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How To Tell If Your Tortoise Is Pregnant (Gravid)

Last Updated on September 22, 2023 by Samantha Harris

Tortoises are oviparous vertebrates, producing eggs (not live young) to propagate the species. Instead of becoming pregnant, female tortoises become gravid.

A tortoise can become pregnant (gravid) once she’s reached sexual maturity. For most species, that’s once the female reaches 15-20 years old, but it could be after 4-6 years in captivity.

Breeding tortoises this young is ill-advised due to the risk of health complications.

There isn’t a defined breeding season for torts, but most reproduction occurs during the Spring and initial weeks of the Summer. This ensures baby tortoises have time to grow and develop before brumation.

Due to their outer shell construction, tortoises don’t show obvious outward signs of pregnancy.

You can feel around the tortoise’s stomach using abdominal palpation to detect small, round eggs. The female may also become more defensive of her space, especially her nesting area.

Tortoises can gestate their eggs for 50-150 days.

How Do I Know If My Tortoise Is Gravid?

Here are the behavioral and physical signs of a pregnant tortoise:

Appetite Reduction

According to Physiological and Biochemical Zoology, pregnant tortoises eat less than normal. Researchers concluded that gravid females often had emptier stomachs due to a lack of capacity.

The presence of eggs in the oviduct pressed up against the tortoise’s stomach, and since the tortoise couldn’t fit more food in the stomach, her appetite was significantly reduced.

Some tortoises ate less during each meal but wanted more regular meals. This gives the body more time to digest food (which is a slow process anyway), creating space for a higher frequency of meals.

A gravid tortoise will gain weight despite her reduced food consumption.

Higher Calcium Requirements

Gravid females need more calcium carbonate than normal.

According to the Peabody Museum of Natural History, gravid females supplement a lack of calcium in their diet with calcium-rich foods to produce healthier eggshells.

Pet tortoises without sufficient calcium develop weak bones, as it’s utilized for egg production. On other occasions, she’ll produce soft-shell eggs that break or hatch into weak and sickly hatchlings. 

Without sufficient calcium, the eggshells can become thin and brittle, making it harder for a female to move the eggs through her reproductive tract, resulting in egg binding (dystocia).

how to tell if a tortoise is gravid

Leg Wiggling

Pregnant tortoises use their back legs to bury their clutches in the soil of a preferred nesting area.

Also, she’ll rotate her legs to push the eggs out through their cloaca during the egg-laying process. A gravid tortoise may exercise her back legs more in preparation for this requirement.

So, check for a tortoise wiggling her legs in a gentle, circular motion.

Scratching and Sniffing

When a tortoise is pregnant, she’ll find a suitable place in the enclosure to lay her eggs. So, you’ll commonly find a gravid female doing the following:

  • Nudging the soil with her nose.
  • Sniffing around different areas.
  • Exploring all corners of the tank.
  • Rubbing her head against the substrate.
  • Scraping the top layer of topsoil away with her front legs.

She’s seeking a safe area that’s easy to dig while testing the temperature and moisture levels. This will determine how well her babies can dig out once they’ve hatched.

Digging Around The Enclosure

Shortly before laying eggs, a gravid female will begin digging out a nest.

In the coming hours, she’ll create a nesting area that’s deep and secure enough to keep her eggs safe from predators and other threats like extreme weather.

Behavioral Changes

Aside from physical changes, a gravid tortoise will undergo behavioral changes. When a tortoise is acting out of character, she may be preparing to lay eggs:


Gravid tortoises may become more defensive of themselves, their space, and especially the locale chosen to bury the eggs. Gravid females are more prone to ramming and biting behaviors.

Tortoises don’t protect their young or attempt to raise them like many animals. However, she’ll be defensive of herself and her nesting area before laying her eggs.

Quieter Than Usual

A pregnant tortoise may become quieter, avoiding vocalization and hiding more often.

It’s a tactic that gravid females use to avoid drawing attention to themselves. This limits the chances of predators taking notice and following her to the nest once she’s laid her eggs.

How Do I Know If My Tortoise Is Going to Lay Eggs?

You can use the palpate technique to determine if your tortoise is gravid.

“Palpate” comes from the Latin word “palpare,” meaning stroking or caressing. It’s often used to describe checking an area to gain insight, so you’ll feel along its belly to determine if eggs are growing inside.

This was found to be effective by Amphibia-Reptilia, where researchers used abdominal palpation to verify the results using radiology (x-rays).

The only discrepancy was in determining how many eggs were present.

How To Check for Tortoise Eggs

The ventral surface of the shell covers a tortoise’s stomach. To use the palpate technique:

  1. Gently lift the tortoise.
  2. She’ll resist and kick her legs.
  3. When she resists, move your finger to block one back leg.
  4. This will provide access to the inside portion of her abdomen close to the leg opening.
  5. With gentle pressure, use your fingers to feel the side of the tortoise’s abdomen.
  6. If it’s soft and squishy, she’s unlikely to be gravid.
  7. When there’s a firm and round object inside, she’s carrying eggs.

Avoid pushing harder or prodding more forcefully to locate the eggs.

How Long Does a Tortoise Stay Pregnant?

The tortoise will remain gravid for 8-10 weeks.

In the wild, the female will lay an average of 4-8 eggs in the nest after the gestation period. In captivity, females can lay 6-10 eggs.

The eggs will be slightly oblong and hard-shelled with a dull white color.

pregnant tortoise behavior

Do Tortoises Lay Eggs Without Mating?

Once a female tortoise reaches sexual maturity, she can lay unfertilized eggs without a mate. However, the eggs won’t hatch because there’s no such thing as asexual reproduction.

Most tortoises produce eggs in anticipation of being able to mate. However, if she doesn’t find a mate, she’ll still have eggs in her body and must lay them.

Also, tortoises can store sperm in their oviducts, which can be utilized to fertilize their eggs up to 3 years after mating with a male.

Are Tortoise Eggs Fertilize Or Not?

To verify if a tortoise’s eggs are fertilized, check for “chalking.” Chalking describes how the eggshell whitens after being laid, usually by a white circle or band running around the center.

This circle or band will have a transparent, pinkish color when laying. Eventually, the whitening will spread across the entire egg when fertilized.

You can also use “candling.” As the name suggests, this technique involves shining a bright light (a high-intensity LED flashlight is ideal for this purpose) through the egg.

Turn off all the lights in the room and shine the flashlight on the eggs. If you can see a network of blood vessels inside, this means you have fertilized eggs.

When Is Mating Season In Tortoises?

The mating season for tortoises starts around April and ends in June.

The eggs hatch sometime between August and October. Some indoor tortoises will never be able to see or feel nature’s mating cues, which can lead to them mating at any time or not at all.  

Tortoises have their preferences and may shift their breeding season based on the following factors:

According to Copeia, tortoises may forgo reproduction during dry seasons. As food and water will be in limited supply, they instinctively understand that the likelihood of producing healthy offspring is reduced.

The palpate technique will confirm if a tortoise is gravid. If she’s carrying eggs, provide a warm and secure nesting area and a calcium-rich diet to support the mother’s health and her developing eggs.