Animal Information

Using Incubators to HATCH Reptile EGGS.

The term artificial incubation means that the keeper uses an incubator to hatch the eggs.

Discovering that your pet reptile has deposited eggs is simultaneously exciting and nerve-racking. On the one hand, you may be greeted with miniatures of the animals you have raised. On the other hand, you must somehow devise a method for keeping them alive.

The easiest way to tend to the eggs is to move them into an incubator, but few hobbyists have such tools.

Alternatively, you can try to leave the eggs where laid and attempt to provide suitable conditions that will enable them to hatch. In the vast majority of cases, artificial incubation produces better results than leaving the eggs to hatch in the enclosure because of the increased environmental control an incubator provides.

First of all, you need to select an incubation container that is suitable for the kind of eggs that you want to hatch.

Also, you need to use a hatching container that is large enough to contain the number of eggs for hatching and it should have enough surface area that will allow for the circulation of oxygen and the formation of humidity.

Poultry incubators are great. With one piece of equipment, you can hatch virtually any type of common poultry bird. With simple and easy adjustments, chickens, turkeys, ducks, quail and a host of other birds can all be successfully hatched in the same generic incubator. But is that all an incubator can do?

It’s not. What many people do not realize is that a poultry incubator can be used for reptile eggs also!

A poultry incubator can perform well for many different species of reptiles. Before attempting to hatch reptile eggs in a poultry incubator, there are some fundamental differences between incubation of poultry and reptiles that you need to understand.

The first is turning the eggs. Poultry eggs need to be turned several times a day, but if a reptile egg is turned most of the time the egg will either die or the infant inside will be permanently damaged in some way. Don’t turn them manually and if it has an automatic turner, disable or remove it.

Another fundamental difference is that reptiles require what is called ‘Incubation Medium’. Poultry eggs are placed on wire flooring, plastic racks, or pretty much any other surface and can simply be set on.

While we see some people like our wonderful herper friend Fred Grunwald incubate some species using the racks that come inside of a poultry incubator. However, this is species-specific and is only suggested for an expert.

Incubator Medium

Reptile eggs must be placed in an ‘Incubation Medium’. This is a porous, mold-resistant, sand-like substance. Many things can serve as a passable incubation medium, including sand, moss, perlite, and others.

Most people feel that store-bought incubation mediums are well worth the money, as they tend to have much higher hatch rates than most handmade substances.

The most widely used incubation medium is vermiculite, available from most commercial nurseries, or plant sections of some grocery stores. Vermiculite is mixed with water in an appropriate ratio by weight, such as one part vermiculite to one part water for humid species, or a 2:1 ratio for arid species. 

In other words, for a humid species, if one uses 16 ounces of vermiculite, 16 ounces of water should be added. The vermiculite and water should be mixed well and placed in a clean gallon jar or plastic shoebox or some type of container with a tightly fitting lid. 

Reptile eggs also require temperatures and humidities that can be significantly different than those required by poultry.  

Some poultry incubators may have difficulty maintaining these temperatures, but with perseverance and a little creativity, a simple solution can be found.

Incubator Prep

You will want to start with a clean and sterile incubator. Many choose to wash there’s with a low bleach solution, while others choose to purchase and use commercial incubator disinfectant. 

Either way, you go, it is important to make sure you clean all the surfaces inside the incubator, as well as any surfaces you may touch when using the incubator, such as buttons, handles, etc. Wiping these with a cloth with the disinfectant should do the trick.

Next, you will want to set up the temp and humidity. You will want to let the turtle egg incubator run for about 24 hours before introducing your fertile eggs so that your incubator is move-in ready for your eggs.

You will most likely want to use vermiculite, perlite, or some other type of substrate to partially bury your eggs in. Sand is not recommended, as it does not allow for the eggs to get the needed oxygen as readily and can harbor bacteria if not treated properly by baking or other methods.

Prepping Turtle Eggs for Incubation

Carefully remove them from their nest. The soft-shelled varieties of turtle egg can be especially delicate.

When you excavate the eggs (assuming they were buried) you should mark the top of each egg with a pencil, so that you can ensure they remain in the same orientation during incubation. Many experienced keepers forgo this step, but until you get the feel for dealing with eggs, it is a good idea to mark your eggs.

In some species, most notably with snakes, the eggs are laid in a pile and will adhere to each other about 12 hours after laying. Regardless of species, if you find eggs stuck together and they separate easily, then do so. By separating the eggs, you can ensure that should one egg go bad later during incubation, any mold or fungi will not necessarily affect the other healthy eggs.

If they do not come apart very easily, then DO NOT FORCE THEM. Doing so may result in rupture of one or both eggs and the loss of two babies! Usually, these “clump” clutches can be incubated successfully just as they are. You will just have to use a larger container to hold the eggs during incubation.

Using a paintbrush or clean toothbrush to remove the substrate from the tops and sides of them can help you get better access to the eggs. Unlike poultry, you will want to make sure you DO NOT turn your turtle eggs during incubation. 

Once the embryos have started to develop, turning them can twist the embryo, resulting in the loss of the turtle. Many people use a pencil to draw an “X” on the top of each egg so they can make sure they place it the same way in the incubator as it was in the nest.

Incubation Temperature

For most species, the ideal temp range is around 85 degrees F to 90 degrees F. Of course, there are variations to this as well.

This is especially if you choose to “temp sex” your turtle eggs if you incubate on the lower end of the spectrum you will have mostly males.

While the high end producing mostly females, and mid-range temps producing a blend of both. 

Temps that are too low can still incubate but may take much longer to do so than those closer to the acceptable range. Temps that are too high can lead to deformities or even death of your embryos.

Incubation Humidity

For hard-shelled eggs, a humidity of about 70% should be sufficient. However, soft-shelled eggs require much higher humidity, closer to 90%, to hatch correctly.

The American Box Turtle egg, for example, would need to incubate at that 90% mark since they lay a very soft-shelled egg. 

The soft-shelled eggs have a greater chance of deflating, and often naturally lays in a more humid area, such as forest floors and near water sources. Species that produce hard-shelled eggs are more often in dryer environments such as deserts.

Incubation Duration

Incubation duration can vary greatly. Most species will hatch between 8-11 weeks. However, some species can take 18 weeks up to half of a year to hatch. It can also vary greatly between eggs in the same clutch.

They should start hatching around the same time but don’t toss any eggs out until you have given them all ample time to hatch, and are confident that they are infertile. 

Just one clutch of turtle eggs can have a hatch date variation of up to 18 days and can be even longer than that in some tropical species.

This can even happen in very stable and accurate incubators, and although it is unlikely that you would have such a range, it is something to think about when deciding that the hatching is done.

If you do not have access to an incubator, you will have to try to incubate the eggs where they are. For species that bury their eggs in the substrate, this means recovering the eggs to keep them safe and prevent them from desiccating.

It is difficult to control the temperature of eggs buried in the substrate, but you can place a digital thermometer probe with the eggs before reburying them.

Then, do your best to maintain appropriate temperatures with basking lamps or heating pads; just be sure to keep the cage temperatures within acceptable tolerances for your reptile.

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