A tortoise’s eggs are normally buried in the sand or soil for an incubation period of 8-10 weeks.
Baby tortoises care for themselves after hatching. Hatchlings live off the embryonic egg sac for 2-3 days before leaving the nest to find food and water.
Once the yolk sac dries up, hatchlings seek water and vegetation to keep them alive. Immediately after eating and drinking, they’ll find a hiding place and sleep for 19 hours per day.
Burmese mountain tortoises are the only species that care for their young, guarding their nests after laying eggs, but only for a while.
Once they hatch, baby tortoises face predators, food shortages, difficulty finding water, and extreme weather conditions. For these reasons, just 1-5% of hatchlings will reach adulthood.
Do Tortoises Look After Their Young?
Most egg-laying reptiles don’t look after their young, including tortoises.
After laying her eggs, the female will abandon them to hatch. The mother only provides care when preparing her nest for egg-laying. The female may also urinate around the nest to ward off predators.
According to Herpetologica, urination is a form of egg-predator defense mechanism in tortoises because the urine smell is strong enough to keep certain predators away.
Once the baby tortoises hatch, they have to fend for themselves. They’re hatched with an embryonic egg sac, providing a source of nutrients for a few days before the hatchlings leave the nest.
Not many baby tortoises survive until maturity. According to the Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine, only 1-5 out of every 100 hatchlings reach adulthood.
Do Tortoises Stay With Their Young?
The mother will abandon her nest after laying the eggs. It’ll often take 8-10 weeks before the eggs hatch, and the mother will be gone by this point.
While the hatchlings may one day encounter their mother in the wild, they won’t recognize her. There’s no parental relationship between tortoises and their offspring, so they’ll be strangers to each other.
The female may have to stay with her young in captivity because she has no other choice.
Keeping an adult tortoise in the same enclosure as her baby tortoises should be avoided. The mother won’t recall any connection to her hatchlings, so she won’t care for them and may attack them.
Likewise, baby tortoises are extremely delicate, and their immune systems aren’t as robust as adult tortoises, increasing the risk of disease transference.
Sibling tortoises should also be separated. Once the tortoises mature, the siblings could breed, which has negative genetic implications for their health and well-being.
Do Tortoises Raise Their Young?
The role of the mother is to lay eggs in the nesting burrow and leave the babies to fend for themselves. Even Burmese mountain tortoises, which remain for a while, don’t wait until the eggs hatch.
The mother will keep predators from stealing her eggs. Once the eggs have hatched, the hatchlings will be responsible for their own care. The mother will feel no protective attachment toward her hatchlings, regardless of their age and vulnerability.
Baby tortoises don’t need help from their parents. They can survive independently as long as they have access to food and water. Their instinct is to burrow into the ground and stay hidden from predators.
While not all hatchlings will survive, some will reach adulthood. As long as environmental factors don’t place them at a disadvantage, enough baby tortoises will survive to keep the species going.
How Do Tortoises Feed Their Young?
As stated, adult tortoises don’t feed their young, so the babies must find food and feed themselves shortly after hatching.
To increase their chances of survival, young tortoises hatch with a yolk sac that they feed on during their first days. Once the embryonic egg sac dries up, the hatchlings must dig their way out of the nest. Once free, they’ll scavenge for food.
Most tortoises are herbivorous, so they rely on plants for their diet. However, hatchlings can feed on small creatures, such as worms and insects.
They’ll start feeding on weeds, flowers, and greens as they grow older.
How Do Baby Tortoises Survive In The Wild?
The chances of an individual baby tortoise surviving in the wild are slim because they face harsh conditions and the prospect of being attacked by predators.
Tortoises that survive to maturity do so by hiding under rocks or burrowing into the sand, soil, or moss.
Baby tortoises often escape from their nest and seek a new hiding place.
Once they’ve found a safe area, they’ll dig out a burrow. They may hide under rocks or debris if they lack strength or the soil is too hard.
This allows them to stay shielded from predators and extreme weather. If they can live in a burrow, they can regulate their internal temperature.
The temperature range for tortoise hatchlings is 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit at night and 75-105 Fahrenheit during the day, but these numbers are species-specific.
A baby tortoise will spend most of its developmental weeks sleeping up to 19 hours.
Some theorize that these long periods of rest are a way to limit any temptation a baby tortoise might feel to explore its surroundings, putting it in grave danger.
It’ll need sunlight in the first few hours after it awakens. Tortoises normally bask in the sun for body temperature regulation and vitamin D3 synthesis, which facilitates calcium absorption.
So, baby tortoises will come out of their burrows or hiding spots to benefit from UV rays.
Tortoises require humidity to keep their skin and shell healthy. Without sufficient humidity, shedding would be more difficult. Humidity also helps prevent dehydration and kidney stones.
According to the Journal of Experimental Medicine, higher relative humidity fights airborne bacteria and helps prevent respiratory infections in tortoises.
Food And Water
Baby tortoises will forage outside of their hiding spots to locate nutritious food.
Foods include weeds, flowers, greens, and any vegetation they can find. A baby tortoise will seek drinking water, absorb moisture from the soil, and eat foods with a high water content.
Since tortoises don’t care for their young, only the strongest and healthiest hatchlings will survive into adulthood, which is one of the reasons why tortoises live such long lives.