Mating and Egg Laying

Box turtle mating, like many other turtle/tortoise species, appears to be a violent affair. The male harasses the female by biting, circling and shoving her into submission. The male will then mount her from behind and place his legs between the posterior pastoral hinge (see picture in photos and videos) forcing continued access. The entire process will take several hours. The female may continue to forage and drag the male around!

After mating occurs, eggs will be laid in 2-3 weeks. The female chooses an adequate spot (some will test many spots before deciding on one) and with her hind legs digs a hole and deposits her eggs. After covering and tamping down the earth she leaves. The process takes 2-4 hours. No after care is performed.

After the gal lays her eggs I dig them up being careful not to rupture any. Box turtle eggs are different than most tortoise eggs because they have a softer shell similar to a snake egg. After laying, I move them into the egg container for placement into the incubator. Many, many incubators and techniques exist for box turtles eggs. You may have to try several to find one that works for you.

Whatever method you decide, never turn or roll the egg! The embryo will attach itself to the side of the shell. If they are turned or jostled the embryo will detach and perish. After 2-3 weeks the egg shell will turn a different shade white, called ‘chalking.’ This is the result of the embryo attaching and starting to absorb calcium from the shell. Around this time blood vessels can be seen by carefully candling the egg. A small flashlight, dark room and gently place the light on the egg should be all it takes.

The turtle will pip, or break the shell, in 60-90 days. After pipping the turtle will stay in the egg until the yolk sac is absorbed. The yolk sac is usually the size of a pencil eraser. This may take 24-36 hours. Don’t touch the turtle or egg during this time! If the yolk is ruptured, it will result in death. The yolk sac will sustain the baby for 3 to 6 weeks.

After complete emergence from the egg I move them into the nursery. The nursery is an incubator at the same temperature and humidity as hatching but instead of a closed container I use an open container with damp Sphagnum Moss. I keep them there until the yolk is absorbed.

After a week or so they are moved into what will be their accommodations until they are big enough to go outside. I use moist nursery (Cook) method with much success. Remember, hatchling turtles are incredibly fragile for the first few years of their lives. They can dry out easily; moisture is imperative! Additionally their shells don’t harden for a few years. Hatchlings bury themselves the majority of the time to avoid predators and stay hydrated.