To people who have multiple tortoises, it may not come as a surprise that your tortoise has laid eggs. However, a tortoise owner who only has one tortoise seeing your tortoise unexpectedly lay eggs can come as a big shock.
If your tortoise unexpectedly laid eggs, you first need to check they are fertile before proceeding to incubation. If the eggs are fetial keep the eggs between 27°C – 32°C (80°F – 90°F) and fertile eggs will hatch in around 8-10 weeks.
Whether you have one tortoise and it’s a significant shock your tortoise had produced eggs. Or you have many tortoises, and you want to know what to do with these unexpectedly laid eggs we have all angles covered.
A Shock Tortoise Litter
During the early years of a tortoise’s life, it can be challenging to distinguish the sex. Often, a tortoise is incorrectly identified as male or female for you only to find the correct sex once they become an adult.
So if you thought you have two males or two females sharing a home, you could possibly have opposite sexes.
It would be a shock to see a tortoise lay eggs that you once thought were two boys. However, if the gender difficulties weren’t enough of a hurdle to cover, you have the tortoise biology to contend with that can leave you in bemusement.
Can Tortoises Lay Eggs Without Mating?
Yes, a tortoise can lay eggs without mating, just like a chicken does. If a female tortoise does not find a mate to fertilize her, the eggs will still be laid. However, the produced eggs will be infertile and will not produce offspring. A tortoise will lay eggs once per year, whether they mate or not.
There are also other quirks in tortoises biology that can have us scratching our heads. The trait that is believed that has helped keep the tortoise in existence for all these years.
To maximize its chances of conception, a female tortoise can store sperm in its body for months to years at a time. The sperm is stored to keep it viable and, in theory, can keep impregnating the tortoise for years after mating.
So if you take ownership of an adult tortoise and don’t take any particular notice of their sex, you could have a female tortoise that could produce viable eggs for the next few years. Which I’m sure when it happens, would come as a huge shock.
Why Do Tortoises Lay Infertile Eggs?
The reason tortoises lay infertile eggs is that the eggs are developed before they are fertilized. The tortoise cannot know in advance whether the egg will end up fertilized or not. So the female tortoise will go ahead and keep growing eggs in the hope that the eggs will be fertilized.
A female tortoise will start laying eggs once they become sexually mature; the time they become sexually mature can vary significantly from species to species.
There is a belief in the tortoise community that a female tortoise will produce more eggs if kept with a male tortoise. However, even if they are kept alone, they will still have eggs at least once yearly.
Within the communities amounts tortoise owners, there is a belief that female tortoise will produce more eggs the better their diet. I could not find any hard evidence of this being true or not. But it is best practice to offer your tortoise the best possible diet.
How do I know if my Tortoise is About to Lay Eggs?
Tortoises that are about to lay eggs show very similar signs to a woman who is in labor. Tortoise tends to go off their food and spend less time basking. Showing signs of stress and restlessness as they try to find a nesting spot to lay their eggs.
It is strange to draw a resemblance between humans and tortoises, but in this case, it can help us spot signs your tortoise is about to lay eggs.
A woman about to start labor will become restless and struggle to get comfortable, and become stressed. A tortoise will mimic these same characteristics but for different reasons to a woman.
A tortoise moving around its enclosure showing signs of restlessness and stress and not basking and eating how they typically would is a sure sign of intimate labor. Unlike a woman, a tortoise shows these signs down to more than just being uncomfortable. A tortoise will exhibit these signs due to looking for a nesting site to lay their eggs.
Another big clue that your tortoise is about to lay eggs is the time of the year. Femail tortoise lay their eggs early May to mid-July, and they can lay two separate clutches a few weeks apart.
A tortoise will spend a few hours digging and creating its nest once it finds a suitable location before producing its eggs.
Where do Tortoises Prefer to Lay Eggs?
Tortoises prefer to lay their eggs in a substrate that offers their eggs the best possible protection. Tortoises can be very picky where they lay eggs and dont like sandy substrate, and much prefer to lay eggs on a slope rather than flat ground.
A tortoise is very fussy when it comes to the location that they lay their eggs. They prefer a substrate that will offer their eggs the best protection a soil would be preferred over a sandy substrate.
A slope seems to be preferred over the flat ground as the nest is less likely to be overwhelmed in the rain. Tortoises will also choose to lay the eggs in an area with lots of direct sunlight to keep them warm.
If your tortoise is displaying signs of laying eggs, you can do all you can to help them find a suitable nest. Slope up the substrate in their enclosure will be a big help to your tortoise, and it could help save your tortoise.
What Happens If A Tortoise Doesn’t Lay Their Eggs?
A female tortoise can be fussy where they lay their eggs, and that’s why we recommend you give them a helping hand in making the perfect nesting site.
When we say fussy, we do mean this, and if they dont find a suitable nesting site, they will simply refuse to lay their eggs despite the dire consequences.
It doesn’t take a reptile specialist to know that a tortoise that refuses to lay its eggs will not be healthy. A tortoise that refuses to lay its eggs will become Dystocia (egg bound), leading to illness and eventually death if allowed to go on long enough.
If a tortoise refuses to lay their eggs and become egg bound, the last resort will be the surgical removal of eggs. Below you can see a scar on the tortoise after surgical removal of eggs.
If your tortoise is carrying eggs, try your best to create a perfect nesting site, and if your tortoise refuses to lay its eggs, seek veterinarian advice.
How to Tell if Tortoise Eggs Are Fertile or Not
If your female tortoise has not been in contact with a male tortoise for four years, the chance of the eggs being fertile is slim. A fertile tortoise egg will show signs of chalking, which is a whitening of the shell. The whitening typically starts with a white banding running around the egg.
When your tortoise lays eggs, you will want to know as soon as possible if they are fertile or not so you can give them the correct care so they can develop and hatch.
The first sign your tortoise has laid fertile eggs is when we inspect the tortoise eggs. We want to see chalking on the egg, which is a whitening of the shell. Your tortoise egg will be a pink color initially; however, if chalking happens, you will see a white band or circle running around the egg. The pink color will eventually disappear, with the egg becoming entirely white.
Another trick to see if your tortoise has produced fertile eggs is an old trick called candling, which involves holding a candle under the egg. Allowing you to see any blood vessels that have developed inside the egg indicates a developing tortoise inside.
An old trick that works well; however, with the invention of bright LED torches, you can use them to replace a candle, which is much safer.
If your tortoise has not had male company within the last four years, then I would suggest it’s doubtful that your tortoise eggs will be fertile.
How do I Look After Tortoise Eggs at Home?
Before we jump into looking after your tortoise eggs, I first must point out about moving the eggs. You should try to move the eggs as soon as possible once they have been laid; two days would be a maximum.
If there are any signs of chalking, then this means the tortoise has latched onto the egg. Moving an egg at this point can cause the tortoise to become detached and stop development and not develop into a tortoise.
Looking after tortoise eggs is not a complicated process and is all based on their temperature.
An unexpected tortoise littler, and your unlikely to have an incubator to hand to place your eggs in. Which will keep the eggs at a consistent temperature for the required time you are more likely to need to go the DIY method.
Egg box method – Remove the top of an egg box and house your eggs inside. Suppose you have a spare enclosure to store your eggs. Placing your eggs under a heat lamp should keep them at the correct temperature. You should check the temperature is within the given temperature range.
Bucket method – If you dont have a spare enclosure, you can place the eggs in a bucket of sand with a little of the eggs showing. Getting a table lamp with a heat bulb fitted directed at the eggs will be your next best bet.
How Long Do Tortoise Eggs Take to Hatch
Tortoise eggs will take around 8-10 weeks to hatch. Tortoises will eventually break through the egg and sit in the egg fluid until they have fully absorbed it. Once they have soaked up the egg fluid, they will entirely leave the egg.
Eggs should be incubated in an incubator between 27°C – 32°C (80°F – 90°F) fertile eggs will hatch within 8-10 weeks. The general rule is the lower the temperature the eggs are incubated at, the longer they take to hatch.
The temperature that you incubate your eggs at will have a bearing on the sex of the tortoise. When incubated at the lower scale of the ideal temperature, you will get a female tortoise, and at the higher end will produce male tortoises.
You should never let the temperature rise above 34°C as this can lead to your tortoise having severe health issues.
My Tortoise Just Ate Its Own Eggs!
However disturbing this may seem, it is seen as a natural thing for a tortoise to do and happens quite often in the wild.
It is less common within captivity and could possibly be a sign that you dont have your tortoise diet quite right. A tortoise eating its own eggs is a sign that it lacks calcium, and you will need to add more to its diet.
What Age Do Tortoises Stop Laying Eggs?
Tortoises can lay fertile eggs up to four years after mating. There doesn’t appear to be tortoise menopause as humans, and tortoise can produce fertile eggs their entire life. This is very common with many reptiles.
So if you thought that the unexpectedly laid eggs were a one-off, we now know it will be a regular thing we need to come to terms with. We can never let our guide down bring in a male tortoise believing our tortoise is too old to lay fertile eggs.
For other reptiles who produce eggs their whole life, it is thought that their eggs lose quality and become less viable. Where tortoise eggs remain just as viable despite their age. The theory is that with the low energy they take to produce, the eggs stay highly viable.
Getting an unexpected batch of eggs in your enclosure can come as quite a shock when it first happens. There is nothing to panic about, and you can have some new tortoise in 8-10 weeks.
A tortoise can keep producing eggs their whole life, so once it has happened, you need to get used to it and learn to cope with the situation.
I hope that this guide has helped ease any worries that you may have had with your tortoise producing eggs that you were not expecting.