Blitzen drawing of a stork delivering some tortoise eggs

Land turtle eggs: hatching and care


Mother turtle wandered for days, visibly stressed, digging everywhere, but in the end she did it: she laid her eggs. And now, what to do? The eggs of land tortoises are arranged with great care by the mother. Her instinct, in fact, leads her to choose the best positions, with well-drained soil and the right temperature and humidity gradient.

So, how can you handle your eggs? Here are some tips for you.

First of all, some premises:

  • Your land tortoise should live outdoors, on the ground. Also, never breed turtles on paved surfaces. The specimens that do not find suitable places for the deposition, in fact, can go toward the retention of the eggs and die.
  • Land tortoises, in the days before the deposition, assume an abnormal behavior, but this is normal. Restless, your turtle will dig everywhere trying to do more holes and will behave in a very strange way, walking for hours in unusual times. Do not worry and leave it quiet, especially at the time of the deposition.
  • Land turtles can have fertile eggs, fertilized by the male, and sterile eggs too. For extraordinary mechanisms, refined with evolution, land turtles seem to know how to recognize the sterile eggs and lay them on the surface. Not all the eggs left out of the hole, however, are sterile: sometimes, in fact, the land turtle may not have found a suitable place.
  • Females can lay fertile eggs even five years after mating. Mother tortoise, in fact, can keep the male seed inside his body and develop fertilized eggs in the following years. In short, your land turtle can generate baby turtles even if they have not been mating for years.

Protect your land tortoise eggs

Disegno Blitzen di un Bunker a protezione delle uova di Tartaruga

If  you want the eggs to develop naturally, you can just protect the area. A simple cage, for example, can keep predators away and remind you of the presence of the nest. The cage will also keep the newborn turtles safe and allow you to locate them immediately.

This precaution, then, will protect the eggs from adults. Land turtles, in fact, do not have parental care: the attentions of mother turtle end at the time of the deposition. After this phase, the parent completely disregards her eggs and could go back to digging in the same spot, destroying them all. Also for this reason, an upturned cage can be an extremely useful device.

Do not overturn the eggs

Disegno di uova con un segno sulla superficie

Remember that turtle eggs can not be overturned. The eggs of the birds contain thickening of the albumen that keep the yolk in the center and allow the germinal disk to always stay in the upper part.These thickenings are completely absent in turtle eggs: if you rotate the egg, then, the embryo would die. In reality, the egg can be handled during the first two days of deposition; after this period, any overturn can stop the development of the egg forever.

This is why many breeders mark a small cross with a pencil in the upper part of the egg: in this way it is evident which part must always be on top.

Pay attention to the temperature and humidity

Disegno Blitzen di una incubatrice di uova

Male or female? It may depend on the temperature. The incubation temperature can determine the sex of your land tortoises: under a certain temperature (different from species to species) a male will be born; with a warmer environment a female will be born. In the middle, we then have a temperature that leads to 50% males and 50% females, called the pivot temperature.

The pivot temperature varies from species to species: for the most common Testudo Hermanni, this is around 31.5°C. The deviation from the pivot temperature is less, the better the development of our baby turtle will be.

Another extremely important factor is humidity. This must be quite high, between 80% and 90%. If you live in Southern Europe, you can leave the turtles in the hole prepared by the parent: the extraordinary instinct brings mother turtle to lay down in perfectly suitable places, well exposed to the sun, with the right level of humidity.

Sometimes, for the most varied reasons, it may be necessary for you to move the eggs. In this case, the best solution is represented by the arrangement in an incubator. In this article I will not talk about the development in the incubator, but I point out that it is possible to realize it autonomously, or to buy it at reasonable prices.

The colder regions do not represent the natural habitat of the Testudo and the average lower temperatures would lead to the birth of numerous males, creating an imbalance then very difficult to manage. For this reason, if you live in the northern regions, you should develop the eggs inside an incubator.

Time of birth of the land tortoises

Disegno Blitzen con orologi sciolti come nel quadro Dalì

The incubation times of turtle eggs are extremely variable: temperature and humidity, in fact, have a decisive influence on the development of the embryo. The hatching times, even, may be different for the eggs generated by the same deposition: the first of your baby turtles can pierce the egg a couple of weeks in advance of her sisters.

A very fascinating aspect of the turtle egg is its extraordinary adaptation to adverse environmental conditions: if it is too cold, in fact, the embryo stops its development and waits patiently for the right temperature.

Generally, you can consider about 90 days of waiting for the eggs developed naturally and just over 60 days for the eggs placed in the incubator.

Also, remember that at the time of birth, the baby turtles are extremely delicate and it may be useful to adopt some special precautions (here is a related post: “Baby turtles: what to do in 6 steps“).

alberto blitzen

I am an architect and I study the habitat of many animals. I used to live among the woods of France, the sands of the Middle East, the canals of Venice and the lights of Paris, before returning to the fold.

The fold is on the beautiful hills of Lake Garda, surrounded by castles, fairy tales and cypresses. From here I tell stories and make drawings on cats, dogs, mysteries, legends, hedgehogs and bats.


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