Popeye and Pinto Bean’s incubation process was taken care of by good old Mother Nature. Primarily because I never knew Beans had laid their eggs! That being said, Mother Nature usually knows best. But eggs can’t always be left where they were laid, and artificial incubation is often necessary.
Five or six years ago, a Florida box turtle mama wandered into our front yard, dug a nest, and laid three perfect little eggs. We didn’t feel comfortable leaving the eggs where they were for several factors, but namely our dogs that might have dug them up, no shortage of wild raccoons and other critters that might have dug them up, and a big one in Florida — fire ants.
We weighed our options as to what we should do for the eggs. We could cover the nest with chicken wire, but this would provide no protection at all from fire ants. Or we could excavate them and incubate them ourselves.
We aren’t reptile breeders, so we didn’t have an egg incubator. That’s okay! If you do want to invest in an incubator, a still-air Hova Bator is suggested for box turtle eggs. These can be purchased online for $50 – $60 (see link at the end of this post). If you aren’t interested in paying for an incubator, it’s really easy to set something up. A small plastic bin or a large tupperware filled with soft sphagnum moss, some mulch, leaf litter, and dirt from the nest works well. This mixture will hold moisture well, which is very important for box turtle eggs. Make sure your dirt mixture is nice and moist.
As far as keeping it warm, you can use a simple clamp lamp with a 60 watt incandescent bulb. Incandescent bulbs actually aren’t ‘eco-friendly’ enough anymore, because they waste too much energy by creating heat (the heat is why you need an incandescent bulb, NOT a curly bulb, LED, etc). If you can’t find a good incandescent bulb, you’ll have to buy a reptile heating bulb.
Set up your thermometer and keep an eye on the temperatures — move the lamp closer or further away depending on what your temperatures are.
When incubating box turtle eggs, conditions should be kept moist and warm. Temperatures shouldn’t dip below mid 70s, and shouldn’t be above 90 degrees. In nature, temperatures obviously fluctuate, so it’s okay if your temperatures don’t always stay the same. You should definitely get a thermometer to keep in your ‘incubator’ to make sure your eggs don’t get too hot or too cold.
You should also get a hygrometer, to measure humidity. Your humidity should stay between about 80% to 90%. If you notice any of the eggs start to get a small dent, make it a bit more humid (add moisture).
Keeping the lid on your container (sitting on top, not actually closed) will help keep warmth and moisture in. It will also keep your heat lamp from making the eggs too hot.
We dug up the little eggs from our front yard and meticulously transferred them — without turning them — to a plastic container with damp mulch, dirt, and moss. Each egg was laid down just exactly how it had been found. This is important when working with reptile eggs — they are not like bird eggs. Bird eggs can be moved, and need to be rotated. However, for turtles, their embryos attach to the top of the egg (usually within the first 24 hours after being laid), and if the egg is rotated or jostled, it can disconnect the embryo and kill it.
Box turtle eggs can incubate anywhere from about 50 to 120 days, so be patient! Warmer temperatures will usually have faster hatch times.
A couple months after we dug up our three little eggs, out came three perfect little hatchlings! We got lucky in having all of our eggs hatch perfectly — many clutches have at least one egg that doesn’t make it, especially with artificial incubation.
When the babies are first emerging, it’s very important to leave them alone. They begin ‘piping’ out of their shells, cutting the shell open with the egg tooth on the tip of the nose. This can take a few days, and is very exhausting for the little babies. During this time, they’re using up more of their yolk sacs. Don’t ‘help’ them out of their eggs. And when they are out of their eggs, if they still have a yolk sac attached to the plastron (bottom of the shell) be very careful not to touch it. If it is broken, the turtle can die very easily.
Our little babies were wild, and we just incubated them to save them from being eaten as eggs. So, once everyone was hatched, we released them back to where they belonged!
For more advice on hatchling care, once they’re out of the eggs, read other entries from my blog about Popeye and Pinto Bean!
Links related to this post:
- A still air (or thermal air) Hova Bator is suggested if you’re going to purchase an incubator. These run about $50 to $60
Still air Hova Bator on Amazon
- Sphagnum moss is a great substrate for incubating eggs, and for the little hatchlings. It is soft, and holds moisture very well. Some local pet stores carry it (depending on local demand), and it is readily available online.
Zoo Med Sphagnum moss on Amazon
- It’s very important to have both a thermometer and hygrometer to make sure temperatures and humidity levels are good. You can get one of each, or there are many combined units available at pet stores and online
Analogue dual thermometer and hygrometer
- Not sure what a ‘clamp lamp’ is? They’re cheap, and available at your hardware store, or even Walmart
- Here’s a website with some good information on how to cover a nest, if you don’t want to incubate it yourself (and this is the best option if the eggs aren’t in danger of fire ants, etc!)
- Chelonia.org has a great article about emergency incubation. You should definitely check it out if you still have any questions about incubating box turtle eggs