Have your adult box turtles recently laid eggs, and you’re not sure how to properly care for them?
Are you interested in breeding your box turtle?
It’s essential to understand the proper way to help your turtle care for her eggs.
Box Turtle Eggs: Everything You Need To Know
Box turtle eggs need a proper nest and protection from predators to ensure a safe incubation period. The mortality rate is high for hatchlings, and as a box turtle owner, it’s essential to do everything possible to avoid any issues.
If you feel overwhelmed, keep reading.
We’re going to go over everything you’ve ever wondered about box turtle eggs and how to care for them if you find yourself in the position to do so.
How Many Eggs Do Box Turtles Lay?
Female Eastern box turtles typically only lay about 4 or 5 eggs.
On rare occasions, they may lay up to 10 eggs.
On the other hand, ornate box turtles only lay 2-4 eggs.
The temperature during incubation will determine the sex of box turtle hatchlings.
If the temperature falls between 72-81° degrees Fahrenheit (27° C), the baby turtle will be male. Anything above 82° degrees Fahrenheit (28° C) will result in a female.
Box turtle eggs are white and oval with a thin, flexible shell.
Turtle eggs are very fragile and should be handled with extreme care.
Never shake the eggs.
How Long Does it Take for Box Turtle Eggs to Hatch?
The eggs will spend about 75-90 days in incubation before they begin hatching.
The time frame can vary based on soil and air temperatures.
If it seems like the eggs should have hatched but are still just sitting there, the soil may have hardened.
Merely watering the area should help things move along.
If you observe any eggs on top of the soil, these most likely will be infertile.
If you do not have a male and know your female has not mated, any eggs laid are not fertile.
Dispose of these properly.
They will remain in their nest cavity to absorb the yolk from the eggs.
Once the yolk sac is absorbed, the hatchlings will begin venturing off.
While hatchlings can arrive day or night, there is a higher survival rate if they hatch on a rainy night.
They naturally will begin looking for water.
Wild turtles typically spend their entire life within 250 yards of their original nesting place.
This is why it’s important to not “rescue” a wild turtle you find.
Box turtle populations are suffering because of this.
When people pick up a turtle and release it elsewhere, it is being removed from its environment.
The process has the potential to be fatal to a turtle.
If you see any animals on roads, leave them be.
Where Do Box Turtles Lay Their Eggs?
A wild box turtle will find a spot in direct sunlight with loose, moist soil.
The turtle will then dig a hole to build a nest.
A female ornate box turtle will lay her eggs underneath rocks or leaf litter before leaving and not returning.
Often, the box turtle hatchlings die because there is no adult turtle there to care for them.
If you suspect your female box turtle is getting ready to lay eggs or you are thinking of breeding, it’s crucial to have a proper setup for her.
Provide your female turtle with several hiding spots for her box turtle eggs.
Also, the enclosure should be facing south.
Box turtle females will find a sunny, humid spot to lay their eggs.
You should have a moist, sandy soil substrate at least 8-12″ inches (30 cm) deep.
On top, place rocks or large tree limbs.
How Do Box Turtles Lay Their Eggs?
When a female is ready, she will use her hindfoot to begin digging for a nest.
This is a good indicator your turtle is getting ready to lay eggs.
The hole she digs will be larger than the holes she would typically dig. She may begin walking unusually.
Also, she likely will appear restless.
Your female may not have her typical appetite as well.
Once she is finished digging her nest, she will get inside, lay her eggs, and then cover them with dirt, leaves, and mud.
It’s essential to provide multiple nesting sites because female turtles are known to be particular.
Don’t be surprised if your turtle is working on her nest for a long time.
The digging process can last for up to 8 hours.
You need to protect your turtle from predators.
A list of wildlife happy to feed on the eggs or a hatchling box turtle are skunks, raccoons, snakes, birds, and even ants.
We recommend setting up a few ant traps around your enclosure to keep the ants away.
There is an incredibly high mortality rate for turtles born in the wild because of these predators.
To keep them secure, cover the enclosure with chicken wire or hardware cloth.
When Do Eastern Box Turtles Lay Eggs?
Eastern box turtles (Terrapene Carolina Carolina) are a subspecies of the common box turtle and are native to the eastern part of the United States.
Female eastern box turtles typically have brown eyes and yellow markings.
Nesting season typically begins in June or July.
After hibernation, a female eastern box turtle will begin her quest to find an appropriate nest to lay her eggs in late spring.
Male box turtles come out hibernation, ready to mate.
They may even avoid eating just to be able to reproduce quickly.
A female eastern box turtle does not have to mate yearly to lay eggs.
They can hold sperm inside of them for four years.
A female box turtle does not reach sexual maturity until they are at least five years old.
Sometimes, it may take a whole decade.
It is not recommended to incubate the eggs yourself unless you are incredibly experienced.
It’s best to leave the process to a professional.
However, if you find yourself where you need to incubate them, it’s essential to understand them properly.
First, find an old butter or margarine tub to set up for your eggs.
Layer the bottom with moist vermiculite or peat moss and poke holes in the tub to allow water to drain.
You don’t want to bury the eggs.
Simply push an indentation into the soil and gently place them in the exact way you found them.
Don’t flip them over or turn them around.
You want to replicate exactly how the female left them.
Once you have the inside ready, poke holes in the lid and seal the tub shut.
You will need to place the tub in an incubator with a temperature of 80° degrees Fahrenheit (27° C).
To keep the soil moist, mist it every few days.
If taken care of properly, you should have hatchlings in just a few months!
When the hatchlings start to emerge out of their shells, avoid assisting them.
Box Turtle Health Concerns
If a female box turtle can not find an appropriate nesting spot, she will hold the eggs inside her, leading to dystocia.
If your turtle is acting strangely, this could be the cause.
Dystocia, which is referred to as egg binding, is brought on by several factors.
- Poor habitat
- Cannot find a proper nesting spot
- Eggs are too big
- Physical problems of the turtle’s reproductive tract
- Her cloaca is blocked
- The eggs are deformed
- Too sick or weak to lay the eggs
The condition is fatal if not treated properly.
It’s advised to take them to your reptile vet instead of attempting to treat the problem at home.
The vet will be able to take an x-ray to see exactly where the problem is.
If your turtle doesn’t lay the eggs within 2 days, the vet will have to extract them by hand.
He/She may use a needle to remove the egg or even cut through the plastron to remove them.
Another option for the vet is to induce labor.
It is often a tricky process because it can lead to the eggs being crushed.
It’s important for the eggs to be removed carefully, because any eggs broken inside of her can lead to an infection.
Deformed eggs cannot be removed by this method.
Should You Breed Box Turtles?
If you are deciding whether you should breed box turtles or not, it’s essential to understand the commitment it brings.
It’s essential to keep in mind all box turtles are not meant for breeding.
The mating process can cause stress to the animal, making them more susceptible to illness and even death.
You should not breed any related turtles together.
Inbreeding can cause genetic issues for future generations.
Do not breed your domestic box turtle with wild box turtles.
You do not know what type of diseases they may carry.
In addition, if your turtle is sick, it is advisable not to let them mate.
The eggs may cause internal damage to an ill female and potentially lead to death.
How to Breed Box Turtles
It’s best to only breed turtles part of the same species or subspecies.
Cross-breeding can lead to genetic abnormalities.
For example, a three-toed or eastern box turtle may be bred together.
You wouldn’t want to breed either of those species with eastern painted turtles.
Ensure you are providing your box turtle with an appropriate diet and provide plenty of minerals, vitamins, and calcium.
You must consider why you want to breed them.
You should not plan on releasing them into the wild once they hatch.
Many states do not allow this because there is a chance of spreading illness to other turtles.
After your turtle lays her eggs, it’s best to leave them be.
Female box turtles have maternal instincts and likely laid them in the best possible spot in their enclosure.
Knowing the Sex of Your Turtle for Breeding
If you have two box turtles and wonder if it’s time to begin the mating process, you may stop to wonder if you have a male and female.
While males typically are bigger than females, it shouldn’t be the only characteristic you look at.
The plastron of males is typically concave.
The concave plastron allows them to mount the female during the mating process.
Males usually have red eyes, while females have brown eyes.
A lot is told based on the markings on your turtle.
Males are often more colorful than females.
Females have longer rear claws to assist in digging a nest.
Their front claws are short and stubby.
Males, on the other hand, have longer front claws and short, thin rear claws.
Males use their long front claws to grab onto the female during mating.
They also come in handy if the male finds itself having to defend its territory.
Another characteristic to look for is the shape of their tails.
Males have thick, long tails. Females have short, skinny tails.
Providing a Proper Enclosure for Breeding
Some captive box turtles are particular in where they prefer to lay their eggs.
In this case, it’s recommended you build a nesting box.
If a female does not find a good nest for laying eggs, she will keep them inside, leading to major health issues.
Typically, a nesting box is more secure than a regular enclosure.
It can help prevent any eggs from breaking.
A nesting box can simply be made using a large container, top quality loose soil, a lid, and a mister.
Once you are finished assembling the nesting box, attach it to your turtle’s main enclosure.
Caring For Box Turtle Hatchlings
So, you have a few hatchlings, what now?
Your biggest job will be to protect them from the outside world.
As mentioned, predators would love to feast on hatchlings.
Hatchlings should be kept indoors for 10-12 months.
If you have ornate box turtle hatchlings, it’s best to separate them from one another.
They tend to get aggressive when it comes to feeding.
Keep your hatchlings in a tank holding at least 10 gallons.
The tank should have a moist substrate on the bottom, allowing the humidity levels to remain high.
You likely will need to mist it to help keep it moist.
With the use of a heat lamp, a turtle’s enclosure should be 80° degrees Fahrenheit (27° C) during the day and 75° degrees Fahrenheit (24° C) at night.
A proper UV light ensures the hatchlings are receiving an appropriate amount of vitamin D3, which is vital for bone and shell development.
Ensure your closure is secure to not permit any hatchlings from leaving or allowing any predators to come in.
What to Feed Hatchlings
If you have taken on the caregiver role for your hatchlings, you will need to provide them with an adequate diet.
Foods appropriate for hatchlings are dog kibble and worms.
Also, provide the babies with mineral supplements and vitamins.
Vitamin D, calcium, and protein will aid in bone and shell development.
While box turtles are omnivorous, hatchlings are carnivorous and should not be fed any vegetables or fruits.
To ensure the hatchlings are receiving proper medical care, it’s essential to have them visit a reptile vet.
So, you are now the proud parent of several little hatchlings, but you do not want to keep them all.
What should you do with them?
They won’t remain quarter-sized forever, so it’s essential to have a plan.
This is a question you should answer before you breed them.
While it seems like a fun idea, to begin with, you need to think through your decision ahead of time.
You want to avoid a situation where you have unwanted hatchlings.
Do not release them into the wild.
This should never be an option.
As mentioned previously, most states don’t allow this due to the chance of illness spreading.
If you know someone interested in adopting one of your turtles, this is ideal.
You know it will be going to a safe, responsible home.
If you post an ad for the turtles, be sure to have a screening process.
Ask for references and do as much research on the person as possible.
You shouldn’t blindly give the turtles away.
You never know what type of home they will end up in.
Find a turtle rescue group.
While they may not take the turtles off your hands, they can provide resources on how best to handle the situation.
Consider putting a small pond in your yard if you have space.
It will give the reptiles plenty of space to live happily.
If none of these options work for you, speak to your vet.
They should be able to assist you in finding a proper home.
We hope this article has been informative if you are thinking about breeding your turtle and caring for their eggs.
Caring for box turtle eggs is a complicated process, and you should do thorough research before deciding to mate your turtles.