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How To Tell If A Turtle Is Pregnant


Have you noticed a change in your turtle’s appearance or behavior? You’ve made sure their tank is in perfect condition, and their food is nutritionally dense. So, what’s going on?

Could your turtle be pregnant? And, if so, how do you tell if it is? 

The best way to tell if your turtle is pregnant is to watch for behavioral changes first. Unfortunately, it’s tough to notice a pregnant turtle visually, so you’ll need to inspect its abdomen with your fingers for the presence of eggs. 

Realizing your pet is pregnant can be daunting. Suddenly you’re responsible for taking care of its pregnancy needs and helping it to deliver the eggs safely without jeopardizing your pet’s health. 

So, how do you figure out if your turtle’s pregnant, and how do you prepare for it? Luckily, this article will detail the best ways to identify pregnancy and how to care for your turtle throughout the gestation period to hatching. 

But first, it’s worth clarifying how a female turtle can become pregnant even if it’s never been near a male.

How Is Your Turtle Pregnant Without Mating?

Not only is it a shock to find out your turtle is pregnant, but it can also be a double shock to discover the pregnancy when your turtle hasn’t been near any males. 

So, can your turtle reproduce asexually (without a partner), or has a rogue male managed to find its way into your turtle’s tank?

Simply put, no. Turtles can’t produce fertilized eggs without a male. But healthy female turtles can still develop unfertilized eggs by themselves. 

Whether those eggs are fertilized or not, you’ll need to help your turtle deliver them safely.

How To Tell If Your Turtle is Pregnant

How to tell if your turtle is pregnant can be seen through behavioral and physical changes mentioned below.  

Behavioral Changes

The first thing to change in a pregnant turtle is its behavior which is why understanding its typical behavior is crucial. 

Pregnant turtles usually change their basking routine. For example, they might start basking all the time or not bask at all. So when you notice this change, it’s essential to check for sickness and improper light set-up before inspecting for eggs.

Pregnant females, whether captive or in the wild, will create a safe nest for their offspring. So, if you see yours digging in their basking platform or the garden, it’s mimicking its instinctual behavior to make a nest. 

Their eating habits can change throughout pregnancy as the eggs compete for space inside. So it’s worth talking with your vet if you suspect their eating behavior has changed because of pregnancy. 

A healthy diet is crucial for healthy eggs. So your vet might recommend adding supplements like calcium to support your turtle. 

And lastly, as the eggs develop further, your turtle will likely become restless. So it’ll be moving more and be unable to settle for long periods of time. 

Physical Changes

It’s challenging to see if your turtle is pregnant, so watching for behavioral changes first is key. 

To check if your turtle is carrying eggs, you’ll need to slide a finger under each side of the shell to examine its abdomen. 

To check for eggs:

  1. First, face your turtle away from you with its hindlegs closest to you.
  2. Then slide your index fingers under the shell, starting in front of its back legs.
  3. Make sure not to push your fingers into its stomach.
  4. If it’s pregnant, you should easily feel a slight pressure of the eggs on both sides pressing against your fingers. (Most females hold a couple of eggs per side)

But, if you’re still unsure of pregnancy, you can compare the female’s abdomen with a male’s (if you have one). If not, bring it to a vet to double-check. 

How To Tell If Your Tortoise Is Pregnant

With a pet tortoise, the changes in its behavior and appearance are slightly different from a turtle. 

Behavioral Changes

Pregnant tortoises typically become more aggressive during pregnancy. And it’s usually directed at other female tortoises or its owner. 

Along with turtles, tortoises will start to search for suitable spots within their enclosure to build a nest. So watch for this exploring behavior, especially when the tortoise is dipping its nose to the ground at the same time. 

This snout dipping is a tortoise’s way to test the ground for softness, richness, and texture when it comes time to bury their eggs. And expect several holes as it’s usually a trial and error for the mother to find the perfect spot. 

Like turtles, pregnant tortoises will usually start eating less the further along in the pregnancy. But, again, this is because of the competing eggs with limited space inside. 

Physical Changes

Similar to turtles, it’s almost impossible to notice if a tortoise is pregnant from afar. So you’ll need to check for eggs yourself to confirm.

Depending on the size and level of aggression, you may need help handling your pet.
To check for tortoise eggs:

1 – First, lift the tortoise to get good access to its plastron if needed.
2 – Next, move one of its back legs away from its body, exposing the inside of its abdomen. (Here, you may need help to prevent it from kicking at you).
3 – Then, using your hands, gently press around its lower stomach to feel for eggs. Your tortoise is probably pregnant if the area is firm and doesn’t have much give.

Again, if you’re unsure if it’s pregnant, bring your tortoise to the vet to confirm. 

How Long Is A Turtle Pregnancy?

The gestation period (how long the eggs stay inside the mother) is roughly the same for turtles and tortoises. 

For turtles, the gestation period for fertilized eggs usually lasts between 3-6 weeks. And for tortoises, this extends slightly to 8-10 weeks.  

Because there’s no set time for how long a female will gestate, it’s best to be prepared for delivery once you first notice the pregnancy.

How To Prepare For Your Turtle Laying Eggs

When it gets near egg-laying time, it’s normal to want to help your pet as much as possible. 

Luckily, there are two places you can prepare for your turtle to lay eggs – outdoors or indoors. 

Laying Eggs Outdoors

Letting your turtle lay its eggs outdoors is the simplest and easiest way to help your turtle. As mentioned above, turtles and tortoises usually dig around to find the perfect spot for their eggs

All you need to do is secure the area where your turtle will lay its eggs. And make sure no predators can get in, or your turtle can escape. 

Then you can leave your pet to lay its eggs in its own time with regular monitoring.

But if the weather is too cold or you lack outdoor space, you can let your turtle safely lay its eggs indoors. 

Laying Eggs Indoors

To lay eggs indoors, there are three things you’ll need for your turtle:

  • Big plastic container with lid,
  • Sand,
  • And potting soil.

The steps for setting up the laying area:

  1. Mix the soil and sand with a bit of water to get the ideal substrate for your turtle.
  2. Then, partially cover the container, so your turtle has a dimmer section to lay its eggs in. 
  3. Place the container in a naturally well-lit room, away from other people and animals. And make sure the room is at a comfortable temperature before moving your turtle.

It can take 2-3 hours for a turtle to lay all its eggs, so it’s best to leave it in the container and regularly check on the progress.

How To Keep The Eggs Safe

Once the eggs are laid, they’ll need to incubate before they are ready to hatch. 

How long the eggs will incubate will depend on the species. Typically, a turtle’s clutch of eggs will incubate for around two months before hatching. 

Sometimes it can take a few days or weeks more for some eggs to hatch than others. 

So, to help keep the eggs safe during incubation, either buy an incubator or make one to house them as they develop. 

What To Do If Eggs Are Unfertilized

If your female turtle had no access to a male, the eggs would be unfertilized. So when your turtle lays them, you can do a few things, including:

  • Throwing them away.
  • Leaving them for your turtle to eat.
  • Using them in your garden. 

Egg shells are a fantastic source of calcium, while the yolk is full of fat and protein. All of which are crucial for your turtle’s health. And you can even eat them just like you would with chicken eggs.

And because of that calcium, eggshells make excellent fertilizer for your garden. Calcium helps regulate soil acidity while providing nutrients to your plants. 

Finally

Discovering your turtle is pregnant can be a surprise, especially if it’s had no contact with males. 

Whether the eggs are fertilized or not, it’s essential to help your turtle lay them. And adequately care for them afterward.

Understandably, fertilized eggs require more attention, and you should talk to your vet for help. But if the eggs are unfertilized, they can make an excellent snack for you, your pet, or your plants.