General Guidelines to
Incubating Turtle and Tortoise Eggs
Many hobbyists enjoy incubating their turtle's eggs artificially. Below are some general guidelines and simple
techniques that can lead to successful incubation.
Turtle and tortoise eggs can be hard-shelled or relatively soft depending on the particular species. New-laid
turtle and tortoise eggs tend to have a bluish-white hue. Within 2 days, the eggs of many species will "chalk over",
that is the shell will become a more opaque, chalky, white color. Some eggs of water turtles and semi-terrestrial
species will "band", that is the middle third or so of a somewhat elongated egg will chalk over.
During incubation turtle and tortoise eggs can be candled to check on their development. Hold the egg over a pencil
light or other narrow beam of light. The yolk can be seen resting on the bottom of the egg. Over time, a network of
blood vessels may be seen above it.
The time taken for eggs to hatch depends upon both the type of turtle and the incubation temperature. The eggs may
not all hatch at once, so be sure to leave any unhatched eggs to incubate longer, just in case.
Recovering the Eggs
When the female has finished laying, open the nest and carefully remove the eggs. A clean paintbrush is a useful tool
for uncovering the eggs. If the nest has been filled in, dig out the soil using a spoon, paintbrush or other small
utensil. The dirt may be packed down tightly, and caution is needed to avoid breaking the eggs.
carefully removing the eggs from the nest, lightly mark a cross or number on the top of each one with a pencil. At
some stages in the their development, turning a turtle or tortoise egg can result in the death of the growing embryo,
and the pencil mark makes it easier to maintain the eggs in the same orientation as they were laid. Gently brush
off soil and debris from the eggs with a tissue or paper towel, and transport them to the incubator.
A variety of incubation set-ups have been used to successfully incubate turtle and tortoise eggs. The important
factor is that the incubator be able to maintain the appropriate temperature and humidity. Generally, water turtles eggs require higher humidity than terrestrial turtles and desert species.
Low Humidity Methods
Eggs from tortoises from dry regions and highly terrestrial turtles that lay hard-shelled eggs can be successfully
incubated using the following methods:
• Bird egg incubators are popular and readily available. Because they have a thermostat they can maintain a constant temperature throughout incubation.
• It is also possible to incubate eggs in very simple set-ups such as the examples described below, but you must check the temperature regularly:
• Place the eggs in an egg carton, and put the carton in an aquarium. Alternatively, cover the aquarium floor with clean sand to a depth of 2 inches, and place the eggs in the sand. Put a cup of water in the aquarium to act as a humidifier. Use a thermometer, placed by the eggs, to monitor the temperature. For a heat source, start with a 15 watt aquarium bulb in the hood; if it is too cold use two bulbs or a higher wattage bulb.
• Bury the eggs in a bucket full of sand, so that they are buried just below the surface. Place a thermometer by the eggs. Position the goose-neck lamp next to the bucket and move the light close to the sand surface. Adjust the temperature of the sand by moving the lamp closer or further away.
High Humidity Methods
Box and water turtle eggs can be successfully incubated in a variety of ways, but a few basic rules should be followed:
• Do not shake, rotate, or turn the eggs.
• Keep the temperature at about 80° F (27° C).
• Maintain the humidity at about 80%.
• These conditions can be met by placing the eggs on a suitable substrate (moistened vermiculite, sphagnum moss, and damp paper towels have all been used with success) inside a suitable container (plastic shoeboxes or plastic margarine tubs are commonly used, with the lids kept on to help maintain the humidity). The container is placed in an incubator or in a location that remains slightly above room temperature such as a cupboard on top of a refrigerator or above a
• Check the eggs regularly to make sure that the substrate remains damp.
If you need more specific information on incubation please read articles on the specific species of interest or contact your local CTTC Chapter for more information.