.
Now that you have sufficient information about the reproduction and birth process of tortoises let move on to the big question.
What to do when your tortoise lays eggs?
Let’s say you woke up to find a clutch of eggs that your tortoise laid last night, what will you do? While we strongly recommend you against throwing them away. You can wait till the eggs hatch and meanwhile make the incubation process easier. Here is how you can do it.
Recover the eggs:
Once your tortoise has finished laying the eggs, open the nest carefully or move her aside to retrieve the eggs. Uncover the eggs delicately with a soft paintbrush. There are chances that your tortoise might have dug a hole to keep the eggs safe.
If the eggs are covered in wet mud, you need to dig them out with a spoon, paintbrush, or any other utensil. There are chances that the eggs may get stuck in the mud in such a situation, you have to proceed with caution to remove the eggs without breaking them.
Once you have removed all the eggs from the nest, mark them with a cross or number. As turning the egg upside down can kill the embryo when it is in the developing stage, the pencil mark made will keep you from doing so.
Incubation is a process that involves nurturing the tortoise eggs until they hatch. The process is elaborate and requires some extra efforts along with keen observation. You will need an incubation box that mimics the climatic conditions of the wild and fosters growth in the eggs.
The process of incubation combines factors like heat, humidity, and safety. To make sure that you properly incubate the eggs, you need to consider the species of your tortoise and get or make a good quality incubator.
What is an incubator?
Tortoise eggs are very different from the eggs of snakes and lizards and hence need different climate conditions to hatch. They need very high humidity to hatch, but any kind of direct contact with moisture can be dangerous.
An incubator will keep the egg safe and provide them with the ideal environment for hatching. You can use an old cupboard or a box as an incubator. It is advised that you keep checking the eggs frequently, with quick looks every day and a thorough scan every week.
Types of incubators and their efficiency:
There are many types of incubators available in the market, they come with distinctive features that make the incubation process easier. We have analyzed the different types of incubators to identify their best use and suitability for tortoises.
- Tropical Fish Tank: These types of tanks come with a vermiculite substrate that lets you bury the eggs and keeps them from toppling over. They are usually small containers that float in the warm water.
These types of tanks are suitable for soft-shelled eggs. But, if you increase the temperature to the highest point, the humidity levels will increase too and will make the tank unsuitable for Mediterranean tortoise eggs.
- The light bulb method: In these types of incubators the eggs are buried entirely in the moist vermiculite. To provide the required amount of heat to the terrapin. This may seem like a suitable method, but due to the temperature fluctuations, it is highly unreliable.
- The Airing Cupboard: This method involves a hot water tank that provides heat to the eggs while the humidity is maintained using wet towels. However, many tortoise owners advise against this method as temperature fluctuations that can make the tank unsafe for the eggs.
- Heated seed propagator: If you are looking for a reliable incubator for your tortoise’s eggs, then you need to try the Heated Seed Propagator. It comes with a built-in thermostat that allows little fluctuation but if the incubator is kept in a centrally heated room with stable air temperature, it can deliver exceptional performance.
The eggs have to be buried in half in the vermiculite within the incubator along with small bowls of water placed alongside. You can increase or reduce the number of bowls to control moisture in the tank.
Only bus seed propagators come with adjustable heat control while others have a factory pre-set temperature setting that is primarily beneficial for seedlings. However, the pre-set temperature might not be suitable for some tortoises.
- Shop-bought incubator: These incubators are stellar examples of reliability and performance. Many companies have now started manufacturing incubators for reptiles at an affordable price.
They come with full temperature control that can be reduced to 0.5°c and provide precise humidity control with self-contained water pockets.
To get the best results, you have to purchase a “still air” bird egg incubator as they are more suitable for reptiles than “forced air” incubators. The eggs have to be placed half-submerged in the vermiculite.
With the adjustable temperature feature, you can maintain a constant temperature. The water bowls and pockets, you can adjust the humidity around 50-90%. We advise you not to touch the eggs unless they have turned infertile.
- It can be hard to determine the fertility of the egg just from its appearance. You can use traditional methods like egg candling or weighing.
- If you are unaware of the obvious signs of infertile eggs, you need to look for discoloration, imploding, or any one of them has started to smell.
DIY Incubator for land tortoise:
While the incubator creates an ideal environment for the eggs, you will need an egg box that will keep the eggs safe and from tumbling around. You can use a small airtight container that fits in the incubator.
You will need a second tub that is smaller and can fit inside the incubator easily with a half-inch gap on the sides and to the lid.
Fill the smaller tub ¾ full with chemical-free sand, and in this sand, make small indents to place the eggs to reduce the risk of turning.
Then place the small tub in the center of the large tub leaving a gap around the edge and then fill the gap with some water.
This gap is going to contain all the water that will evaporate gradually and maintain humidity. Close the lid and keep the box in the incubator to start the incubation process.
You don’t have to take the lid off frequently, as it can affect the humidity or heat in the egg box. If the water evaporates and reduces over time, you can add lukewarm water in the container. Try to keep the water at ½ and ¼ level all the time for maximum humidity.
DIY Incubator for Box and water turtles:
If you don’t have a dedicated incubator, you can make one yourself by placing the eggs on a substrate that is made of moistened vermiculite, sphagnum moss, and damp paper towels have all been used with success. You can place the substrate in a box such as a plastic shoebox or plastic margarine tubs.
To give the eggs a more habitable environment, you can make an incubator using a cupboard that has a heat source next to it. You also need to check the eggs regularly to make sure that the substrate is damp and provides the required amount of moisture to the eggs.
It is necessary to know the right incubation process for the eggs, or you may end up removing them too soon. You need to understand that the incubation period varies according to the species of the tortoise.
Generally, the incubation period ranges from 50-150 days. Most of the tortoise species tend to hatch faster than in warmer conditions. You might be thinking that incubating eggs at a higher temperature can get them to hatch sooner, but this is not the case.
When incubating the eggs, there are chances that some of them won’t survive. The eggs are usually plump as long the humidity level is at the perfect point. When the humidity starts to drop, the eggs will slump a little and get shriveled.
Another thing that you need to look for in the eggs is discoloration. Eggs tend to lose color and turn dark when they perish. It is recommended that you keep the perished eggs away from the rest of the clutch before disposing of them.
The temperature for incubation of the eggs varies according to the species. Eggs of Mediterranean tortoises survive only if they get a temperature of 25 to 35 degrees Celsius. If the temperature goes below 25 degrees or above 35 degrees Celsius, the risk of eggs dying is higher due to loss of moisture.
Most of the time, temperature fluctuation can cause malformation and early deaths in hatchlings. The safest temperature to incubate the eggs is a steady 30 degrees celsius. If you wish to hatch a particular group of eggs for instance, if you want the hatchlings to be all males, you can keep the temperature below 30 degrees celsius.
Humidity plays an important role during the entire incubation cycle. Eggs need 50-60% percent humidity to develop the embryo. Moreover, fluctuations in the humidity level will not harm the eggs. However, maintaining the temperature around the recommended percentage is necessary.
If the humidity level drops below 50% the insides of the egg will dry out. Moreover, if the humidity level crosses 90% the contents would drown by absorbing too much water.
We recommend you keep the humidity level at 75% which is easy to achieve and maintain.
All you have to do is add or remove the water from the incubator accordingly. If you wish to take a more careful approach, you can get a digital temperature and humidity probes for accurate readings.
To make it simple, you can follow the humidity methods to give the right amount of humidity to your tortoise’s eggs. There are two types of humidity methods such as high humidity and low humidity which are suited for the eggs of the tortoise of different types.
Low Humidity Methods:
If you have a tortoise that belongs to the category of terrapins that dwell in the dry regions and have a highly terrestrial nature, you can expect the eggs to be hard-shelled. Here are some of the ways that you can use to incubate the eggs.
- Bird egg incubators: Bird breeders are known to incubate eggs of the different birds so that they can sell them when they hatch. The eggs of tortoises and birds have similar shell thickness which makes these incubators an ideal option.
These incubators come with thermostats that can enable you to manage the temperature and make sure the eggs get the perfect environment throughout the incubation period.
- It is not necessary to incubate the eggs using an incubator. You can use a simple incubation set-up as mentioned above to nurture the eggs.
High Humidity Methods:
If you have box and water turtles, you can incubate the eggs using numerous ways. However, there are some important things that you need to keep in mind.
- While the shells of these tortoises can be hard or soft based on their species. We recommend that you don’t shake, rotate, or turn the eggs. Doing so can damage the embryo or even kill the hatchling.
- As mentioned above the temperature in the incubator plays an important role in the egg’s care. To hatch the eggs of a box or water turtles you need to keep the temperature of the incubator at 27° C.
- Most importantly, the humidity of the incubator needs to be set to a point that can keep the shell and embryo intact. For such terrapins, we recommend that you keep the humidity to 80%.
How do tortoises hatch?
When baby tortoises are in the egg, they are folded in half across their plastron due to which they are round in appearance. They start to straighten when they have absorbed a sufficient amount of life-supporting yolk.
When they reach the hatching size, their carapaces press against the eggshells that leave an imprint of their carapaces on the shells. They puncture a small hole in the shells with their bony and protruded snouts which are often referred to as ‘egg tooth’.
This hole weakens and dries out the shell which allows them to break the shell easily and emerge as hatchlings. Once the tortoises are out of their shells, the egg tooth withers away.
Any kind of interference with the hatching process can prove fatal to the terrapin’s health. You can only interfere when the tortoise is in danger.
Some tortoises manage to break out of the shell minutes and scutter around. While others can take hours, days, and even weeks.
It is normal for the first and the last hatchling to have a large time difference for breaking out of the shells.
What to do when tortoises hatch?
It’s not over once the hatchlings come out of their shells. Since they were nurtured in an artificial environment, there are chances that the weather outside the shell might not be suitable for them.
Give them a lukewarm shallow bath to wash the membrane and let sit in the warm water for a few minutes. You can then put them in a terrarium that has equipment like a heating bulb, basking platform, and a UVB bulb.
Having such a huge litter of tortoises at once can be overwhelming but with smart planning and easy care techniques it will not be tough to take care of them. You can also become a tortoise breeder and make an easy buck by selling them.