If you have tortoises (or turtles) then you may suddenly find that one day, you’ve got some eggs on your hands but are these eggs going to turn into babies? Or are they simply unfertilized eggs that will never produce offspring? Well, it turns out that it’s relatively easy to find out.
Can tortoises and turtles lay eggs without mating? Yes, they can. In fact, just like a chicken or a duck does – if a female tortoise doesn’t find a mate and get fertilized, her eggs will appear anyway. However, a tortoise will only lay once in a year, so don’t expect to see a steady supply of tortoise eggs appearing.
So, let’s take a look at tortoises, turtles and their eggs and everything you might want to know about both unfertilized eggs and fertilized ones.
Why Do Tortoises And Turtles Lay Infertile Eggs?
A female tortoise will start laying eggs when she reaches sexual maturity, when precisely this is will vary from species to species. Her body produces eggs in anticipation of being able to mate and thus, if she doesn’t find a mate – she’s still got some eggs and her body cannot reabsorb them.
There is some evidence to suggest that egg production in female tortoises ramps up if they are kept with male tortoises (that is – she will lay more often if there’s a good chance of the eggs becoming fertilized) but there is no doubt that even if kept by herself or with other female tortoises – sooner or later she will ovulate.
We know that some pet owners believe that a female tortoise, even a lone one, will lay more often based on the quality of their diet, though we’ve not found any evidence that this is true and we suspect it may be wishful thinking on the part of the owners.
How Do You Know If A Tortoise Is About To Lay Eggs?
Female tortoises that are about to start laying tend to mimic the behavior of expectant mothers in other species.
They begin to move around more often, possibly because the hormonal changes in their bodies make them feel restless, they may find it difficult to get comfortable (we wonder how comfortable we’d find it if we were full of eggs) and they may even exhibit signs of stress or distress.
So, keep an eye out for an angsty looking tortoise (they probably won’t be basking properly either) pacing about the place because she’s seeking somewhere to nest effectively.
The most likely time of year for a tortoise to hit egg laying is in the late summer months, tortoises don’t tend to lay eggs in the wintertime.
Where do tortoises lay their eggs?
Tortoises nest and they will choose a nesting place in an area where the soil offers the appropriate quality to protect the eggs. For this reason, tortoises will rarely opt for a sandy location to lay their eggs in.
Related article: Why do tortoises bury themselves?
To the extent that she can be fussy, the female will be fussy about this spot – she’ll want somewhere situated on a slope, ideally, because it will mean that it’s less likely to be overwhelmed in the rain. She’s going to prefer a position that can catch the sun too. Warm eggs are happy eggs.
If you feel that your tortoise is in laying mood and you want to help her out as best you can, then it’s a really good idea to try and help her create the ideal conditions for nesting in the vivarium or your back garden. When tortoises don’t find somewhere suitable to lay – there can be real problems.
Related article: Are tortoises OK with artificial grass?
What Happens If A Tortoise Doesn’t Lay Their Eggs?
When we said that female tortoises were fussy about where they lay their eggs, we weren’t joking. It turns out that the fussiest of females will simply refuse to lay at all if they can’t find a spot that they’d be happy to have their young in.
As you can probably guess, this is not very healthy for the lady tortoise and it results in severe physical distress – if it’s allowed to go on for long enough – it can kill your tortoise.
So, please do help them make their nest in the right spot because you don’t want your tortoise to suffer unduly.
How Do You Know If The Eggs Have Been Fertilized Or Not?
Once your female lays her eggs, how do you work out whether they have baby tortoises in them or not? Well, firstly, if your tortoise has not mingled with the opposite sex for over 4 years – you can safely assume that they’re not fertilized.
Related article: Pet tortoise pregnancy: How to tell and what to do
Yes, it’s entirely possible for a female to carry a fertilized egg for up to 4 years before laying it and that means even if it was only “just that one time with the handsome chap from Alabama”, she can have babies much later on.
Fertilized eggs, however, will have signs of “chalking”. That’s a whitening of the surface of the shell and it usually starts as a small circular mark or sometimes a band that runs completely around the outside of the shell. Chalking should begin a couple of days after the tortoise lays the egg.
As time passes, the chalking of an egg covers the whole surface of the egg.
It’s important not to move her eggs after chalking begins, as it is possible that the fetus will detach from the shell inside when moved and this will kill it.
Help! My Tortoise Just Ate Its Own Eggs!
Yes, this can be quite disturbing, particularly if you weren’t expecting it to happen but sometimes, a tortoise will eat her own eggs. This is a sign of severe calcium deficiency and it means that you need to add calcium supplements to her diet!
Related article: Why do tortoises eat rocks and stones?
Don’t feel bad, it’s easy for pet tortoises to become calcium deficient, it’s not your fault that she ate her eggs and she won’t feel bad about it, because that’s what tortoises do when they need calcium.
How long will it take for a baby tortoise to arrive?
Assuming that her eggs are fertilized then you can expect the new arrivals to appear between 8 and 11 weeks after they were laid. This can be a little more in some species, though, and it’s always best to look up your exact breed of tortoise if you want a precise figure on this.
The speed of a tortoise hatching is directly proportional to the temperature in which they incubate and if you ensure the temperature stays at between 86 degrees Fahrenheit and 89 degrees Fahrenheit, they should be in the optimal state to hatch.
It’s though that incubation period length relates to the gender of the tortoises produced. Long times favor females, and short times favor males. This seems unlikely to us given that gender ought to be determined at the moment of fertilization, but it makes for a good story.
One word of warning: if the temperature exceeds 93 degrees Fahrenheit (that’s 33.8 Celsius) you may kill the fetuses or leave them with severe disabilities.
When Do Female Tortoises Stop Laying Eggs?
It appears that there’s no such thing as a tortoise menopause. Unlike human beings, tortoises will continue to produce eggs throughout their lives. This is something that appears to be true for the majority of reptiles.
It may be that the energy cost of producing eggs in tortoises is lower than that of mammals and thus, there is a much lower chance of a degradation in quality of the egg over the lifespan of a tortoise. However, this is purely speculative, as you might imagine there hasn’t been a huge amount of research published on the estrus cycle of tortoises. Which is a shame because we’d love to read it.
Tortoises vs. Turtles
We’ve not mentioned turtles very much in this article and that’s because much of their biology is the same as that of tortoises. However, turtles do lay more often (between 1 and 9 clutches a season). They don’t lay eggs in water but only on land (if they lay in water – the eggs would be very unlikely to survive).
Otherwise, the majority of turtle egg laying behavior is nearly identical to that of tortoises.
Related article: Can tortoises and turtles mate?
Can tortoises and turtles lay eggs without mating? Not only can they lay eggs without mating, they almost certainly will lay eggs without mating. There ought to be fewer eggs produced like this than if the animals were sexually active but you should expect to see them at least once a year even with the most virginal of tortoises or turtles.