Animal Information

Redfoot Tortoise Making Her Nest & Laying Eggs

The red-footed tortoise (Chelonoidis carbonaria) has a vast range in northern South America. This reptile has been popular with tortoise keepers because it is a medium-sized tortoise that seldom grows larger than 15 inches in captivity.

Typically, they begin breeding when they reach 6” to 8” long, (roughly 7-to 8 years old) although at that size their eggs are often infertile and the clutches are smaller than fully-adult redfoot tortoises would produce. Breeding immature redfoots is possible, but you’re more likely to get fertile eggs and healthy hatchlings if you stick to breeding mature tortoises, ones 10+ years old.

In the past Redfoots have been imported from farms in Venezuela and Brazil, and from the Guyana/Suriname area, where they are taken from the wild. To the best of my knowledge, wild-caught (WC) specimens now account for very few of the tortoises available today, in comparison to the 1970s thru 1990s, when they were imported by the thousands from Colombia, in particular, as well as Guyana/Suriname. Redfoots are still exported in relatively small numbers, but private breeders are now providing greater numbers of hatchlings.

One of the most important aspects of successful redfoot tortoise breeding is feeding your tortoises a varied, nutritious diet. Some owners involved in redfoot tortoise breeding report seeing the largest clutches and highest hatch rates when tortoises are fed a wide variety of leafy vegetables, fruits, and vegetables. Sine keepers provide their breeding groups of tortoises an animal-based protein once a week as part of the overall diet.

Redfoots not being bred should only be fed animal protein rarely and no more than every other week. Animal-based protein can come from chopped boiled eggs, grubs, snails, slugs, worms, boiled chicken or shrimp, or even salmon or tuna canned in water. An inadequate diet can contribute to small clutches, infertile eggs, incompletely developed embryos, and hatchlings that fail to thrive despite receiving good care.

Male redfoots have a concave plastron, while the plastron of females tends to be much flatter. Males also have longer tails and a much wider, flatter anal notch in their plastron. Some males have a narrow “waist” that gives them a shape that resembles a large peanut when seen from above.

Typically, a male interested in mating will begin by walking closely behind a female. He then circles the female repeatedly, sticks out his head so that it’s close to her face, and jerks his head rapidly from side to side. Shoving, ramming, and biting can be involved. When “the time is right” he’ll position himself and mount her from the rear. The concavity of his plastron lets it fit snugly over the top of her shell. During copulation, the male will make a series of unusual grunts or clucking sounds. The clucking is so loud anyone in earshot will swear they’re hearing chickens.

Incubate Those Eggs

Redfoot tortoise breeding can occur at virtually any time of the year, but most breeders say it tends to take place either during or just after a rain. There are many reports that more than one male is needed for successful redfoot tortoise breeding – the presence of at least two males appears to stimulate the urge to reproduce. Others think only one male is necessary for successful redfood tortoise breeding.

In the wild, some female red-footed tortoises deposit eggs in leaf litter on the forest floor, but others excavate a nest before laying eggs. Nest size varies greatly, but the average is around 6 inches deep. Although captive tortoises will lay eggs on the enclosure floor, provide a nestbox large enough for the female to easily move around.

Red-footed tortoise eggs can be incubated a variety of ways. I place them on flat, damp paper towels within a plastic shoebox measuring 12 inches long, 10 inches wide and 4 inches tall. Approximately 60 holes measuring a one-eighth inch in diameter are drilled into the ends and sides of the box. A nonventilated lid fits on top.

Once she starts laying her eggs she also goes into a trance, so keep any other tortoises away from her and do not disturb her until she has dropped her eggs and completely covered the nest and walked away. When the female deposits her eggs, dig them up carefully. Partially bury the eggs in small plastic food containers in an incubator (get yourself a Hovabator, which will cost you around $30, last for years, and work like a charm) that’s been filled halfway with moist vermiculite.

Set the incubator’s temperature between 84 and 88 degrees Fahrenheit.  At 84, you’ll get male hatchlings; at 88 you’ll get females; at 86 you’ll get some of both. We set it at 85-86 and don’t worry about the sex. The humidity in the incubator should be kept at a constant 70% to 90% (we fill a small cup or bowl of water to maintain this humidity level). The incubation period ranges from 120 to 190 days, but the average is typically 145 to 150 days. Lastly, like all tortoise and turtles the older the female, the higher percentage of hatchlings. At age, 8-10 expect a 25-50% hatch rate. If you’re lucky enough to get one to 35-50 years old you’d likely see an 85-100% hatch rate.

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