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Finding and Caring for Turtle Eggs

Have you ever come across a clutch of turtle eggs in your tank while caring for your aquatic pets? Or maybe you were on a walk in the woods and found a surprise.

If so then you already realize that caring for turtle eggs is a lot different from keeping adult turtles well fed and clean. The eggs need stable conditions and just the right amount of heat and humidity. And you need to do this for weeks on end before you get to see what baby turtles look like. 

Red Eared Sliders laying eggs

So what is there to know about turtle eggs? From laying to hatching, I’ll be taking a deep look into that topic today.

Where Do Turtle Eggs Get Laid?

Many turtles travel long distances to ensure their eggs get the best care. No turtle will defends its eggs or babies. But they will do a lot to give them the best possible start in life.

Some turtles will just dig a small pit in the mud near the river. You can often find water turtle eggs in shallow depressions dug into a river bank.

Other turtles may travel as much as a few miles, looking for just the right substrate for turtle eggs. The temperature, humidity, substrate material (vegetation vs dirt, etc), and location all play a role. 

Pond turtles may walk as far as 3 to 5 miles in search of the right place to lay turtle eggs. If you see a turtle laying eggs in yard it may have walked a long way to do so.

Sea turtles are the one type of turtle – the only reptiles, in fact – that will migrate long distances to lay their eggs. While they wander the ocean all around the world, most sea turtles return to a select set of beaches to deposit turtle eggs.

 Leatherback Sea Turtles are record-holders and will swim almost 8,000 miles to reach the best beaches for turtle eggs.

What to Do With Wild Turtle Eggs?

If you find turtle eggs in the wild it is best to leave them where you find them. The turtle chose that particular location due to environmental cues specific to its kind. So don’t add more dirt or try to cover them with more vegetation. 

Don’t even touch wild turtle eggs. For one, a touch may crush the embryo inside. Your skin will introduce foreign bacteria and fungi that may infect and destroy the eggs.

Even if you think an animal will find and eat them it is better to leave the eggs where they are. Many wild turtles are protected by law and disturbing their nests may be a legal issue.

How Many Eggs Do Red Eared Sliders Lay?

Red Eared Sliders are typical for aquatic turtles in this regard. A pregnant female will lay between 10 to 30 turtle eggs. Sometimes a new mother will lay fewer eggs, however.

Larger species, such as Snapping Turtles, lay up to 50 eggs at a time. Sea turtles lay anywhere from 100 to 200 eggs. Land tortoises are different – they lay fewer eggs than aquatic turtles. But each individual turtle egg is larger.

In the wild, Red Eared Sliders lay their eggs in the warm months of spring to mid-summer. The heat not only encourages their development. It also gives the baby turtles ample time to grow and find plenty of food to eat. 

Are Turtle Eggs Soft?

If you pick up a turtle egg the first thing you will notice is that it’s not hard like a chicken egg. Turtle eggs are soft and leathery, similar to a snake or lizard egg. Be sure you don’t squeeze them when picking them up as the embryo inside is very fragile.

How to Tell If a Turtle Egg is Good?

As you incubate turtle eggs you will need to check on their development over time. Not every turtle egg that gets laid has been fertilized. 

One way to tell if a turtle egg is good is to check with a bright light source. Take a flashlight and shine it through the egg. This technique is called “candling” the egg and it can be done a few weeks after being laid.

Blood vessels and a pink tinge to the egg mean that they have been fertilized and are developing into embryos. But even if you don’t see these signs, wait a few more days and check again. You don’t want to throw out an egg that just happens to develop at a slower pace.

Here is a video that demonstrates what you might see when you candle a turtle egg:

How to Hatch Turtle Eggs?

The best way to hatch turtle eggs is to use an incubator. Incubators are chambers that are temperature and humidity controlled. Most have sensors inside and displays on the outside so you can check the internal parameters without opening the chamber.

The substrate of the incubator should be chosen to maintain not just the temperature but also the humidity. Vermiculite is a popular choice as it holds moisture when wetted. It also slow-releases water vapor over time without allowing the turtle eggs to get too moist.

We have to be careful with how wet the turtle eggs get because warm, wet conditions are ideal for fungal and bacterial infections. Clean vermiculite as a substrate with distilled water both help turtle eggs develop.

You should bury the turtle egg ½ to ⅔rds of the way to the top. This way the egg has enough surface area exposed for oxygen and carbon dioxide gas exchange. Yet the vermiculite will still keep the egg warm and moist.

The exact temperature range to keep the incubator at depends on the species. For pond turtles like Red Eared Sliders or Painted Turtle egg laying, a range of 77-87℉.

One unique quality of turtle eggs is that the temperature determines the sexes of the babies. Cooler temperatures will result in more male turtles. While more heat will result in more female turtles.  

Since an incubator will maintain a constant temperature, aim for 78-79℉ if you’re interested in more males. 82-87℉ will give you more female turtles.

How Long Do Turtle Eggs Take to Hatch?

Turtle eggs develop slower than those of other animals. 60 to 80 days is the typical development period. Warmer conditions will shorten this time and cooler conditions will result in the eggs taking longer.

Turtle Eggs Hatching

As the eggs develop the embryo will absorb its yolk sack and grow larger. Baby turtles also make low frequency sounds as they develop. These sounds are inaudible to humans. But the young turtles call to each other to help synchronize their hatching.

When a young turtle is ready to hatch it uses a special egg tooth to cut through the leathery shell. This egg tooth is not a real tooth so much as a modified scale. Egg teeth are lost a few weeks to months after the baby turtle hatches.

Once they hatch, baby turtles dig their way out of the substrate if the parents have buried them deep. When they reach the surface they then find their way to the water and start hunting for food.

Conclusion

Turtle eggs are a joy to discover and proof of how well you are doing at keeping a pet turtle happy. But caring for them is a bit more complicated compared to feeding and cleaning up after their parents.

So long as you understand how to provide the right humidity and temperature conditions you should see a decent hatching rate. No matter how well you do, not every turtle egg will hatch. But enough will that you will soon have a group of baby turtles eager to be fed.

More Frequently Asked Questions about Turtle Eggs

Caring for turtle eggs is simple to do with the right setup. But it may be intimidating if you’ve never done it before. So I want to explore a fre more of the most frequently asked questions I get about turtle eggs.

Turtle Eggs How Long to Hatch?

Turtle eggs take 60 to 80 days to hatch. The development time is temperature dependent, with colder conditions slowing down the embryo’s growth rate. Temperatures also affect the sex ratio of the eggs. Warmer conditions will cause more female turtle babies to be born. And cooler conditions result in the turtle eggs being more male.

How to Incubate Turtle Eggs?

The best way to raise turtle eggs is to use an incubator. These devices come in many designs but they are all some form of sealed temperature and humidity-controlled chamber. You need a moisture-controlling substrate like vermiculite to keep the eggs moist without becoming too wet. And a gentle heater to keep each turtle egg at the right temperature.

How to Care for Turtle Eggs Without an Incubator?

Caring for turtle eggs without an incubator is a little more difficult but doable still. The best way is to set them in a plastic tub with vermiculite. And if you live in a warm part of the country, allow them to remain outside. Or you can use a reptile heat pad, which most pet stores carry. Once you’ve calibrated it to keep the substrate at the right temperature range (77-87℉) the turtle eggs should be sunk ½ to ⅔rds of the way in. 

Jason Roberts
About Jason Roberts
Jason is an aquarium fanatic that has been a fish hobbyist for almost three decades.