Babies!!!!

Video of Baby Turtles

In 1999, after 6 years of keeping box turtles, we finally had baby turtles. It's been a long struggle, but the key elements of success were: Hibernation (to synchronize breeding cycles and hormone levels; no surprise here); getting the turtles outside (again, no surprise, but we couldn't have them outside last summer); and finding a suitable egg-laying spot. The last one was the key. It turns out that in their normal enclosure, there were no suitable spots. So, in 1999, when Terry and Carol were obviously looking for spots to lay eggs, I temporarily moved them to the back patio, where we had a vegetable garden. Both turtles found the right soil here and laid eggs; Carol laid 2 eggs on May 16th and Terry laid 3 eggs on May 17. This is several weeks earlier than turtles in the wild would normally lay eggs; but then I brought them out of hibernation over a month early this year. I dug the eggs up and placed them with their soil into plastic shoeboxes. The shoeboxes were transported to Marietta several days later and placed in a 10-gallon aquarium on top of a stack of plastic test-tube holders. This allowed the tank to be filled a little over halfway with water; a submersible 100 watt heater kept the water temperature at over 80 degrees F. This allowed for a constant soil temperature of about 80 degrees F. A temperature logger was placed in one of the excavated nests; which was then refilled.

About 1 month later, Carol laid an additional 3 eggs! One of these broke in the nest, but the other two were placed in another shoebox. This container of eggs was simply left in front of a south-facing patio door and the temperature was allowed to fluctuate.

The 5 eggs in Marietta began to hatch on July 17, 1999. One baby was stillborn in the egg; another died after hatching, and one egg was apparently infertile. On the other hand, 2 turtles, one from each of the mothers, survived and are shown in the film clip above. Unfortunately, we don't know which baby came from which mother. Linus is presumably the father of both, but with sperm storage it is possible that Gauchere, Karl, or even Naraht is the father. The eggs in Cleveland failed to hatch at all.

Both of the babies continued to do well at first, but by October, one of the two had died.  The other did very well through the winter, aside from a soft shell.  It is eating 2 guppies a day dusted with calcium supplement to help it harden up its shell. To see how Dylan is doing today, click here.

Between 1999 and 2002 we had no eggs.  Either the turtles didn't lay them, or we were in the midst of moving.  We found two egg shells in 2002; the eggs had hatched, but the babies were no where to be found.

On June 20, 2003, one of the turtles (either Carol or Terry) laid 5 eggs.  We were able to protect the nest with a mesh cage.  The other female may have also laid eggs, but we never found them.  The eggs began to hatch on September 27th (Picard), September 28th (Riker, Data), October 1 (Geordi) and October 6 (Worf).  The eggs hatched in order from top to bottom in the nest.  Picard came out with very little yolk sac; The rest had larger yolk sacs and Worf also had the other embryonic sacs still attached.  Worf was probably somewhat premature as I had excavated the nest and reburied it very shallow.  The nest was probably in a cooler place than the turtles would have otherwise selected, and the plants in the garden further shaded the nest as the summer progressed.  Hatching times ranged from 99 to 108 days, and in addition to the factors listed above a cool summer may have also played a part.  The turtles which emerged with full yolk sacs were wrapped in moist tissues until the yolk sacs had a change to be absorbed into the bodies a bit more.  The turtles will be split up over the winter, with some being hibernated and others kept active and fed through the winter.

 

Above:  The 2003 hatchlings.

Above:  The nest, protected by a screen.  For info on how to build such a screen, go to the eggs page.

Above left:  Riker hatching, with Picard's egg and a quarter to the left.  Above right and below:  Worf hatching, first in the nest, then out of it.  I removed him egg and all from the nest because a freeze was expected that night.  He remained partially in the egg overnight, then crawled out in the morning.  The yolk sac (below right) is yellow with blood vessels running through it, the darker sacs include the amniotic and chorionic sacs, which are used in respiration, and the allantois, where waste is stored.  These other sacs fell off after 24 hours, leaving a large yolk sac.  The picture looks sickening, but Worf was fine!

 

Above:  Riker soon after hatching (left) and 4 days later (right).  The yolk sac gets smaller as the nutrition in it is absorbed into the body, and the extra membranes (reddish in the photo to the left) drop off.  I wrapped hatchlings looking like the picture to the left in moist tissue to prevent the sac from drying out or getting damaged as the turtle moved; I then placed the hatchling in a box lined with moist paper towels until the yolk sac looked like the one on the right (above). 

Below:  Data, Riker and Picard (left to right) on October 3, 2003.  Picard was 6 days old; the other 2 were 5 days old at the time.  Picard (below right) has the yolk sac reduced to the point where he was able to crawl about unhindered, and was able to eat.  The other two were mature enough to crawl around in a box with moist potting soil and peat moss.  Picard at this stage is old enough to release to the wild.  The babies will not eat until the yolk sac is gone, and when they begin to eat they are almost exclusively carnivorous, preferring live food.

Above left:  Terry and Geordi share a moment.  Above right and below: Geordi and Linus, size comparison.  Geordi had hatched 5 days previously.  The pictures are posed so you can see the difference in size.  Box turtles do not care for their young, they do not give them rides, and at least one correspondent has written to tell me that the adults will eat the hatchlings.  I was watching Terry quite nervously in that the sniff she is giving Geordi is the same as she gives a potential food item before eating it.  All of the adults sniffed Geordi and then ignored him.

 

 

Left - Picard eats his first mealworm.  He was 10 days old at the time, and he finished 1/2 the mealworm.  Below: Picard's and Geordi's growth for their first 6 months.  Their diet has been mostly mealworms, and earthworms.  Picard will eat some banana; neither will eat shrimp.

More on hatchling turtles, growth rates and "headstarting", including pictures of "Winter" who hatched from an nest laid about the same time as the nest that produced Picard et al., but who survived a Cleveland winter outside on his own.

Click here for headstarting and what is happening with the hatchlings now.

03/29/04 (To see video, use Internet Explorer)

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