Do you think your box turtle is pregnant?
How will you be able to tell if your pet is about to lay eggs?
You aren’t sure, but you think your turtle may need to lay eggs.
How do you care for your turtle while she’s pregnant?
A turtle who needs to lay eggs will need a little extra care.
Even if you are not a turtle breeder, she will need to lay eggs.
Not laying eggs has the potential to cause serious health problems.
With the right knowledge, you will be able to help her lay her eggs successfully and take care of eggs if they’ve been fertilized.
How To Tell If A Box Turtle Is Pregnant
A female turtle is usually pregnant for a couple of months before laying her eggs in the wild. Mating season happens after turtles awake from their fall and winter brumation, around March or April, with egg-laying from May through July.
The correct term for a pregnant reptile is gravid.
However, these terms are often used interchangeably.
In specific warm environments, a turtle may lay eggs twice or more in a season.
It is also not certain a turtle will lay eggs every time she mates.
She can store sperm in her system for up to four years, just in case she doesn’t encounter a male for a while.
A captive female in contact with males may get pregnant in any season.
Being indoors confuses turtles, as there are no environmental changes to signal their normal life cycle stages in the wild.
If you know your female turtle is in no contact with males, she may still need to lay infertile eggs, since all healthy adult females do.
Can I See If My Turtle Is Gravid?
There are not usually many physical signs a turtle is gravid.
Halfway through her pregnancy, you may see or feel bumps in the bottom of her shell, also called her plastron.
If feeling your turtle’s plastron with a finger for eggs, be extremely gentle.
Have your vet do this if you do not feel comfortable with it.
Any broken eggs inside her body may lead to yolk peritonitis, which could be fatal for her.
Signs Your Box Turtle Needs To Lay Eggs
Most signs your turtle is gravid or needs to lay infertile eggs are behavioral, not visual or physical.
If your turtle is trying frantically to escape her enclosure, it might be due to poor water quality.
However, it could also be a sign she wants to lay eggs.
Check the water chemistry first to rule it out as a cause.
This escaping could be from an above-basking area in her enclosure.
Also, her basking habits may change while she’s in an egg-laying state.
Gravid or egg-laying females usually lose their appetites.
They are using their energy to search for a place to nest, not for food.
Less often, a gravid turtle will have an increased appetite.
The surest sign is if your turtle is digging holes in her substrate with her hind legs.
Normal burrowing to thermoregulate or hide is done with the front legs.
Digging a hole with her hind legs and backing into the hole is clear nesting behavior.
A gravid turtle will also put more effort into a nest than she would a burrow, sometimes packing down the dirt and creating a smooth flat chamber.
Once you have confirmed pregnancy or the need for egg-laying, you need to take it seriously and take the next steps.
What Do I Do If My Box Turtle Is Gravid?
Keep in mind these instructions are general.
You may want to research the specifics if you have a less common variety of box turtles.
Separate the gravid female into her enclosure.
If possible, giving your pregnant turtle an outdoor egg-laying enclosure is the best for her and the eggs.
A good rule of thumb for providing enough space is at least 5 times the length and width of an individual turtle.
Make sure multiple areas of her enclosure have at least 8″ inches (20 cm) of dirt and play sand mixture.
This will help her choose the best possible place for a hole to lay her eggs.
If an outdoor enclosure is not practical for your situation, set up a separate indoor egg-laying box.
Many experienced turtle keepers have used tall plastic storage tubs with lids for this purpose.
Put a layer of at least 8″ inches (20 cm) of non-treated organic soil, mixed with undyed play sand, if you so desire, in the box.
We recommend warming the dirt and sand mixture before putting it in the container you’re using.
Mist the top of the substrate layer with water to facilitate enough moisture.
Depending on the turtle species you own, they may lay their eggs either by day or by night.
If you are using a storage tub with a lid, cover it partially or fully to simulate twilight or nighttime.
If your turtle would lay eggs during the day, set up a basking lamp.
It is a great idea to mimic as closely as possible the conditions where and when your turtle would lay her eggs in the wild.
Put the turtle in the nesting box.
Leave her alone for no more than three hours.
Put her back in her solitary habitat and dig gently in the soil to search for eggs.
If you don’t find them, wait for your turtle to show more signs of wanting to lay eggs before putting her back in the box again.
If you find the eggs, and you know they aren’t fertilized, throw them away.
Observe your turtle to make sure she doesn’t have to lay more eggs.
What If She Doesn’t Lay Eggs?
If you’re thinking it’s not a big deal if your turtle doesn’t lay her eggs, you couldn’t be more wrong.
Even if they aren’t fertilized, your turtle needs to get her eggs out of her body.
Do not ignore her signs.
Even if you know these eggs won’t hatch into baby turtles, keeping eggs in her body may kill your turtle.
If her eggs aren’t fertilized, a turtle may lay them in water or above ground instead of digging a hole.
This will be the case for your captive female if she hasn’t been in contact with any males.
Unlike other animals, a turtle cannot reabsorb unfertilized eggs back into her body.
If she has eggs inside her but isn’t laying them, this is a condition called being egg bound, or dystocia.
There are a few possible reasons for dystocia.
The most common reason is she does not have an appropriate place to lay her eggs.
Mother turtles are especially picky about where they dig their nest holes.
She may also be experiencing stress from something in her environment or an improper diet.
Inadequate amounts of calcium will mean her eggshells are not thick enough to survive.
In rare cases, egg binding may be a result of an anatomical issue.
If your turtle is struggling to lay her eggs, put her in a warm water bath for 30 minutes.
This may help relax and hydrate her.
Once she is done and dried off, put her back in the egg-laying box.
If your turtle doesn’t lay her eggs after a few days, contact your veterinarian.
The seriousness of dystocia means she may need to give your pet medication to induce egg-laying.
If those don’t work, your vet may have to perform surgery to remove the eggs.
How To Take Care Of Fertilized Box Turtle Eggs
If you have intentionally or unintentionally let your female box turtle mate with a male, you will need to take care of the eggs once they are laid.
If your turtle laid her eggs outdoors, protect the nest with wire mesh.
As long as you have set up her egg-laying enclosure right, she has already picked the best spot for her eggs to survive through her instinct.
As long as the temperature outside stays consistent for the months of incubation, you should not need to move them until they’ve hatched.
If your mother turtle laid her eggs in her indoor laying box, either move them into an incubator or keep the box at the appropriate incubation temperature.
If using an incubator or a heat lamp, put the eggs into a container with some drainage at the bottom.
Add a layer of soil with vermiculite, which is excellent for retaining moisture, before adding the eggs.
Mist the eggs and vermiculite regularly to maintain moisture.
Either way, you do not need to keep the mother with her eggs.
In the wild, she would lay her eggs and then leave them.
Return her to her normal habitat and offer her food.
She should regain her appetite after laying her eggs.
Box turtle eggs take around 70-90 days to incubate.
The temperature at which you incubate them will determine their sex at hatching.
This is a phenomenon called temperature-dependent sex determination.
Around 84° degrees Fahrenheit (29° C) is ideal for a 50-50 chance of male or female hatchlings.
High in the appropriate range, around 88° degrees Fahrenheit (31° C), will result in all-female hatchlings.
Low in the appropriate range, around 72° degrees Fahrenheit (22° C), will result in all-male hatchlings.
How To Take Care Of Box Turtle Hatchlings
Once they have hatched, keep baby box turtles in an indoor enclosure for their first year.
Since their shells are still soft, they are especially vulnerable to attacks from outdoor predators like raccoons and opossums at this stage.
An attack from fire ants in their enclosure could be devastating as well.
Hatchlings are sustained for the first few weeks outside the egg on the nutrients from their yolk sacs, which also nourished them inside their eggs.
Offer live foods, which attract their attention through movement.
Baby turtles have higher protein needs than adults at this stage.
They need extra feedings of protein and to be fed once a day in order to grow.
You should still offer vegetables to them at every feeding.
Once they are finished eating, remove the food plates and any leftovers.
Heat needs and sunlight needs remain the same for babies as adults.
If you cannot get your turtles outside once a week under supervision for their sunshine, a UVA or UVB lamp will provide what they need.
Make sure there are plenty of hides in their environment and a fresh source of water.
Mist their substrate regularly with water to preserve moisture and humidity.
Look for a substrate, which will retain moisture and will not harm a baby box turtle if it ingests it.
Mosses make a good substrate for hatchlings.
Clean their enclosure 1-2 times a month, more frequently if there are multiple hatchlings in the same environment.
Keep their water bowl clean, as they may defecate in it.
Keeping hatchling box turtles alive and well takes a lot of attention and care.
If you are willing to commit to it, make sure you do your research.
Make sure you also have adequate places for them after they are grown, either with you or with trustworthy pet keepers.
Though they are often sold to children, box turtles are not considered a suitable pet for them or those inexperienced in reptile care.
The signs your turtle needs to lay eggs will most likely be behavioral, not physical.
If you are keeping her indoors, this may happen anytime throughout the year, not just in the typical summer egg-laying season.
Setting up her egg-laying box or enclosure should help her through the process.
Making sure your turtle lays her eggs is the most critical part of this process.
Dystocia is severe and may result in death if untreated.