How To Tell If A Turtle is Pregnant? Guide For Turtle Breeding

Jan 6, 2021

How to Tell if a Turtle is Pregnant?

As solitary animals, turtles are not known to be much expressive. Thus, finding out if a turtle is pregnant can be tricky for first-time owners. Luckily, they exhibit some obvious and subtle signs, which I’ll tell you all about. So, how to tell if a turtle is pregnant?

How To Tell If A Turtle Is Pregnant?

When a turtle is carrying eggs, she will display erratic behaviour different from her usual self. Basking and eating habits change drastically, and she’ll pace around and try to climb out. On the physical front, the stomach’s underside becomes plumper, and arms and legs may turn white on the inside.

Like in most cases, the best way to tell if a turtle is pregnant or not is by having an X-ray done through a professional. However, there are sure signs that you can look for yourself at home. So, let’s study them in detail.

Physical Changes In Pregnant Turtles 

The extent of physical signs varies with each turtle. However, you can gently touch the lower part of the carapace, where you will find slight bumps. Those bumps are eggs. Some owners also report that the arms and legs’ insides turn white, but this is not true for all turtles.

Trying to feel the carapace is complex because turtles dislike being handled.

To check yourself, gently pick up the turtle and hold her for some time. Using little to no pressure, feel the soft areas around the rear eggs—in the middle of carapace and plastron. If she is gravid, you will feel the ends and sides of the eggs.

However, if you don’t conduct properly, you may end up breaking the fragile eggs inside the belly—risking the mother turtle’s life in the process as well.

Therefore, if you’re not too sure about it, don’t try it yourself. Instead, go to a vet.

Behavioral Changes In Pregnant Turtles 

Alongside the physical signs, turtles display specific changes in behavior that might be difficult to read. Mood swings, such as aggression and stress, are quite common. The appetite fluctuates, and she’ll also want to bask for longer hours than usual. She’ll again often try to dig through the rocks and sand for nesting.

Stress during pregnancy is a common trait in all species, and turtles are no different. Several factors like physical pain, tank mates, insufficient diet, and lack of nesting space can cause the pressure during pregnancy. This feeling can channel into aggression and cause unsolicited fights in the tank if there are tank mates. And by chance, if you handle your turtle during this time, you might also get bitten.

A pregnant turtle will also want to bask more. Thus, she’ll spend extra hours every day under the sun or lamp to warm her body. However, some may even go without basking for several days in search of a suitable nesting spot.

In the early stages of pregnancy, the turtle will want to eat voraciously. That’s because she will need a higher amount of energy to adjust to new bodily changes. Around the end of the pregnancy, the appetite will drop significantly as she feels more tired physically.

She will also spend a considerable amount of time trying to find a nesting site, which distracts her from food needs. Some turtles also overeat when they’re pregnant, but it’s not a very common phenomenon.

In the quest for the right nesting zone, a turtle will try to go any length to dig holes. Attempt to climb over and swim through the glass. This behavior is quite normal but can also lead to frustration.

As an owner, it’s your responsibility to facilitate an appropriate nesting zone as much as possible.

Now that you know how to tell if a turtle is pregnant, there are some other accompanying facts that you should know.

Here’s a detailed video you might find helpful:

You might also like to read:

Do Baby Turtles Sleep A Lot? Is It Time To Wake Him Up?

How Long Can Baby Turtles Go Without Eating- Tips On Feeding A Baby Turtle

Why Does My Turtle Keep Trying To Escape? Tips On How To Solve This Headache

How To Help Your Turtle Lay Eggs?

There are two ways you can facilitate the egg-laying process, and both of them involve location and season. If you have a yard and it’s warm outside, you can make a suitable area out. If the weather’s cold and you don’t have a yard, it has to be indoors.

The Outdoor Method 

This is the most convenient and popular method. First, make sure the yard is secured so that the turtle doesn’t leave and stray away. If that’s not possible, you secure a part of the yard and keep your turtle there. Turtles usually prefer wet grounds.

Thus, to speed up the process, you can wet the ground before you let her out.

However, note that the ground doesn’t have any pesticide or insecticide in it. If that’s the case, it’ll seriously backfire.

The outdoors is ideal because it’s close to what turtles experience in nature, and you don’t have to worry much about cleaning up.

The Indoor Method 

For the indoor method, you will need at least three things:

  • A large plastic container
  • Sand
  • Organic potting soil

Take equal parts of sand and organic potting soil and fill about two-thirds of the container with the mixture. The box needs to be a big one. If not, the turtle will feel trapped and will postpone laying eggs.

And once again, avoid soil that contains any pesticides or fertilizers since they’re bad for turtles.

Once you put the mixture in the container, spray some water over the soil until it is a bit most. Next, partially cover the container with a lid. This way, the turtle will have both lit and dim spaces to choose from to lay eggs.

Before you place the turtle inside the container, ensure that the temperature isn’t too hot or too cold. Additionally, you need to guarantee a distraction-less environment. Once you transfer the turtle into the container, you’ll have to patiently wait for at least 2-3 hours for the entire process to be over.

Don’t peek and interact with her at this point, as it might intimidate her and delay the laying process.

The process takes 2-3 hours, but there’s no telling what the turtle prefers to give birth to. Thus, the best you can do is keep the container with the turtle in a well-lit and well-ventilated area. Some turtles love to lay eggs in the morning, while others prefer nighttime.

Do Female Turtles Produce Eggs When There Are No Males?

Like most reptiles, a female turtle produces eggs even when there are no males around to fertilize them. Thus, the eggs will be infertile and will not hatch. A female turtle’s body is not designed to reabsorb unfertilized eggs into their bodies like most amphibians.

If a female turtle fails to expel the eggs from her body, she can suffer from dystocia, also known as egg-bound. It’s a painful condition that can be fatal if not treated on time.

There are several reasons a female turtle can get egg bound.

What To Do With Turtle Eggs?

Based on your preference, you can either get rid of the eggs or incubate them. Of course, it also depends on whether the eggs are fertilized or not.

What To Do With Unfertilized Turtle Eggs?

Since no babies will pop out of the eggs, you can discard them. If you have a thing for turtle eggs, you can eat them as well. I haven’t tried it, but I have heard that it tastes similar to chicken eggs.

What To Do with Fertilized Turtle Eggs?

With fertilized turtle eggs, there are two options to choose from. You can either throw them away, as it’s understandable that not everyone has the time or wishes to care for turtle eggs.

If you wish to incubate them, there are a few steps that you need to follow to make sure the eggs hatch perfectly. You will need an incubator which you can make yourself or buy from the market.

Since the fragile eggs hatch in about 50 days, take proper care of them throughout the period. For starters, you need to ensure the eggs are clean at all times since they’re prone to mold formation. You will also have to be very careful about the incubator’s temperature, as it’s quite tricky to get it right.

How Does A Female Turtle Get Egg Bound?

Egg bound, also known as dystocia, is a condition where a female turtle struggles or females to expel eggs. The reasons behind it could vary from a lack of proper egg-laying site, inadequate diet, stress, and anatomical complications.

Lack of Oviposition Site 

Turtles are very particular in choosing an egg-laying site. They can be quite stubborn and postpone laying eggs until they completely agree on a position. This is the number one reason pet turtles suffer from dystocia.

Anatomical complications in either internal or external reproductive organs 

Sometimes, a turtle may struggle to expel an egg because of anatomical complications in its reproductive organs. Now the problem can be in either internal or external organs, but there’s no way we can find it out at home. If your turtle fails to expel eggs, immediately take her to the vet.

Improper diet

An improper diet can weaken your turtle’s immune system drastically, making her incapable of laying eggs. Especially, calcium deficiency will make her more prone to dystocia.

Stress

If your turtle is stressed, it will severely compromise her ability to expel eggs. Now the stress could be triggered by many reasons. It could be an overcrowded tank, wrong temperature and lighting, poor water parameters, and not-so accommodating tank mates.

How Do Turtles Mate?

Turtles mating
Turtles mating

The mating ritual may differ slightly depending on the turtle species. However, the basics are quite the same. The male will court a female by stroking her neck and head, and the receptive female will follow suit. Then, the male mounts on the female as their tales entwine to proceed with the intercourse.

At first, the courtship ritual commences when a male follows a female turtle, and they finally meet face-to-face. The male will usually start by stroking the female’s face and neck area using his front claws. If the female is receptive, she will return the favor.

In the wild, after several stroking sessions, the female will swim to the bottom of the water, which is a sign that she wants to mate. However, this might not be possible for pet turtles. So they’ll rule out this step.

The male then mounts the female from behind. As shells pose a problem, they must twist their tails together so that the mail turtle can enter his penis and pass semen into the female’s cloaca.

Depending on the turtle species and availability of water nearby, this step can be carried out either inland or in water.

What Are the Reproductive Organs In Male And Female Turtles?

All turtles have a body cavity called cloaca positioned around the base of the tail on the underside. This organ comprises both urinary and anal openings. In the male, a cloaca comprises a penis that’s capable of extending from the body. In females, it includes a track leading to ovaries.

Additionally, a male’s bottom shells have concave undersides to assist in copulation, while a female’s underside is convex or flat to offer more room for her eggs.

When Do Turtles Reach Sexual Maturity?

The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums has stated that male turtles reach maturity between 3 to 5 years, while females mature at 5-7 years since they’re bigger than their male counterparts.

However, once again, the age of maturity differs according to the species. For instance, red-ear slider males reach peak sexual maturity at 2-4 years, while females will about two years more.

On the other hand, male box turtles are at least five years old before they breed.

Conclusion On How To Tell If A Turtle Is Pregnant?

Since turtles aren’t best known for their communicative skills, sometimes, it can be confusing to tell if a turtle is pregnant or not. However, certain behavioral and physical signs give away the news.

A risky way to ascertain is feeling the lower part of the carapace where you will find small bumps. Well, those bumps are eggs. If you put too much pressure or mishandle it, you may break the eggs. Thus, you need to be very careful or completely steer clear if you’re not too sure.

The behavioral changes include unusual levels of stress and aggression, fluctuation in appetite, and antics like climbing the tank’s wall and digging through the substrate.

Recommended Readings:

How Fast Do Painted Turtles Grow – Vegetables To Grow Your Turtles Fast and Healthy

Can Turtles Get Fat—How To Lose Your Turtle’s Weight

What Can Turtles Eat From Human Food? Avoid These Food

rohit gurung author at urbanfishkeeping

About Rohit Gurung

My never-ending love and fascination with Aquascaping started when I received a red-eared turtle for my 10th birthday.

Apart from researching and writing, I spend hours gazing at my 3 turtles. And yeah, I bask alongside them too.