How To Incubate Eggs And Start Hatchlings

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The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Jan 9, 2010
Location (City and/or State)
Southern California
I put my eggs in a plastic shoe box with a lid on it and put the shoe box in the incubator. You can drill a couple of very small holes around the top of the container, but not on the lid. I use vermiculite as an incubation media. I mix it in a 1 : 1 ratio with water by weight for Sulcatas and Leopards, but some species, like Russians, might need it drier I put my empty shoe box on a scale and set the "tare" weight. Then I add as much vermiculite as I want in there and record the weight. For example; 300 grams of vermiculite. Then I set an empty cup on the scale and reset the tare weight again. 300 grams of vermiculite means I need 300 grams of water. I mix in the correct weight of water and let it all set up and get absorbed. There is no hurry to get the eggs out of the ground. They can sit underground for months and in fact, I get better hatch rates if I leave them in the ground for a while. This will allow you to hatch them all at the same time, if you wish, by digging them all up and starting incubation on all the eggs at the same time instead of digging up each nest as it is laid. In any case leave the eggs in the ground until your incubator is up and running and stable with the empty incubator boxes in it.

Next thing: You have to know that sulcata eggs hatch in about 90-95 days at 88-89 degrees. Leopard eggs take a little longer. Russian eggs hatch sooner. It varies by species. When I see the first pip, I add a little water around the edge of the incubation shoe box, but not directly on the eggs, and I bump up the humidity. This helps the babies hatch and simulates the rain that induces them to hatch and eventually dig up and out of their wild nests. It can take 2 hours or two days for them to "hatch". Its a process, not an event. When they leave their egg on their own power...

... I immediately rinse them and put them into some warm shallow soaking water while I prepare their brooder box. The brooded box is the same thing as the incubation box. Just a plastic shoe box with a couple of tiny holes drilled in it around the top. Come to think of it, I also use these shoe boxes as their soaking tubs initially. Anyhow, I line the bottom of a clean shoe box with two plain white paper towels. No prints or scents and they've got to lay flat, so fold or cut as needed. I use those half-sheets since they fold in two and fit my shoe boxes perfectly. I spray the towel with a handheld water sprayer just enough to make them damp, but not wet. Then I rinse the eggshell just enough to get any vermiculite off of it and I put that and some greens in the center of the brooder box. Put the soaked, vermiculite-free baby in this brooder box, put the lid on, and put the brooder box back in the incubator or somewhere similarly warm. I prefer 4-5 babies per box, but you can go up to 6. 7 is getting too crowded. Do NOT be in a hurry to get the babies out of the brooder box. They usually take 7-10 days to absorb their yolk sac and close up their umbilical scar. In the wild they might stay down in the nest for weeks. There is NO rush to get them out. During this time you should be introducing all sorts of new foods to them. I feed them something different everyday. They start slow at first, but after a few days, they usually begin chowing down. THIS stage is where they learn what is food. Make the most of this stage by introducing freshly sprouted grass clippings (for grass eating species), leaves, weeds, flowers, tender young spineless opuntia pads and anything good you can get your hands on. The more the better. Do not let them run out of food, or they will starting eating the paper towels.

When the yolk sac is fully absorbed and the umbilical scar closed, they are ready for their first "real" enclosure. This should be a closed chamber that has already been running, checked and re-checked for proper temps and humidity. Babies are very hardy if started this way, but babies have a much smaller margin of error than older ones. They don't have time for people to figure things out. Take that 7-10 days of them in the brooder box to set up the baby enclosure and get everything perfect BEFORE moving the new babies into it. Let it run day and night and make the needed adjustments to get things just right.

Tortoise tables are not good for babies unless the entire room is warm and humid 24/7.

Leaving babies outside all day is not good for them, no matter where you live. Babies thrive with the stability of being indoors and short daily excursions to the great outdoors in a safe enclosure during fair weather, followed by their daily soak on the way back in. Yes. Soak babies every day for at least the first few months. Its certainly not the end of the world if you skip one day on a 85 gram ten week old sulcata baby, but try to do it daily.

Babies should NOT be left on their substrate in the incubator while absorbing their yolk sacs. Contrary to popular opinion they DO eat while they have a yolk sac, and if left on the incubation media, they will eat large amounts of it. Even with my methods, when I see their first poop in two or three weeks (that's how long it takes..) there are some flecks of vermiculite in their first bowel movements. Can you imagine how much they would eat if left in their for days or weeks? No bueno! For this reason, I am of the opinion that Perlite should NEVER be used to incubate tortoise eggs. That stuff can literally kill an otherwise healthy baby, but it won't kill them until weeks or months later. I speak from experience here.

Follow these steps and you will have healthy, well started babies, that won't die weeks or months down the road.
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