Turtles can be incredibly rewarding pets to keep. Their upkeep is minimal, but their lifespans are long, making them easy to care for and long-lasting. If you keep your turtle healthy, it could be around for decades! During that time, it’s likely that it will mate, provided you have another turtle of the opposite sex. This can be a very exciting time when new life is on the horizon and new members are about to join the family.
However, turtle eggs need a lot of care if you hope for them to remain safe and produce little turtle offspring in a few weeks. If cared for improperly, the eggs may never produce. Still, caring for turtle eggs isn’t terribly difficult, you just have to understand what goes into it. By the end of this article, you know exactly what to expect and how to care for your turtle’s eggs so that they can all hatch into healthy little turtle babies.
Signs Your Turtle Is About to Lay Eggs
Before you can care for your turtle’s eggs, they have to be laid. Unlike most species, turtles never return to their eggs once they lay them. So, you’ll need to know when your turtle is about to lay its eggs if you want to care for them.
Here are the signs to look out for that indicate your turtle is going to be laying eggs soon:
Once you see these signs, it’s almost time for your turtle to lay its eggs. Soon, it will dig a deep hole that’s about the size of its body. The eggs will be laid in that hole, covered over, and left to fend for themselves. At this point, if you want the eggs to hatch into little turtle babies, you’re going to need to provide the care they require.
Where Do Turtle Eggs Come From?
You won’t need to understand how an egg exits a turtle to take care of the eggs and raise them into hatchlings, but it’s still something that you might find interesting. Turtles have a hole at the base of their tail called a cloaca. They’re not the only animal with a cloaca though. Other amphibians also have cloacas, and so do birds.
The cloaca is part of the digestive, urinary, and reproductive systems. When it’s time to lay eggs, the turtle will squeeze an egg out of that tiny cloaca opening and into a pre-dug hole for protection. Luckily, turtle eggs are leathery and soft. They can change shape a bit, unlike birds’ eggs, making them easier to fit out of the turtle’s tiny opening.
Caring for Turtle Eggs
Now that your turtle has laid its eggs, it’s time to start caring for them. If you want them to hatch, you’re going to have to carefully handle, store, and incubate the eggs over the next few weeks. If left on their own, nothing is likely to happen to them.
As mentioned, turtle eggs are rather soft. Because of this, you must take extra care when handling them. Rough handling can easily damage a soft turtle egg. Additionally, you have to make sure that you don’t change the orientation of the eggs. The embryo in a turtle egg develops at the top of the egg, regardless of how the egg is sitting. If you alter the orientation of the egg once it’s set, you could flip the embryo and kill it.
Most of caring for a turtle egg involves storing it and waiting. However, the egg must be stored properly. It must remain in a cool place with a consistent temperature and the right amount of moisture. It can’t be too wet, but it also can’t be too dry. The eggs can be stored in small containers of plastic or Styrofoam that are filled with vermiculite. Depending on the type of incubator you use, different containers may or may not be applicable.
Once everything is set up, caring for a turtle egg is just a waiting game. The eggs will need to remain in the incubator for a period of about 2-3 months. This is a great chance to practice your patience since you’ll probably be dying to check on your eggs. Resist the urge though. Leave them be until it’s time for them to start hatching.
Incubators for Turtle Eggs
Incubators come in all shapes and sizes. Some hold just a few eggs, others can contain a few dozen. There are incubators large enough to slide trays full of eggs in, but others have their own trays that hold individual eggs. Any type of incubator will work just fine though.
On the cheaper end of the spectrum, simple plastic incubators feature a plastic tray that the eggs sit in to keep them lifted over the vermiculite. An internal thermometer makes it easy to monitor the temperature in the incubator.
Other incubators are electronic. Just plug it in, set the temperature and humidity levels, and that’s it. These units take care of all the hard work required to keep the temperature and humidity consistent during incubation. Granted, they’re a lot pricier than the simple plastic incubation trays, but they’re also considerably more convenient and easier to use. There’s plenty of space to slide in trays full of eggs, so you can incubate many eggs at once and you’re free to use whatever type of holding containers you wish.
Of course, you don’t have to purchase an incubator at all. These are pretty easy devices to build, and if you have some handy DIY skills, you might just try assembling one yourself. They’re cheap and easy to construct out of a Styrofoam cooler and a few basic items you probably already have around the house.
How to Take Care of Turtle Eggs
At this point, you should have a basic understanding of how to care for your turtle’s eggs. Now, we’re going to walk through each step, outlining exactly what you need to do. Follow these steps exactly and you’ll have an easy time caring for your turtle’s eggs and watching them hatch into adorable baby turtles!
1. Mark the Eggs
Once your turtle lays its eggs, you’ll need to uncover them. But before you move them, get a marker out and place a small dot at the very top of each egg. This mark will help you make sure to maintain the eggs’ proper orientation. Remember, the embryo develops at the top of the egg, and if you flip the egg, you could easily kill the embryo.
2. Prepare a Storage Container
Next, you’ll want to prep the containers you plan on keeping the eggs in. Make sure to check that the containers you pick will fit inside your incubator. Some incubators use their own containers, such as the cheap plastic incubators that many first-timers use. If that’s the case for you, then just prepare the incubator as the eggs’ storage container. Otherwise, you can use small plastic or Styrofoam food containers, so long as they’ll fit inside of your incubator.
Fill the containers with vermiculite, leaving ample room for the eggs. You’ll need to weigh out the vermiculite to ensure your mix is one part water to one part vermiculite by weight, not volume. Also, make sure each container has holes in the lid for ventilation.
3. Remove the Eggs
Now that the top of every egg is marked to avoid turning it over, you can gently remove them from where they were laid. You can use your hands if you’re gentle, or you can scoop them up with a large spoon if that makes you feel more comfortable.
4. Store the Eggs
Carefully transfer the eggs to the container that you’ve prepared. Make sure they’re embedded in the vermiculite mixture but not covered.
5. Place in Incubator
The good news is that the hard work is all done. Now all you have to do is wait, which might actually be the harder part! Place your containers full of eggs into the incubator. Set your temperature and humidity, then get ready to hurry up and wait. In about 2-3 months, your turtles will be ready to emerge!
Incubation Conditions for Turtles
Getting your turtle eggs into the incubator is a big step, but if you don’t know what conditions your eggs need, you won’t be able to keep them healthy. Turtle eggs are quite sensitive to temperature and humidity, so you’ll want to keep both at a consistent level.
Humidity should remain at about 80%. A hygrometer might be necessary to measure the humidity in your incubator if yours doesn’t display the humidity readout. As far as temperature goes, 80 degrees Fahrenheit or 27 degrees Celsius is the ideal temperature for turtle eggs and they don’t like to venture too much away from this moderate temperature.
How Long Do Turtle Eggs Take to Hatch?
We wish there was a hard and fast rule for you to follow, but the truth is, every turtle species takes a different amount of time to hatch from their eggs. Additionally, factors such as temperature can have a major impact on hatch times. In fact, experts believe that a tiny temperature fluctuation of just two degrees can cause a 3-week extension to incubation time.
Still, the average time of incubation for turtle eggs is about 60 days or 2 months. It’s not uncommon for this to stretch out to as long as 90 days. So, you should expect your turtle’s eggs to take anywhere from 2-3 months to hatch once you set them up for incubation.
What To Do Once the Eggs Hatch
It took a bit of work and a lot of patience to get to this point, but once your eggs hatch, the work is only just beginning! Your new hatchlings will need a lot of care, but what should you do with them when they hatch?
First, you’ll need to transfer them to a new habitat. You’ll need to prepare this enclosure ahead of time, lining it with wet towels to keep the turtles moist. Your turtles will need to remain in this container with the wet towels until the egg sacs are fully removed, which will take about a week. During this time, keep spraying the towels with a water bottle to ensure everything stays moist.
Your baby turtles will have shells, but they’re still very fragile and you need to be very careful when handling them. Eggs that don’t hatch should be given an extra week to see if they’re just late bloomers. After a week, any unhatched eggs can be labeled as no good.
Hopefully, we’ve covered all of the bases and you’re feeling confident and ready to take care of your turtle’s eggs. But just in case we’ve missed anything, we’re going to answer a few of the most common questions that are likely to be burning in your mind.
How many eggs do turtles lay?
This is highly dependent on many factors, including what species the turtle is, its overall health, age, diet, and more. Generally speaking, most turtles will lay at least two eggs, though some can lay as many as 30 eggs at once.
When do turtles usually lay eggs?
In the wild, turtles prefer to lay their eggs in the summertime when the weather is nice and warm. In the northern hemisphere, this usually means turtles are laying their eggs between the months of May and August. However, in the southern hemisphere, this means turtles tend to lay eggs between November and February.
What’s the most popular type of turtle kept as a pet?
Red-eared sliders are the most popular type of turtle kept as pets. They’re incredibly easy to care for and naturally occupy diverse habitats across the globe, making them easy to keep in many different conditions.
How long do turtles take to lay eggs?
Every species is different, but for most, 3-6 weeks after mating is when eggs will be laid.
Will turtle eggs hatch in the water?
Turtle eggs need to remain in contact with the water, but if the egg is submerged, the hatchling inside will die. Eggs won’t hatch in the water, but they do need to remain moist.
How many eggs do turtles lay at once?
Again, this is highly dependent on factors such as the turtle’s species, time of year, temperatures, and more. On average, most turtles lay between one and five clutches of approximately 10 eggs each in a single breeding season.
Caring for turtle eggs isn’t a very complex task, but it does require a lot of patience. Once you get everything set up, you’ll be spending a whole lot of time waiting. Turtle eggs can take about 2-3 months to hatch, and in that time, you’ll be doing almost nothing for them other than checking on the temperature and humidity. Once they hatch though, you’ll have lots to do as your new baby turtles require plenty of care and upkeep. So, enjoy the downtime while it lasts. Soon, you’ll have a bunch of new hatchlings to care for!
Featured Image Credit: Sunset Paper, Shutterstock