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How long does it take for turtle eggs to hatch?

If you’re a newcomer to the amazing world of turtles or simply thinking about breeding your own, then you’ve probably wondered about a very specific question: How long does it take for turtle eggs to hatch? As it turns out, there’s not a general guideline – it’s very species-specific!

Hatching time varies from turtle to turtle, with Box turtle eggs taking 60 days to hatch, while larger Sea turtle eggs might take 100! It’s not about the size of the turtle, however. Red-eared slider eggs may incubate for 59 – 112 days and late hatchlings sometimes even winter in their nests, emerging when it’s warm!

In today’s article we’re going to tell you more about turtle reproduction, so that you have a better idea of the journey these fascinating reptiles take from springtime to newly-emerged hatchlings – and what comes next!

We’ll also cover some frequently asked questions and by the time we’re done, you might even find a little new-found respect for these reptiles and what they’ve endured to reach adulthood. It really is quite the uphill climb, as you’re about to see!

Turtle reproduction 

If you want to learn about turtle eggs, then it’s best to start out with a little information on turtle reproduction from mating season to the point where hatchlings break their eggs and make their way into the world. 

In the sections below we’ll break things down a little so that you’ll have a good handle on the basics and we’ll include some information that breeders may find handy as well! It all starts, as you might guess, with mating season!

Maturity and Mating

Well, not exactly… It really starts with maturity, and that can take awhile for turtles. For instance, red-eared sliders mature fairly quickly and may reproduce as early as 5 to 6 years of age. Alligator Snapping turtles, on the other hand, mature between 11 to 13 years of age. Sea turtles have to wait 10 – 50 years!

The male and female often have different maturity ages but you get the idea – turtles have to survive for years before they can reproduce. Once matured, mating season will depend on whether the turtle is tropical or lives in a temperate zone.

For temperate turtles, this usually means Springtime, while tropical turtles will begin mating season when the heavy rains begin or when it’s in the dry season – it’s really down to the species and locale.

Brumation

Another interesting thing about temperate turtles is something that many breeders know about, it’s a little survival trait called ‘brumation’. Have you ever wondered how turtles survive winters in areas where their ponds freeze completely over?

They do it by a process similar to hibernation that is called brumation, and without going overboard on the details, the turtles slow down their metabolism and they are able to stay underwater through survival traits like cloacal breathing.

Which allows them to process just enough oxygen to stay safely below the water! This evolutionary hack for survival is dangerous, but necessary, and comes with the perk of making the females much more fertile and capable of sometimes laying a much larger clutch of eggs!

While brumation may be stimulated with captive turtles, unless you are breeding them it is not recommended. While it is a natural process that they use to survive, it’s still very dangerous for them, and should only be encouraged if you are breeding the turtles at home. 

Mating and pregnancy

When turtles are old enough to mate and the season is right, then both males and females can become very aggressive. Males will often headbutt and bite other males to chase them off, and they will even bite females – but it’s a much lighter bite, designed to show their prowess as a potential mate.

The female doesn’t have to just pick one male to mate with, as she can store sperm from different turtles for varying lengths of time – with some species, this could be for up to 4 years!

Females may also even carry unfertilized eggs and this is something that is very important to know if you are raising a turtle at home. You MUST provide a nest box for her to lay her eggs in, even if there is no male in the enclosure.

Failure to do so can result in retention of eggs, which can be painful for the turtle, and they can even rupture and rot inside of the turtle – so be sure that you create or purchase a nest box to avoid this serious pitfall if you are raising a female turtle.

Most turtles will nest many times when the season arrives, taking the occasional break to recover, so that the frequency usually boils down to nesting many times every 2 to 4 years. You’ll need to check your species for something a little more exact, but this should give you an idea of how often it happens!

Creating a nest

Red eared slider laying eggs
Red eared slider laying eggs with three little hatchlings

When Nature tells the female that it’s nesting time, then she’s going to start looking for a proper area in which to dig a nest and to lay her eggs. With aquatic turtles, who spend most of their lives in the water, this is one of those rare times when you might see them on land.

Sometimes it’s a long walk, too – a nest may be located as far as a mile from the nearest pond, although the mother will try to find a safe spot that is closer if she can find it. As an example of what nesting entails, we’ll use snapping turtles to give you a general idea of what happens.

A female snapper, ready to make a nest and lay her eggs, finds an ideal spot and then starts digging until she’s 4 to 7 inches into the soft earth. The spot will be far enough from the water that they cannot get flooded – as sitting in water would drown the hatchlings before they can emerge.

Once the nest has been dug-up to her satisfaction, the female begins the time-consuming process of laying her eggs – and there could be 25 to 80 of them, so this takes a bit of time. 

Once the eggs are laid, she’ll cover them up, and may take a brief nap nearby to recuperate her strength before taking the long walk back to her pond. 

At this point, those eggs are on their own, incubating beneath the dirt for the next 3 to 6 months (with 90 days being the norm, and longer periods being due to the outside temperatures.)

From eggs to hatchlings – What happens in that nest

While the eggs are incubating in the newly-dug nest, there’s a lot that is going on both inside the nest and outside of it. Below we’ll give you an overview of some of the most important factors that will come into play during this delicate time.

TSD – Temperature-dependent sex determination

TSD or ‘Temperature-dependent sex determination’ is a factor that turtles share with other reptiles and while it sounds fancy, it’s easy to sum up – the temperature of the eggs will decide the gender of the turtle developing inside of them.

If you are breeding your turtles, you’ll need to check the specific temperature ranges if you are trying to produce mostly males, mostly females, or a mix, but for most species the lower range of temperature will produce females, while the warmer temps will produce males. 

That’s MOST species, but not all, so it’s important to check. Some species, for instance, will produce females at both high and lower temperatures, while males tend to develop at the middle range.

While the embryos are developing into the turtles they are going to be, Nature certainly isn’t standing still and those eggs are definitely not safe – that’s because a LOT of predators are fond of turtle eggs and actively seek them out.

Predators may ensure that these eggs never hatch

Once mom leaves the nest and those eggs are underground, a lot can go wrong, mostly through the discovery of the nest by predators.

Depending on the species, as many as 90% of the eggs in nests may end up in the belly of predators that have sniffed-out a nest, noticed the disturbed ground, or who simply saw the mother turtle laying her eggs and waited nearby to take advantage of this easy and favorite food source.

Some of the most common predators are raccoons, coyotes, and rats, but turtle eggs are apparently quite the delicacy in Nature, because there are a lot more predators out looking for those nests. Crows, for instance, are fond of turtle eggs and have learned to spot nesting females.

Skunks often find the nests and dig them up and local dogs – domesticated or wild – have also been known to make a hearty snack of any nests that they find. As you can imagine, these make for pretty hard odds, but once the turtles escape their shells they still have a ways to go. 

Hatching

So, let’s say that the mother turtle found an excellent spot and her eggs have safely incubated undisturbed… What happens next?

Going back to our snapper example, what happens is that somewhere between August and October tiny hatchlings will be wiggling and pushing against the shell of the egg with a specially developed ‘egg tooth’ – which just amounts to a protuberance on the beak that makes breaking out of the eggs easier.

They lose this egg tooth fairly quickly after hatching – once it’s served its purpose it simply shrinks away. At this point, freshly emerging from the egg, the hatchlings start instinctively heading towards their pond and they’d better be lucky – during this time, the carapace and plastron (upper and lower shell) are soft.

During this time many hatchlings get snapped up and eaten by some of the predators we’ve mentioned before, but birds are also especially adept at spotting and grabbing these newborn snappers. 

Herons, owls, bitterns, and fishers are a good example of birds that like to dine on snapper hatchlings, and even if they make it to the water these birds will be looking for them to surface for air. As they get older, the number of predators that can make a meal of them will definitely be reduced.

For snappers, the list could be reduced to ‘alligators and people’, but for smaller and less aggressive species there are still a challenging number of animals that want to eat them. That said, the fact that they made it from egg to pond is still pretty darned impressive!

FAQS

That’s about all of the time that we have for today, but before we give this article a proper wrap-up we’ve got some frequently asked questions to address that we think you’ll find useful. Let’s take a look!

Do turtle eggs only hatch at night?

In most cases, hatchlings will wait to emerge until nighttime, as this is a very good strategy for avoiding the rather large list of daytime predators. It works pretty well for many species, for instance, some Sea turtle hatchlings do this and around 90% of them successfully hatch and sneak into the nearby water.

Of course, it is very species dependent, but leaving the nest at night definitely makes a difference in the hatchling survival rate.

How do you keep turtle eggs alive?

You can place turtle eggs in an egg carton or even cover them in fine sand as a way to help keep them warm. The normal heat of a captive turtle enclosure works out pretty well, although you should plant a thermometer nearby to ensure that they are getting enough of it.

You can also add a small cup of water inside – this helps to boost the humidity, which is also good for turtle eggs.

Can you touch turtle eggs?

Aside from ensuring that newly hatched eggs are safe, you should leave them alone. You’re not going to see little turtle shapes inside if you hold them up to the light and while they are developing, simply turning the eggs might actually kill the hatchling inside.

As such, just ensure they are safe and leave the eggs alone until they hatch. Don’t worry, Nature knows what she is doing!

Video of Box Turtles hatching

Wrapping up

In this article we’ve talked about how long it takes turtle eggs to hatch and basically, it’s really down to the species. Box turtles can take about 60 days to hatch, while sea turtles take 100 days, and some turtles like the common snapper fall into a range of 59 to 112 days – due to temperature considerations.

Now that you know a little more about how turtles mate, nest, and the trials and travails of hatchlings, you should be better prepared to breed them if that is your intent or at the very least, to provide a nesting box if you have any female turtles in your enclosure.

This is VITAL as she’ll still lay eggs, they just won’t be fertilized! Beyond this, don’t forget that brumation is not something you want to stimulate in your turtles unless you intend to breed them and if you do go that route, be sure that you’ve done your homework (and this might help!). 

We’d like to thank you for reading and as always, we wish you and your turtles (or the turtles you’ll be bringing home now that they’ve charmed you) the very best!

References/FYI

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