How to hatch turtle eggs

Hatching desert tortoise - how to incubate turtle eggs

To many hobby turtle keepers, it often comes as a surprise when they discover eggs laid by their pet turtle. Turtles can keep the sperm of the males inside their body for several years and therefore even lay eggs when they are in an enclosure without any male companion. But what to do when your turtle or tortoise lays eggs? While you could remove them or give them to a professional breeder in your area, many hobbyists decide to hatch the eggs themselves. In this post, we will give you a complete overview of how to hatch turtle eggs.

Turtle egg incubation in nature

All female turtles and tortoises lay their eggs on land by digging a hole in the ground where they place the eggs. After laying, the female leaves the nest and doesn’t come back to it. Turtle hatchlings are on their own from day one they are born. Therefore, if your pet turtle lays eggs, it is ok for you to remove them, if you plan to incubate the turtle eggs yourself. The mother turtle will not come back to the nest desperately looking for its offspring.

Since natural incubation has worked for millions of years, you can also decide to leave the turtle eggs in the ground and let them incubate naturally. Just make sure to cover the nest with a cage or anything that protects the eggs from predators.

How to safely recover turtle eggs from their nest

As mentioned, turtles usually lay their eggs in a nest dug in the soil. If you see your turtle laying eggs and you decide to incubate the eggs inside, make sure not to move them right away. Leave the eggs in their nest for another 2-3 days until they have “chalked over”. Chalking over means that the eggs are getting a whiter, stronger shell and its safer to remove them from their nest. If the nest is outside, cover it with a cage or anything that still allows air to enter the area but protects the eggs from predators such as raccoons or birds of prey.

After the eggs have lost their bluish-white hue, remove them from the nest very carefully as the shell will still be very fragile. Make absolutely sure, not to turn the egg in any way. This would harm the embryo and most likely make the egg infertile. In case the nest is covered with soil, use a tool like a paintbrush or a spoon to dig out the soil. Be very careful during this process to prevent any damage to the eggs. 

Once you have uncovered the eggs, do not turn or topple the eggs. Any change in orientation may lead to the death of the embryo. Place them in an egg holder of an appropriate size for your type of eggs surrounded by moist sphagnum moss.

Hatching baby turtles. Photo: Marc Lundy

The next step is to carefully brush off any dirt from the shell with a paper towel. After that, carefully write a number on top of each egg using a pencil. That way, you will always know what side is up for the egg and the numbers allow you to track the progress of each individual egg.

Now they are ready to be moved to the incubator.

How to incubate turtle eggs

For the eggs to incubate properly, it is essential to set up the perfect incubating environment with the right temperature and humidity levels. Thanks to recent technology, it has become much easier to replicate the ideal conditions to incubate turtle eggs for hobby breeders. Even though a little more complicated, it is also possible to build your own incubator. More information on the best turtle egg incubators and how you can build your own can be found below.

Various incubating set-ups have been used successfully to incubate and hatch the turtle eggs. The only thing you have to master is the perfect balance between temperature and humidity. If the eggs do not receive the appropriate heat and moisture, they might take longer to hatch or, worse, not hatch at all. Water turtles require a more humid environment to incubate than terrestrial turtles or tortoises. Similarly, turtles that are native to dry desert areas have adapted their eggs to produce in higher temperatures and lower humidity conditions.

Hatching desert tortoise - how to incubate turtle eggs
A cute desert tortoise is hatching. Photo: Flickr

If you are new to turtle breeding, we recommend using a professional egg incubator. They come with a built-in thermostat and help you to maintain the perfect balance of temperature and humidity during the whole incubation process. 

Carefully place the eggs into containers filled with moist sphagnum moss. Mist the moss regularly and monitor the humidity inside your incubator. For most turtle species, also box turtles, the humidity should be around 80%.

Best turtle egg incubators

Incubators help provide the appropriate temperature and humidity, which help the eggs mature. If the proper conditions are not offered for an extended amount of time, the embryo may die and the egg may never hatch. An incubator ensures that the embryo is growing at a stable temperature, thus preventing any harmful complications.

While there are numerous incubators available online and in pet stores, we recommend one of the following two products as the best egg turtle incubators available:

Zoo Med ReptBator Egg Incubator

Zoo Med is one of the leading brands when it comes to reptile care products ranging from food items, heating lamps and incubators. We often recommend their products and only got positive feedback from our readers. The Zoo Med ReptiBator is a digitally controlled egg incubator specifically for reptile eggs. It comes with a pulse proportional thermostat, which helps control the temperature. You can manually regulate the temperature and view it in the LED heat indicator light. The Zoo Med ReptiBator provides for a temperature range from 15°C to 40°C and a humidity range from 10%-95% relative humidity. This makes it perfect to incubate eggs of any turtle or tortoise species at the ideal temperature/humidity range.

Thanks to its light weight and medium size, it is portable so you will be able to move it after your eggs have hatched. It also comes with a built-in programmable temperature alarm that notifies you in case of unwanted temperature changes. A transparent lid allows you to keep an eye the eggs easily without removing the lid. This is our recommendation and top pick as we consider the Zoo Med ReptBator the best turtle egg incubator available on the market.

Happybuy Reptile Incubator

The Happybuy Reptile Incubator is another incubator we can recommend. It comes with a cooling and a heating function and supports temperature ranges from 36-140°F (5-60°C). That means that you can incubate any type of turtle egg as well as keep your turtles for hibernation indoors in a cool environment. It comes with a glass door and a large temperature display so you will always have control over everything that is going on inside the incubator.

Regardless of which tortoise egg incubator you are getting, make sure to keep it in a place without direct sunlight as this might lead to temperature fluctuations that could damage the eggs.

How to build your own turtle incubator

This method is more tedious than an automated egg incubator as you have to keep a constant check on the temperature. For artificial incubation, you can try using an aquarium or a show box filled with sand and sphagnum moss. Carefully bury the eggs in the substrate without turning them. Make sure not to dig in too deep. The eggs should not be too deep away from the surface. Place a thermometer beside the eggs to keep a check on the exact temperature. Add a cup filled with water, which would act as the humidifier and regularly mist the phagnum moss. Use an aquarium bulb or a goose-neck lamp as the thermostat and keep the temperature of the eggs at 84°F (29°C). Keep a regular check on the temperature and make sure it is evenly distributed inside your own incubator. Too much heat can destroy the eggs.

How long does it take for turtle eggs to hatch?

There are numerous turtle and tortoise species and the eggs of each species require a different set of conditions and different time to hatch. The eggs of most land and sea turtles and tortoises take between 45-90 days to hatch. In the wild, external weather conditions greatly influence the amount of time turtle eggs take to hatch. For example, box turtle eggs that are laid in late autumn may not hatch at all before spring as the hatchlings will hibernate inside their eggs and wait for the warmer weather to return before breaking their shell open. Many eggs will not hatch at all, as turtles often lay infertile eggs. You can find more information about how to identify infertile turtle eggs below.

Here is an overview of how long it takes for the eggs of the most popular pet turtle species take to hatch as well as additional information such as clutch size and ideal incubating temperature and humidity level.

Box turtle

  • Clutch size: 4-6 eggs
  • Time to hatch: 45-90 days (may be significantly longer over the winter months)
  • Ideal incubating temperature: 84°F (29°C). If you are incubating box turtle eggs 72 degrees, you will get all males and at 88 degrees all females.
  • Humidity: 80%

If you are incubating box turtle eggs, check out this helpful post on what to do after your turtles have hatched and how to breed and feed baby box turtles.

Red Eared Slider

  • Clutch size: 2-30 eggs
  • Time to hatch: 60-110 days
  • Ideal incubating temperature: 82°F (28°C). If you are incubating red eared slider eggs at around 72 degrees, you will get all males and above 86 degrees all females
  • Humidity: 80%

Painted turtle

  • Clutch size: 4-10 eggs
  • Time to hatch: 65-75 days
  • Ideal incubating temperature: between 77°F (25°C) and 87°F (30°C). Higher temperatures will produce all female hatchlings. We recommend a temperature of around 84°F (29°C)
  • Humidity: 80%

Musk turtle

  • Clutch size: 1-3 eggs
  • Time to hatch: 60-125 days
  • Ideal incubating temperature: between 77°F (25°C) and 87°F (30°C). Higher temperatures will produce all female hatchlings. We recommend a temperature of around 84°F (29°C)
  • Humidity: 80%

Russian tortoise

  • Clutch size: 1-5 eggs
  • Time to hatch: 50-90 days
  • Ideal incubating temperature: 88-89°F (31-32°C).
  • Humidity: 75-80%

Wood turtle

  • Clutch size: 5-15 eggs
  • Time to hatch: around 90 days
  • Ideal incubating temperature: between 82°F (28°C) and 86°F (30°C).
  • Humidity: 80%

How to tell if a turtle egg is fertile?

Various species of turtles have multiple characteristics unique to their eggs. The texture of the shell also differs according to the species. Some may have a more chalky or bland texture, while others may be relatively soft and wobbly. For about 2 days after being laid, turtle eggs exhibit a bluish-white hue. This naturally wears off with time when the shell becomes harder and more opaque. It alters into a more insipid shade of white. The egg is then said to ‘chalk over.’ This feature is more common amongst the aquatic turtles or the semi-terrestrial turtles. 

You can check the development of the egg by using a flashlight to illuminate the egg. The beam of light illuminates the inside of the egg, making it translucent. This makes the yolk and blood vessels inside the egg visible. Initially, the yolk resides at the bottom of the egg. With time, you can figure out the blood vessels and other parts. If you can’t see any blood vessels, I still recommend to leave the egg in the incubator for some more time and check in again. Chances are that it is infertile, but it might just take a bit more time to develop.

Here is a short video that shows the process and what to look out for:

How to hatch turtle eggs – Conclusion

Turtle eggs require a great deal of care to hatch correctly. With artificial incubating methods, you can provide ideal conditions and maximize the amount of eggs that will hatch. Let us know in the comment section if you have any questions or recommendations.

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How to hatch turtle eggs

2 thoughts on “How to hatch turtle eggs

  1. I’ve never raised turtles before, but this sounds like such an incredible experience – the chance to see the whole process unfold before your eyes like that!

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