Emergency Incubation Techniques - Darrell Senneke


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Keepers of turtles and people that live near lakes and rivers are often confronted with eggs from native species of turtles that either nest under their care or nest on their property.  Usually these people don't have access to any sort of incubator yet still wish to hatch out the eggs.  


Probably the easiest thing to do in this situation is to cover the nest with a poultry mesh dome and let nature take her course.  This will protect the eggs from ever present raccoons and contain the young after hatching for placement in their habitat or , in the case of a wild mother, release into the area suited for them.


When the above is not possible and you do not have access to an incubator I have found the following procedure to work well. This is adapted from the method that Felice Rood and Paula  Morris (Personal communication) use and it has worked for me and others as well. Please note - with tropical turtle or tortoise eggs the temperature would not be warm enough using this method. I have used this with both box turtle and wood turtle eggs at times when my incubator was otherwise occupied.


Remove the eggs and place them in a margarine tub half full of vermiculite (some people use sphagnum moss). The vermiculite should be dampened, I usually moisten it with an amount of water about equal to its WEIGHT. I then place the eggs in it buried half way. Do not turn the eggs or otherwise rotate them once you place them in there and try to put them in the same position that you found them.  Cover them with a piece of moistened and then wrung out paper towel. Then replace the cover on the tub and let it sit in a warm (not hot) spot - a shelf in the garage or a non air-conditioned kitchen works well. You should notice just a touch of condensation on the inside of the cover if you have the moisture amount correct. Remove the cover for a minute or two every couple days for air exchange. Very lightly mist the paper towel if it appears to have dried out.


Warm, room temperature, 76 - 85 degrees F(24.5 - 39.5 degrees C) works fine. After anywhere from 50 to 90 days they should hatch. . Upon doing your air exchanges if you notice any of them starting to collapse a bit add just a touch of water. If any turn dark and moldy - or totally collapse - usually that means they are infertile or have died.


Another option is to use a Hovabator, which is a low cost chicken egg incubator. I would suggest if you purchase on of these to get the still air version as the version that incorporates a fan can dehydrate the eggs.  The following is the procedure used by George Patton and Martha Ann Messinger when they must incubate in their Terrapene carolina triunguis research. (Personal communication)


 Using a small Rubbermaid container with lid, weigh vermiculite, and then add an equal weight of water. In other words if vermiculite weight was 31.4 grams, weight of water was also 31.4 grams. The eggs were placed in the container in the vermiculite so the top of the eggs was not covered. The top was then replaced tight on the Rubbermaid container. The Rubbermaid container was then placed inside a Hovabator (incubator). The temperature was stabilized inside the incubator at 85 degrees F (29 degrees C) the top was removed from the Rubbermaid container for about 5 minutes every 1-2 days for air exchange.


All nests were laid outside and brought inside and put in the incubator on when it turned cold.  The last nest of the season was laid on September 8th. 3 eggs piped in incubator at 73 days. The 4th egg piped at 76 days.


Neonates are not removed from the incubator until they had completely crawled out of the eggshell. At that time they would begin to bury themselves in the vermiculite. This insured that enough of their yoke sacs had been absorbed for safety in picking them up. 


It should be noted that turtle and tortoise care research is ongoing. As new information becomes available we share this on the World Chelonian Trust web site at www.chelonia.org. Serious keepers find it to be a benefit to have the support of others who keep these species. Care is discussed in our free online email community, which may be joined from the web address above. Please contact us about the many benefits of becoming a member of the World Chelonian Trust.

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