Notes From The Zookeeper: When Tiny Tortoises Hatch

Last week was a banner week for me. It’s the very beginning of tortoise hatching season, and I never know what I’ll find when I go into work. Last week was full of fun surprises. Like this:

Baby tortoise hatching

Northern Spider Tortoise, Pyxis arachnoides brygooi

Notice that this egg was laid in June. Incubating is a slooow process. I’m a little surprised that this guy is hatching already. When the eggs are laid, they go into an incubator for a month, then they go into a chiller for another month. Without a little “winter,” the eggs never develop. They have to go through a cold period (a frosty 65 degrees is winter for these little tortoises from Madagascar) and then warm up again before the egg “knows” conditions are going to be warm enough for hatching. Otherwise it’s all Game of Thrones, and the egg always expects that “Winter is coming.”

We write all kinds of information on the egg so we know who the parents are and which egg is which because they are in a tray with 10 or 11 other eggs. This time, I candled the eggs at two months, and out of 13 eggs, only three showed signs of development. I put the other 10 eggs back in the chiller for a recool. In fact, I was just coming in to recandle these eggs to see if they were still developing when I found one pipping. Click to enlarge.

And here’s the crazy part. These guys have belly buttons. They stay in the egg and absorb their yolk so it doesn’t get covered with dirt. Sometimes the yolk doesn’t go far.

I have a video to show you, but I was up too late last night to put all of this together. Next week. It’s pretty cute.

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15 thoughts on “Notes From The Zookeeper: When Tiny Tortoises Hatch

  1. What fun! Thank you for the new baby pictures! 🙂

    How long does it usually take to go from the first sign of pipping to full emergence from the shell? Is there a lot of variation in these times among tortoise species?

    • It does really vary. The spider tortoises can sometimes take 5 days to completely emerge because it takes them time to absorb their yolk and build up their energy. Some box turtles may hatch partially and stay buried in the nest until the following spring.

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