super thick, hard eggs.

Heather B

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Hello, I have owned a pair of Redfoot torts for over ten years. I am unsure of the sex of them, however, as least one of them must be female. Over the past two years I have found a number of eggs in their enclosures (outdoor in summer, indoor in winter as we live in northern Ohio). We tried at first to incubate the first few, but they all proved to be infertile. The eggs are becoming increasingly thick and very hard; so hard in fact that no baby tort could ever break through if they happen to be fertile. Just last night I found another egg in the enclosure that was obviously very, very hard. I broke it open (with considerable effort) and was shocked to see just how thick the shell was formed. What could be causing this and is it dangerous to my torts? Egg bound like a chicken could get? Would appreciate advice. Just as an aside, I soaked them separately in a bath of warm water recently. I do not do it often - maybe I should?
 

turtlesteve

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Retaining eggs for this long and then laying them above ground indicates the female never has suitable conditions to lay the eggs. I have a friend whose star tortoise is retaining eggs and he was warned she may need surgery (yet to be determined) at a cost of several thousand dollars. He’s got a very good vet who told him tortoises should NEVER lay eggs above ground; it means the female was extremely unhappy.

The most probable culprits are inadequate climate/temps, and stress. It could be that the enclosure substrate is not suitable, or is too cold. They will probably never nest outdoors in OH, the ground is always too cold (that is usually the case here in SC). My female nests indoors in a large area of 10-12” deep dirt, directly under a heat lamp.

The other potential problem is stress caused by being housed with the other tortoise at all times, especially if it’s a male-female pair (they do NOT want company especially when looking to lay eggs).

My suggestion is to figure out if you have two females or a male female pair (post pictures of them upside down and we can probably tell you). Then I’d have the female(s) x-rayed to see what else is in there. If there are eggs and no other complications, the female(s) should stay in your indoor enclosure with a deep nesting box with a heat lamp over it (get the soil surface to at least 85 degrees F). The other tortoise should be removed to a separate enclosure to give the female privacy so she can nest.
 
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Heather B

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Retaining eggs for this long and then laying them above ground indicates the female never has suitable conditions to lay the eggs. I have a friend whose star tortoise is retaining eggs and he was warned she may need surgery (yet to be determined) at a cost of several thousand dollars. He’s got a very good vet who told him tortoises should NEVER lay eggs above ground; it means the female was extremely unhappy.

The most probable culprits are inadequate climate/temps, and stress. It could be that the enclosure substrate is not suitable, or is too cold. They will probably never nest outdoors in OH, the ground is always too cold (that is usually the case here in SC). My female nests indoors in a large area of 10-12” deep dirt, directly under a heat lamp.

The other potential problem is stress caused by being housed with the other tortoise at all times, especially if it’s a male-female pair (they do NOT want company especially when looking to lay eggs).

My suggestion is to figure out if you have two females or a male female pair (post pictures of them upside down and we can probably tell you). Then I’d have the female(s) x-rayed to see what else is in there. If there are eggs and no other complications, the female(s) should stay in your indoor enclosure with a deep nesting box with a heat lamp over it (get the soil surface to at least 85 degrees F). The other tortoise should be removed to a separate enclosure to give the female privacy so she can nest.
20220209 082705 20220209 082745
Thank you very much for your kind attention to my problem. Here are the two carapace photos. I know that their substrate is very shallow in their indoor enclosure, which now seems to be at least one of the problems.
 

turtlesteve

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It looks like two females to me. It's hard to see the tail on the 2nd one but it looks pretty short and stubby. Males have long tails that they keep tucked to one side. So, I think it could be either one of them.

Unfortunately if people want "pet" tortoises it's usually better to just have one, and have it be a male, for this reason. Adult females must be provided the conditions to dig nests even if no males are around, because they'll sometimes decide to lay infertile eggs. The options I see are:

1. Take both to the vet for x-rays and see what's going on, and make sure there are no complications. Then if one has eggs still, make sure she has a good indoor nesting area and solitude (put the other female in a different enclosure). In the long run consider either housing them separate permanently, or getting a third adult redfoot and keep a group of three (the social dynamics in a group of 3 will lead to much less stress than a pair).

2. If you don't want to x-ray them immediately, you need to provide a nesting area indoors with a heat lamp and hope for the best. It would be better to have two enclosures and a nest box in each, since we don't know which one has been trying to lay and it could be both. If you opt for this, be on the lookout for any sign of illness (lethargy, discharge from the front or back, etc.) and get to a vet IMMEDIATELY - if a retained egg binds or gets infected it is often lethal.

For a nesting area you want something at least 2x3 feet in size and 10-12" deep. Plastic storage bins work great but if you have a large area with a concrete floor etc. you might be able to just pile a lot of dirt in a corner on a tarp or something. Put the nest area in a corner of the enclosure so it's up against two walls. Fill it up with regular dirt from outside somewhere and keep the dirt slightly moist. If it's a bin you'll need to create ramps for the two exposed sides so the tortoise can climb in and out easily. Finally put a heat lamp over it, maybe 2 feet above the soil, to keep the soil surface at least 85-90 degrees there. It's OK if the heat lamp is only on during the day, it can be a regular high wattage incandescent bulb or a mercury vapor bulb. If you want her to nest the air temperature in the enclosure (or the room if it's an open top enclosure) must be warm - 70-75 degrees at night and 75-80 during the day.

Over time you'll need to learn to recognize signs that a female wants to nest - usually restlessness, reduced appetite, and sometimes they will walk around and sniff the ground a lot. Once you see this behavior it's your cue to make sure she has a comfortable place to lay...

Do you have pics of your indoor enclosure for them?

Steve
 

Heather B

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It looks like two females to me. It's hard to see the tail on the 2nd one but it looks pretty short and stubby. Males have long tails that they keep tucked to one side. So, I think it could be either one of them.

Unfortunately if people want "pet" tortoises it's usually better to just have one, and have it be a male, for this reason. Adult females must be provided the conditions to dig nests even if no males are around, because they'll sometimes decide to lay infertile eggs. The options I see are:

1. Take both to the vet for x-rays and see what's going on, and make sure there are no complications. Then if one has eggs still, make sure she has a good indoor nesting area and solitude (put the other female in a different enclosure). In the long run consider either housing them separate permanently, or getting a third adult redfoot and keep a group of three (the social dynamics in a group of 3 will lead to much less stress than a pair).

2. If you don't want to x-ray them immediately, you need to provide a nesting area indoors with a heat lamp and hope for the best. It would be better to have two enclosures and a nest box in each, since we don't know which one has been trying to lay and it could be both. If you opt for this, be on the lookout for any sign of illness (lethargy, discharge from the front or back, etc.) and get to a vet IMMEDIATELY - if a retained egg binds or gets infected it is often lethal.

For a nesting area you want something at least 2x3 feet in size and 10-12" deep. Plastic storage bins work great but if you have a large area with a concrete floor etc. you might be able to just pile a lot of dirt in a corner on a tarp or something. Put the nest area in a corner of the enclosure so it's up against two walls. Fill it up with regular dirt from outside somewhere and keep the dirt slightly moist. If it's a bin you'll need to create ramps for the two exposed sides so the tortoise can climb in and out easily. Finally put a heat lamp over it, maybe 2 feet above the soil, to keep the soil surface at least 85-90 degrees there. It's OK if the heat lamp is only on during the day, it can be a regular high wattage incandescent bulb or a mercury vapor bulb. If you want her to nest the air temperature in the enclosure (or the room if it's an open top enclosure) must be warm - 70-75 degrees at night and 75-80 during the day.

Over time you'll need to learn to recognize signs that a female wants to nest - usually restlessness, reduced appetite, and sometimes they will walk around and sniff the ground a lot. Once you see this behavior it's your cue to make sure she has a comfortable place to lay...

Do you have pics of your indoor enclosure for them?

Steve
It looks like two females to me. It's hard to see the tail on the 2nd one but it looks pretty short and stubby. Males have long tails that they keep tucked to one side. So, I think it could be either one of them.

Unfortunately if people want "pet" tortoises it's usually better to just have one, and have it be a male, for this reason. Adult females must be provided the conditions to dig nests even if no males are around, because they'll sometimes decide to lay infertile eggs. The options I see are:

1. Take both to the vet for x-rays and see what's going on, and make sure there are no complications. Then if one has eggs still, make sure she has a good indoor nesting area and solitude (put the other female in a different enclosure). In the long run consider either housing them separate permanently, or getting a third adult redfoot and keep a group of three (the social dynamics in a group of 3 will lead to much less stress than a pair).

2. If you don't want to x-ray them immediately, you need to provide a nesting area indoors with a heat lamp and hope for the best. It would be better to have two enclosures and a nest box in each, since we don't know which one has been trying to lay and it could be both. If you opt for this, be on the lookout for any sign of illness (lethargy, discharge from the front or back, etc.) and get to a vet IMMEDIATELY - if a retained egg binds or gets infected it is often lethal.

For a nesting area you want something at least 2x3 feet in size and 10-12" deep. Plastic storage bins work great but if you have a large area with a concrete floor etc. you might be able to just pile a lot of dirt in a corner on a tarp or something. Put the nest area in a corner of the enclosure so it's up against two walls. Fill it up with regular dirt from outside somewhere and keep the dirt slightly moist. If it's a bin you'll need to create ramps for the two exposed sides so the tortoise can climb in and out easily. Finally put a heat lamp over it, maybe 2 feet above the soil, to keep the soil surface at least 85-90 degrees there. It's OK if the heat lamp is only on during the day, it can be a regular high wattage incandescent bulb or a mercury vapor bulb. If you want her to nest the air temperature in the enclosure (or the room if it's an open top enclosure) must be warm - 70-75 degrees at night and 75-80 during the day.

Over time you'll need to learn to recognize signs that a female wants to nest - usually restlessness, reduced appetite, and sometimes they will walk around and sniff the ground a lot. Once you see this behavior it's your cue to make sure she has a comfortable place to lay...

Do you have pics of your indoor enclosure for them?

Steve
 

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Heather B

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Here is the inside/outside views. It measures 4×8ft. Plastic is to keep up humidity and trap heat. I know there isn't near enough substrate now.
 

turtlesteve

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If the bottom floor of that enclosure is plywood, you might be able to cut a rectangular hole in it and have a nest box recessed into the floor. For example these large cement mixer trays from home depot have a nice lip on the edge, so you could have the lip resting on the plywood and the bin will give you another 7" of depth in that area, and you could easily get 10-12" of dirt without raising the walls:


Otherwise you will have to make the walls taller in one corner so you can pile the dirt 10" deep or more.

The other thing I see immediately is the red heat bulb. Tortoises have good color vision so the red light is confusing to them. It should be swapped for either a heat lamp that gives off white light (if you need heat during the day only) or a ceramic heat emitter that gives off no light (if it's on 24/7).

Steve
 

Heather B

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If the bottom floor of that enclosure is plywood, you might be able to cut a rectangular hole in it and have a nest box recessed into the floor. For example these large cement mixer trays from home depot have a nice lip on the edge, so you could have the lip resting on the plywood and the bin will give you another 7" of depth in that area, and you could easily get 10-12" of dirt without raising the walls:


Otherwise you will have to make the walls taller in one corner so you can pile the dirt 10" deep or more.

The other thing I see immediately is the red heat bulb. Tortoises have good color vision so the red light is confusing to them. It should be swapped for either a heat lamp that gives off white light (if you need heat during the day only) or a ceramic heat emitter that gives off no light (if it's on 24/7).

Steve
I thank you for the great suggestions. I do have a ceramic heat emitter in the enclosure now in addition to the red bulb. I will change the red bulb out asap.
 

turtlesteve

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One other quick hint. I usually use moderately sandy dirt (you want it to be easy to dig, but hold its shape well so the hole doesn't collapse inward ). Then, put your normal mulch substrate over the top 2" or so. That way you can usually tell she's dug, as the mulch and dirt will be mixed up on the surface. As my female gets more and more experienced it's harder to tell she's nested, sometimes she pushes the mulch back over so the nest is invisible.
 

Heather B

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Should I consider re-homing one of them or will they be fine if they truly are both female? My daughter heard "strange noises" and saw one mounted on top of the other several times over the last two summers in their outdoor enclosure. Could one just be acting male to dominate the other?
 

Heather B

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Well, Turtle Steve, I got the x-rays and made all the modifications to my enclosure. As you can see one of the torts is full of eggs! However, I am sad to report she has yet to lay any of them. The vet recommended giving her a drug to start contractions but I am hesitant as it has the potential to cause harm/death if the eggs are un-passable. Help. I'm worried that I'm losing her.
 

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turtlesteve

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That’s definitely more than one clutch of eggs. 4 look really old and thick, 6 look normal, and then the abnormal tiny ones. But I have seen worse, and it’s probable she could still pass them. As long as they don’t bind or get infected they can be retained for some time.

Please send photos of the nest area. What temps and humidity are you getting? And also very important - have you moved the other tortoise to a separate enclosure?

I would not be opposed to having her induced (oxytocin) but it doesn’t always work.
 

turtlesteve

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Also - is she active or slow/lethargic? If active does she seem restless? Is she eating normally?
 

Heather B

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Well, Turtle Steve, I got the x-rays and made all the modifications to my enclosure. As you can see one of the torts is full of eggs! However, I am sad to report she has yet to lay any of them. The vet recommended giving her a drug to start contractions but I am hesitant as it has the potential to cause harm/death if the eggs are un-passable. Help. I'm worried that I'm losing her
That’s definitely more than one clutch of eggs. 4 look really old and thick, 6 look normal, and then the abnormal tiny ones. But I have seen worse, and it’s probable she could still pass them. As long as they don’t bind or get infected they can be retained for some time.

Please send photos of the nest area. What temps and humidity are you getting? And also very important - have you moved the other tortoise to a separate enclosure?

I would not be opposed to having her induced (oxytocin) but it doesn’t always work.
I did have the male separated from her but they weren't behaving well, like they were both unhappy, so I took out the divider. Here is the nestbox. I did have a large division and a covered and darkened area over the box filled with 100 lbs soil/sand mixture. I don't have a hydrometer but it is very humid under the plastic roof. The temps vary widely across the enclosure. I am peeking under the cover for the picture.
 

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turtlesteve

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Couple things:

I still think the 2nd tortoise is a female, I’ve never seen a male with anal scutes like that.

They need to be separated. If the other one was “mounting” her, the stress of this could easily keep her from laying eggs. The best option is to move the other one to a completely different enclosure, so she is also not stressed by her habitat changing any more. Trust me they do not really want company, and least of all when they need to lay eggs.

Second, go ahead and fill the nest box up so it’s closer to level with the floor, and put a basking lamp over it if you can. It does not need to be dark for her to lay there, but it does need to be warm. Would be better if it was in a corner but may still work fine.

If she is wanting to nest she will eat less but become more active, restless even. Sometimes they will sniff the ground a lot too. This is all a good sign and if you see these behaviors I’d wait a week or two and see if she lays. If she is not showing such symptoms she probably should be induced. If she becomes lethargic or appears sick get back to an exotics vet immediately.
 

Heather B

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Couple things:

I still think the 2nd tortoise is a female, I’ve never seen a male with anal scutes like that.

They need to be separated. If the other one was “mounting” her, the stress of this could easily keep her from laying eggs. The best option is to move the other one to a completely different enclosure, so she is also not stressed by her habitat changing any more. Trust me they do not really want company, and least of all when they need to lay eggs.

Second, go ahead and fill the nest box up so it’s closer to level with the floor, and put a basking lamp over it if you can. It does not need to be dark for her to lay there, but it does need to be warm. Would be better if it was in a corner but may still work fine.

If she is wanting to nest she will eat less but become more active, restless even. Sometimes they will sniff the ground a lot too. This is all a good sign and if you see these behaviors I’d wait a week or two and see if she lays. If she is not showing such symptoms she probably should be induced. If she becomes lethargic or appears sick get back to an exotics vet immediately.
I'll add more sand tomorrow. There is a ceramic heat emitter directly over the nest box for her. I appreciate your advice. I am afraid that I may be coming to the conclusion that I may need to re-home the larger of the two (the one without eggs). I would need to build an entirely new structure just to get them apart if the division of the table won't work. This breaks my heart to think of.
 

turtlesteve

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For the time being just put the divider back until you have a better option. It’s never easy having to give up a beloved pet. If you want to keep them both in one enclosure, you’d want to build a much bigger enclosure anyways, and have lots of plants etc. so they can easily hide from each other. But even so, with a pair, one will always be dominant and the other will be recessive and badly stressed. Groups of three work better as the social dynamics are different, but then you need even MORE space.
 

Heather B

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TurtleSteve, here is an update on egg retaining redfoot. I re-homed the larger (empty) tort to a great home. The tort has now laid a few more of the eggs, but definitely not all of them. She is eating well and active. Now that the weather here in NW Ohio has warmed up, she has spent several days outdoors. We bring her inside in the evenings though. Hopefully, she'll begin laying the rest of her eggs now. Attached is a photo from today.
 

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