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Egg Retention (Dystocia) in Turtles – the Problem and Some Solutions – Part 2

Blanding’s turtle laying eggsPlease see Part 1 of this article for general information on retained-egg syndrome and the provision of suitable nest sites for captive turtles.

Creating an Acceptable Nest Site

Gravid turtles can be maddeningly choosy when it comes to nest site selection – even when presented with what appears to be perfectly “natural” situation, some females refuse to “appreciate” our efforts.

Moisture usually attracts nesting females, and in some cases heavy misting, to simulate rain, is useful (in NYC, I’ve noticed that a great many Common Snapping Turtles nest on the first rainy night in June).  

Warming the nesting site may also induce females to use the area…as many species nest at night, an incandescent night-viewing bulb is ideal for this purpose.

Be sure to research the natural history of the turtle in question, or write to me for assistance – for some species, a covering of dead leaves or a change in the type of substrate provided may do the trick.

Humidity and Water

It is also important that the female’s environment is kept at the proper humidity, and that she has access to water for drinking and soaking, as dehydrated turtles typically have difficulty expelling their eggs.  This is not usually a problem for Red Eared Sliders and other semi-aquatic turtles, but can be critical for tortoises, American and Asian Box turtles, and other terrestrial species.

Nesting Containers and Enclosures

While it is sometimes possible to create a nesting area by wedging or otherwise affixing a plastic storage box into an aquarium at the water’s level, a child’s wading pool typically allows for more nest site options.  If the pool is not the turtle’s usual home, move her into it well before the predicted nesting time, so that she can adjust.  While some turtles will oviposit (lay eggs) shortly after being moved to any earth-filled container, most are stressed by change and will refuse to deposit their eggs if moved suddenly.

The only pre-fabricated enclosure I know of that allows for both ample nesting and swimming areas is the ZooMed Turtle Tub – definitely worth considering if you are serious about breeding aquatic and semi-aquatic turtles.

Veterinary Options – Oxytosin and Surgery

If your turtle appears to be gravid but cannot seem to deposit her eggs, prompt veterinary attention is necessary.  As mentioned in Part 1 of this article, retained eggs invariably lead to infection and, eventually, the female’s death.

Oxytosin, a medication used to induce labor in human females, is often quite effective when administered to turtles.  I’ve had great success using Oxytosin with a wide variety of species during my years at the Bronx Zoo.  In extreme cases, surgery may be called for. Please write in if you need a reference to a local veterinarian experienced in turtle care.

Hatching the Eggs

Blanding’s turtle laying eggsFortunately, well-made Reptile Egg Incubators are now available, and they greatly simplify the job of hatching turtle eggs…please write in for further information once you’ve obtained a clutch.

Further Reading

I was very pleased to read this NY Times articleconcerning a teenager who is studying the reproductive biology and habits of Snapping Turtles right in my old stomping grounds – the Bronx River.

Video of an African Spurred Tortoise laying eggs.

 

 

4 comments

  1. avatar

    I have a female turtle which was rescued from a pet store. When I woke up in the morning, I found some eggs in the water. I made her a nest but she didn’t lay any more eggs. A week later, I noticed blood in the tank and a small growth coming from her rectum.

    I called several vets and only one in my town deals with turtles. So I rushed her over. He looked at her shell, and her feet and that’s it and said she was fine.

    I told him about the eggs and that I could see a small growth coming out of her butt, and he simply said that he didn’t see any problem. Now I noticed that the growth is twice as big as the tail. This vet won’t be in until late tomorrow and I really don’t know what I should do to help my turtle.

    • avatar

      Hello Sylvia, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for your interest in our blog.

      A prolapsed cloaca comes to mind…especially common when all does not go well during egg-deposition. Sugar baths may work; please see this article for details, but veterinary attention is essential. Dr Kevin Wright, a leading expert, provides online consultations but you will need hands-on help; perhaps your vet will consent to contact him. If not, I suggest you look further afield for help; please let me know if you need assistance locating someone.

      Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  2. avatar

    Any more warning signs as to know when to give up on red eared slider depositing eggs and go to vet? Also if a general size of retained eggs could be a guideline?thank you

    • avatar

      Hello Anita,

      Once the turtle becomes restless and is seeking a nest site, it should be seen by a vet if laying does not occur within 2-3 days. Size is not a reliable guideline, as eggs can vary greatly depending upon nutrition, CA levels etc.; in any event egg size cannot be accurately judged via palpitation. Please let me know if you need help in locating a vet, Best, frank

About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.

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