Home » How To Hatch Tortoise Eggs Naturally (Incubate + Rear Hatchlings)
how to hatch tortoise eggs at home without an incubator

How To Hatch Tortoise Eggs Naturally (Incubate + Rear Hatchlings)

Last Updated on September 3, 2023 by Samantha Harris

Tortoises dig burrows about 4 inches deep before laying their eggs and covering them.

They’ll select a warm, moist area where the eggs have optimal conditions for incubation. Depending on the nest’s temperature, it takes 70-120 days for the eggs to hatch.

To help a tortoise hatch her eggs, lay a deep substrate in the enclosure so that she can prepare her nest. Ensure the bedding material is well-drained and the nest gets sufficient sunlight.

The optimal temperature for tortoise egg incubation is 85-90 degrees Fahrenheit.

You can incubate tortoise eggs naturally in a nesting box. Once the tortoise has laid her eggs, carefully remove them, place them in the box, and cover them with warm soil/substrate.

Alternatively, you can hatch tortoise eggs in an incubator, but it’s not essential.

How To Hatch Tortoise Eggs At Home Without An Incubator

You can use a nesting box to hatch tortoise eggs at home without an incubator. Alternatively, you can let nature take its course by letting the tortoise choose her preferred nesting site.

If you choose the latter option, you must lay a thick substrate in the enclosure. The substrate can consist of a mixture of materials, such as:

  • Sand.
  • Coconut husk.
  • Straw pellets.
  • Sphagnum moss.

Ensure the topsoil has sound structural integrity and can retain moisture. Tortoises prefer to build their nests in well-drained areas that receive extended sunlight.

If you pick the nesting box method, ensure the site meets the incubation requirements for tortoise eggs.

Unlike other reptiles, tortoise eggs require high humidity to incubate and hatch properly. Moreover, the ideal temperature shouldn’t exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

Here’s how to hatch tortoise eggs at home without an incubator:

Nesting Box Preparation

Since tortoise eggs require high humidity, an airtight container is ideal for a nesting box. Also, you’ll need a second container that can fit into the large nesting box, leaving an inch of space around the sides.

To prepare the nesting box, do the following:

  1. Start by filling the second, smaller container with sand, ensuring it’s 3/4 full.
  2. Place the small container into the larger container, leaving a half-inch gap around the sides.
  3. The space between the two containers will retain moisture that will evaporate gradually, ensuring the eggs receive sufficient humidity for incubation.

Tortoise Egg Collection

Press small indents into the sand to prevent the eggs from turning.

Tortoise eggs are usually large, so collecting and placing them in the nesting box should be easy. Use your thumb and forefinger to pick up the egg and place your open palm beneath as a precaution.

You don’t need to bury the eggs. Instead, place them upright and secure them by pressing the nesting material around them. Even though the eggs are hardy, avoid excessive pressure.

The space between each egg means they shouldn’t be touching each other.

When done, cover the large container with a lid.

tortoise egg development

Prepare Nesting Box For Incubation

Use a thermometer to check the nest’s temperature is 85-90 degrees.

The ideal humidity for incubating tortoise eggs is 70%. If the humidity is too low, the eggs could collapse. The nest could become a breeding ground for bacteria if the humidity level is too high.

You can use a hygrometer to monitor the humidity level in the nesting box.

Monitor The Incubation Process

Monitoring the incubation process is essential for successful hatching. Depending on the prevailing conditions, tortoise eggs usually incubate for 70-120 days before hatching.

Check the nesting box once or twice weekly, and avoid interfering with the process. You don’t have to remove the lid when checking the box, but monitor the temperature and humidity each time.

Look for discolored or collapsed eggs, which signifies the process is going awry. Since the eggs need to breathe, open one corner of the container every 2 weeks to allow air to circulate.

When the eggs come to term, the hatchlings will break out. The hatchlings will use their egg tooth to push through the shell over the coming days.

The baby tortoises will survive initially by eating the yolk sac.

Tortoise Egg Development

Female tortoises contain an ovum produced in the ovary.

When fertilized by male sperm, the ovum turns into a zygote. The embryo develops from the zygote and is suspended in the female’s posterior.

Tortoise egg development begins immediately after mating. The egg contains sufficient yolk, nourishing the growing embryo until it hatches. The embryo normally develops as a disc of cells on top of the yolk, so you can see a network of blood vessels when you point light on the egg.

The female tortoise will be gravid for 8-10 weeks before laying her eggs. Like most reptiles, tortoise eggs are hard and less impermeable. They’re oval or elongated in shape and usually plump. The shell is rubbery, consisting of several layers of fibers.

The incubation period of tortoise eggs is 70-120 days. According to Sao Paulo State University, the incubation temperature plays a vital role in embryo development.

Tortoise eggs incubating under warmer temperatures usually hatch quicker than eggs in cooler temperatures, explaining the significant difference in incubation periods.

Tortoise Egg Chalking

Chalking refers to the first stage of tortoise egg development, describing when the egg becomes more opaque or chalky, hence the name. The eggs of many tortoise species chalk over within 2 days.

Newly laid tortoise eggs tend to have a whitish hue, and the small white spot will gradually expand during chalking and cover the entire egg. The egg will become opaque once the chalking process is complete.

You can tell if a tortoise egg is chalking with a candle or pencil light. Hold the egg over a light beam to notice the difference in opaqueness. You’ll see the yolk resting on the bottom of the egg with a network of blood vessels above it.

Unfertilized tortoise eggs don’t chalk up. Instead, they remain with a blue-whitish hue, which means they won’t incubate or give rise to hatchlings even after the incubation period elapses.

DIY Tortoise Egg Incubator

A DIY tortoise egg incubator is a good alternative for emergencies.

Artificial incubators deliver high success rates, but they don’t come cheap. For this reason, many tortoise owners opt to make their own.

Making a DIY tortoise egg incubator isn’t difficult if you follow these steps:

  1. Obtain 1 large, airtight container and a smaller container to act as a tub
  2. Fit the smaller container into the larger container, allowing an inch of space around the sides
  3. Fill the smaller container with chemical-free sand
  4. Drill two small holes on the sides of the large container near the top
  5. Place your tortoise eggs upright in the small container
  6. Pour some water around the gap surrounding the two containers
  7. Cover the large container with a lid
  8. Check the temperature and humidity in the containers

Remember that the incubation temperature for tortoise eggs is 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit, while the ideal humidity level is 70-75%.

How To Know If Your Tortoise Is About To Lay Eggs

The hormonal changes will make a female tortoise restless and move around more often as she prepares to find a suitable nesting area. Sometimes, she’ll exhibit signs of stress.

According to Cornell University, females may show aggression during the breeding phase. The gravid tortoise might display aggression toward other females, and she may become hyperactive, producing inaudible high-pitched vocalizations.

Before laying eggs, she might reduce her food intake or stop eating altogether. You can encourage your tortoise to eat by giving it some of its favorite meals.

The tortoise will start digging burrows, searching for an ideal site to build a nest and lay eggs. Some tortoises are selective when looking for nesting sites, so ensure you lay the appropriate substrate.

Can A Tortoise Lay Unfertilized Eggs?

A female tortoise doesn’t have to breed with a male tortoise to lay eggs. However, the laid eggs won’t produce offspring since they don’t undergo normal development.

A female can start laying eggs once she matures sexually; she’ll produce an ovum ready for mating and laying eggs, even if she doesn’t find a mate.

Unlike other egg-laying animals, a female tortoise can only lay unfertilized eggs once per year.

How To Tell If Tortoise Eggs Are Fertile

Determining whether tortoise eggs are fertile isn’t that complicated.

Unfertilized tortoise eggs don’t chalk up. Instead, they have a blue-whitish hue, which means they won’t incubate or give rise to hatchlings even after the incubation period elapses.

Using a candle or pencil light tells you if a tortoise egg is chalking up. You only need to place the light beam through the egg to observe changes.

If the egg is opaque, it’s chalking up and probably fertile.

Tortoise Egg Candling

Egg candling involves checking whether the egg is chalking using a candle or beam of light. A fertile egg will turn black or opaque within 2-7 days during incubation.

Placing a beam of light through the egg will confirm that the egg is chalking. You’ll see the yolk resting on the bottom of the egg with a network of blood vessels above it.

It’s best done in a dark room. Ideally, point the beam of light from a small flashlight near the egg’s top or back because this will allow the light to pass through the egg and let you see what is inside.

Even though chalking turns the egg black or opaque, you should see the yolk and network of blood vessels during candling. Avoid placing the light too close to the egg to prevent spot-heating.

tortoise egg hatching time

Looking After Tortoise Eggs At Home

Caring for tortoise eggs at home is essential if you want them to incubate and hatch. The process entails maintaining consistent temperature and humidity levels.

Consider using an artificial incubator that comes with a built-in thermostat and hygrometer. A DIY tortoise egg incubator might be a viable alternative for experienced owners.

Before beginning the incubation process, confirm whether the eggs are fertile using the egg candling method. This will save you from the disappointment of trying to hatch unfertilized eggs.

Ensure the sand used to position the eggs is chemical-free to avoid poisoning the hatchlings once they break out from their shells.

Tortoise Egg Hatching Time

The tortoise egg hatching time is 70-120 days, depending on the species and prevailing conditions. The temperature and humidity determine whether the eggs will hatch early or late during incubation.

The incubation temperature is vital in embryo development and egg hatching time. Tortoise eggs incubating under warmer temperatures tend to hatch quicker than eggs in cooler temperatures, explaining the significant difference in incubation periods.

The ideal temperature for incubation should range from 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit. Meanwhile, the appropriate humidity level ranges from 70-75%. Any figures other than these could hinder the successful hatching of the eggs.

The temperature and duration of incubation also determine the sex of the baby tortoise. Lower temperatures and longer incubation periods often produce females, while higher temperatures and shorter incubation periods often result in males.

The baby tortoises will use their egg tooth to break through the shell when hatching. This process can take a few hours, days, or weeks, depending on the strength of the hatchling.

The hatchlings also survive on the egg yolk for nourishment during their initial few days.

Taking Care Of Tortoise Hatchlings

Tortoise hatchlings usually break out of their shells within 24 hours during hatching, relying on the egg yolk for nourishment and survival during the first days of life.

You may have to provide care initially since adult females don’t care for their offspring.

Here are some tips on how to look after tortoise hatchlings:

  • Choose the correct enclosure for your baby tortoises. Ensure that the enclosure is pet-proof to stop cats and dogs from gaining access
  • Provide UV exposure
  • Ensure the enclosure is warm with optimal humidity levels
  • Provide hiding spots for the vulnerable baby tortoises
  • Offer fresh drinking water and a balanced diet

These steps will increase your chances of having healthy tortoise hatchlings.