Sulcata Tortoise Breeding: Everything You Should Know

As a sulcata tortoise owner, you may be concerned about breeding your tortoise after determining their sex. One of the most rewarding aspects of keeping a tortoise or any pet is giving birth to younger ones. This article “Sulcata Tortoise Breeding” gives you insight on how breed your pet successfully.

You can easily breed sulcata tortoises as early as five years old once they weigh 25-40 pounds. Captive sulcata tortoises usually mate throughout the year as the males’ court the females by ramming into them. However, they usually produce a lot of eggs every year, and you should be prepared to house about 100 baby tortoises.

Breeding of sulcata tortoise can be quite stressful for beginners and experts if you don’t fully understand the process. In this article, we will help highlight everything you need to know about sulcata tortoise breeding.

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Cute Reptiles as Pets

Sulcata Tortoise Breeding: When Can Sulcata Tortoises Breed?

You may worry about breeding your sulcatas after you have determined their sex. Sulcata tortoises are likely to start breeding as early as five years old once it is 25-40 pounds. However, male sulcata tortoises usually reach sexual maturity before the females.

Another thing is that it is best to wait until the female sulcata tortoise is around 10-15 years old before you start breeding them.

Sulcata Tortoise Breeding
Sulcata tortoise mating

Breeding Season

The breeding season for sulcata tortoise is all year round as it starts from January to December. On average, most male sulcata start mating around February. Furthermore, male sulcatas usually try to mate with the female once he sees a female or just once in a while.

The male will fight for dominance over the females during this period and are usually vocal when mating.

The Habit Of Finding A Mate And Mating

In the wild, sulcata tortoise mating process starts with the male sulcata picking up the female’s scent trail until he finds his target. The courtship will begin afterward. Like most tortoise species, male sulcata tortoises will fight for dominance over the females through relentless biting, ramming, and butting.

After enduring the bites, the female will then retract into her shell and stop attempting to escape. The male will then mount the female.

In captivity, the male will also use the same method to mate with the female. However, the breeder will need to pay attention and move the female if the male inflicts lots of injury on her. After treating her injury, you can then try to reintroduce the male again.

Pet sulcata tortoise mating [source: Clifford Kennels]
If you want to know what happens when the male sulcata tortoise mate, watch it here!

Gestation Of A Sulcata Tortoise

The gestation period of tortoises usually varies based on environmental and nesting conditions. Many experts believe that tortoises can lay fertile eggs for around four years after mating, but the eggs’ fertility usually reduces after each season.

However, the gestation period of sulcata tortoise is around 60 days. 

Female Sulcatas Tortoises Nests And Lays Eggs

When it comes to nesting, sulcata tortoises are usually on the lookout for suitable nesting sites in the wild. This is because the nesting site is used for incubation purposes, and they need a place that receives sunshine all day and with well-drained soil.

Female sulcatas usually nudge along the ground with their noses to help determine its soil type and temperature before choosing it as a nesting site.

How To Determine When A Female Sulcata Has Eggs

Most female sulcatas usually behave strangely when it is time to lay eggs. They usually displace aggression towards other females, climb over obstacles, become hyperactive, or even attempt to mate with other tortoises, or make high-pitched vocalizations usually heard from males.

Most females with eggs also reduce their food intake and can stop feeding before laying. You can also tell that your sulcata is with eggs by taking it to the vet for diagnosis.

The Habit Of Nesting

As stated above, sulcata tortoises are usually particular about their nesting site. They prefer to nest in south-facing hillsides because they are flood proof and receive extended sunlight hours per day. Sulcata tortoises also check the temperature and soil type during nest finding by nudging along the ground with their noses.

This helps to ensure they choose the best soil with the right moisture content and soil pliability. That is the soil that will not collapse after nest making or one that is too firm to excavate fully. Once the female chooses a nesting site, then she will start to dig the soil.

The nesting process usually occurs around 6-8 weeks after mating. In captivity, female sulcatas usually dig the nesting ground against an object like the pen wall. The nesting pit usually slopes deeper on one part, and it resembles the start of a burrow.

The female will then back into the pit while excavating the egg chamber in the nest using their front legs. She will then deposit the eggs and cover the nest carefully. The nesting process in sulcata tortoise can take hours before it is completed.

The Habit Of Laying Eggs

Female sulcata tortoises can lay many clutches of eggs in a year. After digging a nest around 4 inches deep with their leg, sulcatas can lay two clutches several weeks apart. They have an incubation period between 90-120 days.

Some sulcatas can even lay five clutches of eggs in a single season. The size of a clutch is usually between 12-24 eggs for captive sulcata. However, a typical clutch for wild sulcata tortoises is between 4-8 eggs.

The eggs are usually hard-shelled, and they appear oblong and dull white. After laying the eggs, the sulcata tortoise will cover the nest site carefully using her hind legs.

When you notice that your tortoise digs different partial nest holes and is not laying eggs, then she may be egg-bound, or the soil is too hard. You can take her to the vet for diagnosis and treatment.

Sulcata tortoise nesting Source: Olwcation

Note

Sulcata tortoises usually exhibit nest protection more than some other tortoise species. Female sulcata can become aggressive once they spot you or other tortoises around their nests in the first few days. Some females may not even be aggressive and may try to close the nest when you attempt to dig up their nests.

However, some female sulcatas walk away and will not show any further interest in the nest or even the hatchlings.

Female sulcata tortoise laying eggs [source: Arabesqueboa]

How Do You Take Care Of Sulcata Tortoise Eggs?

The next thing to worry about is how you can take care of your sulcata tortoise eggs. After nesting, female sulcata tortoises usually lay a clutch consisting of 12 to 24 eggs. You will need to keep eggs at a certain temperature and humidity before they can hatch.

Some of the ways that you can take care of sulcata tortoise eggs are stated below.

Moving The Eggs To A Safe Place

Once you notice that the female sulcata has finished laying the eggs, you can open the nest and carefully remove the eggs. Sulcata tortoises usually make their nesting site bell-shaped, and you need to ensure that you retrieve all the eggs.

You can use a clean paintbrush to uncover the eggs. You can also use a spoon, paintbrush, or other small utensils to dig out the soil if the nest has filled in.

When removing the egg, you need to ensure that the eggs are not rotated. However, if the eggs are gently turned during the retrieval process, it will not affect them adversely. Once you have removed the eggs from the nest, you can lightly mark each egg’s top with a pencil.

incubated sulcata eggs
Sulcata tortoise eggs marked on top to maintain the laying position. This procedure is very vital in your egg-incubation process.

This will help make it easier to maintain the eggs in the same direction as they were laid. Another thing is that turning the eggs can lead to the death of the growing embryo during the developmental stage.

After collecting the eggs, if you plan to incubate the eggs, you can gently brush off the soil and debris from the eggs using a tissue or paper towel. You can also wash the eggs with tepid water and a weak disinfectant solution to help prevent mold and bacteria from growing on the surface.

You can even put the laying date and mother’s name when you have more than a female sulcata tortoise.

Egg Incubation

As a breeder, you will need to incubate sulcata tortoise eggs within a specific temperature and humidity to develop properly. For instance, if you incubate sulcata tortoise eggs at a low temperature, the development of the egg will be very slow, or the eggs may not even hatch at all.

Furthermore, our sulcata tortoise hatchlings can be deformed if you hatch them at an excessively high temperature. There are two ways to incubate sulcata tortoise eggs, and that is naturally or with an incubator.

Incubating sulcata tortoise egg
Incubating sulcata tortoise egg

How To Naturally Incubate Eggs

Here are the steps that you can follow if you want to naturally incubate your sulcata tortoise eggs.

Step 1:  Prepare your egg box

You can use a chicken egg carton or a container for your egg box. When using a chicken egg carton, all you have to do is remove the top of the carton. You can prepare a container as an egg box by adding sand for burying the eggs.

Step 2: Put the egg in the box and make sure it nil disturbance

When using an egg box, you should carefully place the eggs in the carton and place them in a spare vivarium. Ensure you place the eggs directly under and closer to the heat lamp to help ensure they are exposed to the required temperature.

You can then check the air temperature between the lamp and eggs to ensure the required temperature does not fluctuate.

When using a container, carefully bury the eggs in lighter mediums like vermiculite or any non-toxic granular materials, so they are visible below the surface. You can place the container outside of an enclosure but far from any potential danger. 

However, you will need to ensure a desk lamp fitted with a heat bulb is placed on the container facing the eggs. This will help to provide the needed temperature for the incubation to be successful.

Step 3: Provide correct temperature

You will need to provide an overall temperature range around 80-90F for safe incubation. You need to ensure the temperature does not exceed 93F as it can cause severe health issues and even death to the developing hatchlings.

Step 4: Provide correct humidity

You will need to provide a humidity of about 70% for your egg. As a beginner, it is best to use a hygrometer to help ensure that the humidity is optimal. However, most breeders that know signs of high and low humidity may not need a hygrometer.

Step 5: Incubation Time

The incubation time of sulcata tortoise eggs depends mainly on the temperature used for incubating the eggs. Hatchlings usually grow more quickly if you incubate them within the correct temperature range. 

If you incubate your eggs between 86-89F, the eggs should hatch between 8-11 weeks after laying.

Note: the duration of incubation can help to determine the sex of the tortoise. Hatching sulcata tortoises at a lower temperature makes the incubation period longer and usually produces male hatchlings. However, higher temperature will lead to a shorter incubation period and usually leads to female hatchlings.

How To Use Incubator

Although there are several incubating sulcata tortoise eggs, the best way to incubate eggs is by using reptile or adapted bird-egg incubators. This is because incubators help to ensure that you keep the eggs under optimal temperature and humidity with no disturbance during incubation.

Some of the best incubators for hatching sulcata tortoise eggs are

Last update on 2020-07-05 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Here are the steps to follow when incubating sulcata tortoise eggs with an incubator.

Step 1: Select An Incubation Container

You will need an incubation container suitable for the type of eggs that you want to hatch. The hatching container needs to be large enough for all the eggs you are hatching and should have enough surface area for oxygen circulation and humidity formation.

You can easily use a poultry incubator for incubating your tortoise eggs, but you will need to make some modifications. However, you can choose from the incubators listed in the section above for easy incubation.

Step 2: Choosing Incubator Medium

You need to place your tortoise egg in an incubation medium. Incubation mediums are porous, mold-resistant, and sand-like substances, and there are numerous incubation mediums out there. However, the popular medium used for hatching tortoises is vermiculite.

You can get vermiculite in most commercial nurseries or plant sections of grocery stores.

Step 3: Test The Incubator Before Putting The Egg

Before you put the egg in the incubator, you first need to wash the incubator with a low bleach solution or commercial incubator disinfectant. Ensure that you clean all the surfaces inside the incubator and any surfaces you may touch when using the incubator.

After that, you will need to set up the required temperature and humidity of the incubator 24 hours before you put fertile eggs in the incubator.

Step 4: Put The Egg In The Box And Make Sure There Is No Disturbance

You need to be very careful when you are recovering your sulcata tortoise eggs from the nesting site. There are times when the nest is packed down tightly, and you need to be careful not to break the eggs. You can use tools like a clean toothbrush, spoon, etc., to remove the dirt before collecting the eggs.

After that you can use a pencil to write signs and identify indicators on each egg top. This mark usually helps to avoid turning your sulcata tortoise eggs during incubation. It is important to avoid turning sulcata tortoise eggs as it can cause the death of the embryo during incubation.

Step 5: Adjust The Required Temperature

All you have to do is set the temperature of your incubator to around 85-90F. The incubation temperature is similar to natural incubation and the incubator helps to ensure there is no temperature fluctuation during the incubation. 

Step 6: Provide The Necessary Humidity

You will also need to set the humidity of your incubator to around 70%. Unlike natural incubation, using an incubator helps to ensure the humidity does not fluctuate during incubation. 

Step 7: Incubation Time

The incubation time of sulcata tortoise eggs usually varies based on the temperature used for the incubation. Most times, the incubation time is between 8-11 weeks.

Although eggs in the same clutch will start hatching around the same time, some can take longer, and you don’t need to toss the eggs out unless you provide them with enough time to hatch.

Sulcata Tortoise Hatchling

During the egg formation stage, sulcata tortoise hatchlings are usually round and folded in half across their plastron. The hatchling will start to straighten out after they absorb most of their life-supporting yolk sac.

This is when their tiny carapaces will press up to the eggshell to create an imprint of the eggshell texture on their carapaces. You will see this in the hatchlings until it grows out of it. 

Once the hatchlings straighten out to a point, the bony protrusion called egg tooth will puncture a small hole in the eggshells. The holes will then weaken and dry out the shells to help break them open while the hatchling then emerges. 

As the hatchlings grow, the egg tooth will then wear away. You don’t need to interfere with the hatching process, except you notice the tortoise is in serious trouble. Some hatchlings can emerge minutes after puncturing the eggshell, while others can take a couple of days.

Once the hatchlings are free from the egg, you can give it a lukewarm and shallow bath to help wash the sticky membrane surrounding them and encourage it to drink water.

Sulcata tortoise hatchling
Sulcata tortoise hatchling

Learn more about how to care for a hatched Sulcata tortoise here.

Signs Of Infertile Eggs

  • The egg does not chalk: if you notice that an egg does not chalk, then it is not fertile. However, some breeders suggest that you can keep the egg in an incubator.
  • The eggshell starts to shed: there are times when an eggshell starts to thin. You will see as the white shell starts to turn pinkish.
  • An infertile egg may rot and then explode: Bacteria can seep into an infertile egg, causing a build-up of gas known as hydrogen sulfide. The build-up of the gas will then cause the pressure to increase and then make the egg explode.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How long are sulcata tortoises pregnant?

Sulcata tortoise has a gestation period of around 60 days before she starts to nest. Once your tortoise finds a suitable nesting spot, it will take 1-4 hours to complete the nest and then lay one egg every three minutes or more.

Do sulcata tortoises lay eggs without mating?

Sulcata tortoises can lay eggs without mating. However, this may occur on one single occasion or so. This is usually common when a female is in the presence of a male, not when kept exclusively with other females.

How long does a baby tortoise take before leaving the egg?

It usually takes 8-24 hours for a tortoise to emerge from its egg after piercing the egg with the egg tooth. The small hole will enlarge gradually over a few hours, and the hatchling may sit on the egg until their egg sac is absorbed.

Most tortoises are usually vulnerable until the egg sac is absorbed as their movement is impaired.

When will the female sulcata tortoise stop laying?

Tortoises and other reptiles are quite different from mammals when it comes to menopause. Most tortoises will lay eggs once you keep them with a male and won’t stop laying even at old age.

Final Thoughts

Sulcata tortoises are prolific breeders and usually breed all year round in captivity. Males usually reach sexual maturity before the females, and they can start breeding as early as five years old. During mating, the male usually fights for dominance over the females and is quite vocal.

We hope that this article provides all you need to know about sulcata tortoise breeding. If you have any questions or comments, you can message us in the comment section below.