Last Updated: June 3, 2021
Turtles are reptiles, just like snakes and lizards. But what sets them apart is that they are the most ancient and also semi-aquatic. You may know that turtles stay in the water most of the time, but they lay their eggs in nests that they dig on land, on sandy beaches.
It’s hard to locate the nests, though. This is because these creatures secure them deep in the sand and hide the location by covering the nests with soil.
Here’s more to know about a turtle’s nesting process.
Where Can You Find Nesting Sites?
Sea turtles nest in the sand, while freshwater turtles build nests in the dirt or along river banks, ponds, or swamps. On the other hand, Captive turtles require their owners to provide an area with a secure shelter and soft soil for the female to lay eggs. You can create the site within an already established outdoor pen.
Interestingly, nesting female sea turtles can travel up to two miles to find their preferred nesting sites. These females usually have specific nesting spots that they return to whenever they are preparing to nest. Turtles also nest at night to make it difficult for predators to find the sites.
A female turtle can dig several holes only to abandon them. However, it may continue digging new pits using all its four flippers for several nights until it finds the one with the right conditions for laying.
Although most of the “right” conditions are still unknown, the site should be dark and quiet.
What Do Turtle Nests Look Like in the Wild?
The hole, which is the nesting site, is usually flask-shaped and big enough for the turtle to lay and bury its eggs.
Nest depth varies with species and the turtle size. Also, it depends on how far the female can reach with her flippers.
After the mother turtle finishes laying, she covers the hole with soil to conceal the location from predators using her front flippers. She then spends the night under cover near the site or may decide to go back “home” to the sea.
Females don’t attend to the nesting site once they lay, and the nesting is complete. Instead, the eggs and the hatchlings fend and locate the sea for themselves.
How Many Eggs Do Turtles Lay?
The clutch, or the number of eggs in a nest, varies with species. Plus, these reptiles may lay more than one clutch during a nesting season, so it’s hard to determine the exact number it lays.
However, turtles lay an average of 110 eggs in a nest. They also make between two to eight nests in a season.
Flatback turtles lay the tiniest clutch, only up to 50 eggs per clutch. On the other hand, the Hawkbill species lays the most oversized clutch, something over 200 eggs in a nest.
Turtle eggs incubate for approximately 2-3 months until they hatch.
What Do Turtle Eggs Look Like?
Turtle eggs are usually tiny, resembling golf balls in size and shape but with a soft shell. They are also spherical, although they can be misshaped (elongated or adjoined with calcium strands).
Is It Okay to Move Turtle Eggs?
Turtles lay eggs in “unnatural” places, too, sometimes. You can even find them in front of your house, especially if you live by the beach.
One important thing you should know about turtle eggs is that they have a naturally high mortality rate. Adult turtles also have an extremely high mortality rate as long as human activities don’t disrupt them.
The egg mortality rate only becomes a cause of concern when human activities, roads, and development disrupt the nests or cause high adult turtle mortality rates. However, it’s still vital to ensure that turtle eggs survive until they hatch, even if they do well by themselves.
It doesn’t mean that you should handle them or move them to safety, though! This is because eggs may fail to develop if you don’t orient them correctly after you move them.
After a turtle lays, the egg’s embryo attaches to the shell’s wall. So, any tampering, rotation, or fiddling can cause movement and deform the developing embryo. This increases the chance of embryo death.
It would be best to save adult turtles from endangerment before you think of the eggs. No matter the situation or how the habitat looks like, avoid moving nesting turtles and the eggs. And if you have to move a turtle, move it in the direction it is facing.
Do Turtles Lay Eggs Underwater?
Turtles must lay eggs on sandy beaches to increase survival and hatching rates. The embryos in the eggs breathe air through a membrane in the egg when developing, so they won’t survive if water covers the egg.
These reptiles only lay in the sea if their nests are disrupted, although it is very unusual. They only do so if they can’t carry the eggs any longer. Otherwise, they’ll hold on and try to nest elsewhere the same night or another day if their nests are threatened.
How Do Baby Turtles Emerge from the Nest?
The egg chamber is usually deep in the ground, making it impossible for a hatchling to escape from within singlehandedly. After a successful incubating period, hatchlings break free from their shells, stimulating others to emerge from the eggs as well.
Once every hatchling is outside their shells, they climb over the eggshells to help propel to the top of the egg chamber. Then the baby turtles at the top of the egg chamber help scratch sand to make way.
Turtle hatchlings usually emerge in masses at once to increase the chance of breaking free to the ground. They also do so to increase survival rates because many baby turtles can overwhelm the would-be predators.
After successful hatching, they locate the sea and move to their new home.
Unfortunately, most baby turtles do not survive in the wild. It is the same case with captive-bred turtles, even if you provide them the best care.
Featured Image Credit: Piqsels
Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts’ knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.