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Turtles/baby turtle question


QUESTION: my dog dug up an apparent turtle nest and after getting him away from the nest I found a hard egg with the turtle head and front legs sticking out (the egg part feels like a white rock)..the turtle moves his head and arms a lot when held so I brought him in the house to keep him from dogs. I place him in a large pan filled with a sand and dirt mixture and dampened the sand. my question is should the egg part be stuck into the sand mixture or can he be just placed on top...any other suggestions would be great...does he need to be assisted in getting the other half of his body out of the hard shell or will he come out on his own? thanks p.s. he made it through the night but he does seem really small.

ANSWER: Hi Tami,

I've hatched out quite a few babies with a 100% survival rate, so I can help with this.

Remove the egg/hatchling from the sand mixture and place in a small plastic container with damp paper towels.  This will keep things clean and moist.  Cover the container loosely and keep in a warm, but not hot area away from direct sunlight.  Keep an eye on the egg and let nature take its course.  Don't attempt to assist the hatchling in any way.  They will sometimes sit in the egg for a day or two while they absorb the yolk and gain strength, so removing it from the egg may actually be harmful.  If the hatchling isn't strong enough to emerge from the egg, it's not strong enough to survive anyway, so helping it won't really make a difference.  Redampen the paper towels as necessary.

Once the hatchling has fully emerged and crawled away from the egg, you can remove the shell.  Continue to dampen the paper towels and watch the hatchling to make sure the yolk sac has fully absorbed--sometimes it's already been absorbed, and sometimes it takes an additional day or so.  Once the sac is absorbed, the hatchling can be returned to a safe area as close to the nesting site as possible.  The baby can live off the yolk sac for a few weeks, and hatchlings often don't eat for up to a month, so don't try to feed it.  Don't worry about it being small; most hatchlings will weigh less than a gram, but are fully capable of taking care of themselves.  The mother doesn't remain in the nesting area and doesn't help the babies.  

And thank you for helping this little one out--the wild turtle populations need all the help they can get!

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: hey its me again with the baby turtle...does the baby turtle need to be placed on the damp paper towels or is this just a moisture thing?...he is still alive and seems to become more active when I carry the bowl outside in the warm sunshine...sometimes I think those damp paper towels get too cold for him even though hes still in the egg shell (except for the front legs and head)..and I worry about the damp paper towels being too cold...any advice about this would help...I am so proud he is still with us...he just cant seem to get out of that rock hard shell thing...thanks.

Hi Tami,

The paper towels are necessary to keep the baby hydrated, which is very important.  If you can't find a warm spot to put him, you can use a desk lamp or something similar to keep it warmer--just make sure it's not too hot!  78-85 degrees is fine, but no warmer.  Be really, really careful about any direct sun, as it's very easy to fatally overheat them.  It's really not necessary for him to be overly warm, as long as it's not too cool.  The paper towels will feel cooler to you because your body temperature is 98.6 degrees, but that's too warm for him--if they felt warm to you, he'd be overheated.  He may also be more active because their instinct is to hide if they feel threatened, and hatchlings are threatened by just about everything, so moving the container or brighter light may be triggering his instinct to hide even though he's not out of the shell yet.  

Generally they will hatch out within two days. It's a little concerning that he's not out yet, but as I said, if he can't get out on his own his likelihood of survival is pretty low.  Keep me posted on how he's doing!  


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Questions regarding husbandry of Russian tortoises and other Mediterranean species, sulcata, and redfoot tortoises; general tortoise and turtle care; box turtle care. If I can't answer a specific question, I can provide sources for further research. Disclaimer: My advice is not a substitute for vet care. If I think your tortoise/turtle has a specific medical condition or injury that warrants a vet visit, I'll tell you so, and if possible I'll help you locate a vet. It is neither legal nor ethical for me to provide veterinary advice.


I have kept and bred Russian tortoises for over ten years and have other Mediterranean species plus redfoots and box turtles. I've worked with other tortoise and turtle species while doing volunteer rescue work; mostly sulcata but some leopards, California desert tortoises, yellowfoots, all box turtle species, red-eared sliders, etc. I don't personally keep aquatic species, but have access to a wealth of information and research to help you with any questions you might have.

My knowledge is based on hands-on experience keeping, breeding, and working with tortoises and turtles.

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