The information in this section is not intended as a guide on breeding turtles but instead on how to raise baby turtles if one of your turtles happens to become pregnant and gives birth. Breeding turtles should be left to the professionals and breeders that have the resources to and legal means to find homes for all their hatchlings.
Box turtles come into to breeding age around 8 years old and aquatics around 5, when females are about 5-6 inches long. You should of course separate the males from the females before that time if you don’t want them breeding and having babies. If this is too late and you either have a pregnant female, a nest full of eggs or new hatchlings, this section will provide you with all the information you need to raise them properly.
Gravid Box Turtles and Tortoises
Gravid Aquatic Turtles
Aquatic turtles need a land area too for a place to lay their eggs. If eggs get laid in the water, they will drowned the unborn hatchlings. Furthermore, if the female aquatic turtle doesn’t have a suitable nesting area, she might hold in her eggs too long which can lead to pregnancy problems. The nesting substrate should be a loose sandy and moist but not wet soil. Once the eggs are deposited and buried, you should consider taking them out of your turtle tank and placing them into a separate tank for incubation.
Caring for Turtle Eggs
Place your turtle’s eggs half into the substrate (vermiculite) of your incubation tank (incubator) and let them be. Do not pick them up once they are in this tank. Doing so can damage the unborn turtles. Your incubation tank should be kept at constant temperature with the right amount of moisture. Eggs can dry up so it’s important to keep the humidity up around 70-80%. Box turtles should be kept in temps around 84*f (29*c), tortoises around 85-88*f (29.5*c-31.5*c) and aquatic turtles in the low 80s (28*c). The warmer the temperatures within those ranges will lead to females, while the lower temperatures will lead to males being born.
Depending on the species, the length of time it takes for their eggs to hatch will vary. Leopard tortoises can take over 200 days to hatch, 75-85 days for Mediterranean breeds, 60-100 days for box turtles and anywhere from two to eight months for aquatic turtles. Due to these long periods, it’s recommended to use a commercial incubator and not rely on a homemade tank.
When your turtle eggs begin to hatch, don’t disturb them and don’t assist them. Some hatchlings will get out quick and easy while other will take a day or longer. Some might even still have a yolk sac attached to their plastron. If the sac ruptures, the baby turtle could die; so again, let them be during this time.
Box Turtle Nursery
You can build a moist nursery or a wet nursery to house your baby box turtles (10 gallon tank for 3 to 4 hatchlings). The aquatic or semi aquatic species will do best in a wet nursery. This habitat should include a has a shallow layer of standing water (1.5-2 inches inches or 3.8-5cm) on one side of the tank and an elevated with sphagnum moss. Place a small piece of wood under one end of the tank to create a subtle incline. Finally, Add a small flat rock for basking (82*f – 28*c). As the turtles grow, you can increase the water depth. (Change the water daily)
For other box turtle species, create a moist nursery. this habitat should have a 2 inch (5cm) thick layer of rinsed moist cypress bark or coco peat and then a 3 inch (7.6cm) layer of sphagnum moss onto one side (mist often). On the other side, add a shallow saucer filled with water that sits level with the top of the sphagnum substrate. If the hatchlings don’t get into the their watering saucer, put them in yourself and allow them to soak daily. The tank should should have a temperature variation from 70-75*f (32-24*c).
Aquatic Turtle Hatcheries
Aquatic turtles can swim right away and need to be provided with a tank similar to that of your fully grown turtles. This tank just needs to be a miniature version.
Baby Tortoise Habitat
You can choose to keep your baby tortoises outdoors when the weather permits or inside in a turtle table. Similar to a baby aquatic turtle setup, a baby tortoise habitat just needs to be a smaller size version of your mature turtle’s living space.
Feeding Baby Turtles
Feed your babies every 1-2 days until they are about a year old. They likely won’t be hungry for the first few week until they use up their yolk. Many species are omnivore and eat both greens and animal proteins. Those that do eat protein, tend to eat a lot more when they are newborns and juveniles than when they are fully grown. See what your aquatic turtle eats or what your what your box turtle or tortoises eats. When feeding a tiny baby turtle, you need to offer it foods that it can get its mouth around. Things like blood worms and brine shrimp are great for baby aquatic turtles and chopped up worms, tiny live crickets or bit size pieces of squash are suitable for box turtles.
Reviewed By: Tim Winter
Tim Winter has a strong affection for pets and wildlife. His years of experience caring for various types of pets has led him to share his knowledge with others on the best practices in pet care. Tim holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communications.