How to Know if Your Tortoise is Pregnant

Josie F. Turner
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. Updated: May 10, 2023
How to Know if Your Tortoise is Pregnant

Turtles reproduce by internal fertilization, requiring a male and a female to do so. If you have a male and female tortoise at home, pregnancy is a real possibility. Similarly, if you have a female tortoise at home and they are exposed to a male for any length of time, pregnancy can occur. Tortoises are oviparous animals, meaning they lay eggs which are hatched outside of the body. Pet tortoises can lay a clutch of around 8-12 eggs, although this will depend on the species. This means there will be a lot of baby tortoises to care for, so it is very important we know what to expect.

At AnimalWised, we explain how to know if your tortoise is pregnant. We do so by looking at the pregnant turtle signs which can be both physical and behavioral.

You may also be interested in: How to Know if My Hamster is Pregnant
  1. How do tortoises reproduce?
  2. How to know if your tortoise is pregnant
  3. How to palpate a tortoise
  4. Warning signs during pregnancy

How do tortoises reproduce?

The tortoise is an oviparous vertebrate reptile, which means that it reproduces by laying eggs. Tortoises reproduce through sexual reproduction, meaning they require a male and female specimen. Like other reptiles, tortoises have internal fertilization, with mating occurring through the transfer of sperm from the male to the female. Here is a step-by-step overview of how tortoises reproduce:

  • Courtship: during the mating season male tortoises become more active and may engage in courtship behavior. This behavior can include head bobbing, circling the female, and biting or nudging her shell.

  • Mounting: once the male has successfully courted the female, he will attempt to mount her. The male climbs onto the back of the female and aligns his cloaca (the opening that houses the reproductive organs) with hers. He then inserts his penis into the female's cloaca to transfer sperm.

  • Internal fertilization: the transfer of sperm from the male to the female occurs through the male's penis. Tortoises have a retractable penis, which is everted during mating to facilitate sperm transfer. The female stores the sperm internally until she is ready to fertilize her eggs. Turtles can arrest their embryonic development to wait for optimal conditions, so egg laying after mating can differ in duration[1].

  • Egg development: after mating, the female tortoise's body begins developing eggs. The eggs are formed within her reproductive organs, specifically the ovaries. It takes several weeks or even months for the eggs to fully develop, depending on whether they delay embryonic development.

  • Egg laying: when the eggs are ready, the female tortoise will seek out an appropriate nesting site. Tortoises typically dig a nest in the ground using their hind legs and lay their eggs there. The female carefully positions the eggs in the nest, covers them with soil and then leaves them to incubate.

  • Incubation: the eggs undergo an incubation period, during which the embryos develop and grow inside the protective shells. The duration of incubation varies among species and can range from several weeks to several months.

  • Hatching: after the incubation period, the baby tortoises, known as hatchlings, break through the eggshells using a specialized egg tooth. They emerge from the nest and begin their independent lives.

Tortoises and turtles are the same animal, although tortoises are exclusively types of land turtle. This means the reproduction of turtles and tortoises refers to the same thing. However, there are some differences in species when it comes to reproduction. Although the general principles of sexual reproduction and egg-laying remain consistent, there may be some differences in timing, number of eggs laid and other factors.

The age they reach sexual maturity can differ. Although wild tortoises can need up to 20 years to reach sexual maturity, pet tortoises tend to reach this stage between 7-10 years of age. For this reason, if you have a very young tortoise, it is unlikely they will be pregnant even if they have been exposed to a male.

In addition, the incubation period is shorter when the temperature is higher, which may influence the time of hatching.

How to Know if Your Tortoise is Pregnant - How do tortoises reproduce?

How to know if your tortoise is pregnant

Abdominal palpation is the most reliable method of knowing whether a turtle is pregnant. We explain how to do this with your pet tortoise in the section below. Before we do so, we need to know that the signs of a pregnant turtle are not limited to physical changes. There are also behavioral changes which can suggest tortoise pregnancy.

Generally speaking, the following are the signs of a pregnant turtle:

  • Swollen Abdomen: a pregnant tortoise will often have a visibly swollen or enlarged abdomen. This swelling is caused by the developing eggs inside the reproductive organs, which push against the internal walls of the tortoise's shell.

  • Firmness of the abdomen: when touched gently, the abdomen of a pregnant tortoise may feel firmer than usual due to the presence of eggs. It's essential to be gentle and avoid applying too much pressure as tortoises have sensitive internal structures.

  • Restlessness: pregnant tortoises may exhibit increased restlessness or agitation. They may wander around their hutch more than usual or show signs of discomfort. This behavior can be attributed to the physical changes happening inside their bodies.

  • Dietary changes: some pregnant tortoises may experience a decrease in appetite or show selective eating habits. This change in behavior is thought to be related to the hormonal changes associated with pregnancy. Not all pregnant tortoises exhibit changes in their eating patterns, so it may not be a definitive indicator on its own. It is also possible that dietary changes are a sign of a range of diseases in turtles.

  • Nesting behavior: as they approach the time to lay eggs, pregnant tortoises may display nesting behaviors. They may dig or scrape the ground in their enclosure, searching for a suitable spot to lay their eggs. This behavior is instinctual and driven by the need to create a secure and comfortable nesting site.

It is important to know that determining whether a turtle is pregnant is not easy, even for experienced guardians. In addition to the fact that the signs of turtle pregnancy can also be signs of a pathological illness, behavioral changes may also be due to stress or other factors. If you suspect your tortoise is pregnant, you should take the animal to a veterinarian who is experienced in this animal species to confirm the pregnancy.

We discover more about tortoise physiology with our article on how do turtles breathe?

How to palpate a tortoise

In order to tell whether your tortoise is pregnant, you need to use the palpation technique to check for eggs inside. To do this you will need to feel the abdomen, so we recommend following these steps:

  • It is normal for the tortoise to resist and kick out. For this reason, you may want to have a helper aid you in restraining the tortoise.
  • You should take advantage of this movement and block one of their hind legs. This can be done by simply holding one of your fingers on the inside of the leg, preventing it from moving.
  • Blocking one of its legs will give you access the side of its abdomen, an area to which you must pay special attention.
  • Gently press one or two of your fingers on the side of the abdomen to palpate. If the area is soft, you are feeling its viscera. If you notice something spherical and hard, your tortoise is likely pregnant.

Learn more about what to expect when adopting a tortoise with our article on how long do turtles live?

How to Know if Your Tortoise is Pregnant - How to palpate a tortoise

Warning signs during pregnancy

If your pet tortoise is pregnant, you must pay special attention to certain signs that might indicate a disease or a problem with the pregnancy. Your veterinarian should explain more about what to expect, but the following are some general signs of complications in a tortoise pregnancy>

  • Red and swollen eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Lack of appetite
  • Shell problems
  • Spots on the skin
  • Head swelling
  • Weight loss
  • Edema
  • Breathing difficulty

If you notice any of these signs it is important to go to the veterinarian as soon as possible. They may indicate a disease, which for a pregnant tortoise would be more dangerous than normally. To prevent any harm to your tortoise, you should always be careful with the other pets at home.

If you want to read similar articles to How to Know if Your Tortoise is Pregnant, we recommend you visit our Gestation category.


1. Rafferty, A. R., & Reina, R. D. (2012). Arrested embryonic development: a review of strategies to delay hatching in egg-laying reptiles. Proceedings. Biological sciences, 279(1737), 2299–2308.

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Jane Heath-Jones
I have an elderly female Horsefield Tortoise who laid one unfertilised egg about a month ago. She has been off her food + her motions & wee are practically stopped in the last couple of weeks. I have taken her to the vets & had her x-rayed, there are 5 eggs still inside her. Will she potentially lay these next year? The vet has given me a nutritional food supplement to feed her & told me to Bath/Soak her 3-4 times a day, in the hope she will start eating again of her own accord, give her much needed nutrition & rehydrate her. She lives in our garden with the full run of the garden & has access to a large variety of plants & weeds suitable for her to eat. Is there anything else I/We should be doing for her?
Yolanda A Ayala
I have a female desert turtle and we recently inherited a male turtle which also looks like a desert turtle. They mated just recently my concern is can the female be pregnant just before hibernating?
Matthew Nesbitt (AnimalWised editor)
Hi Yolanda,

A female turtle ready to lay a clutch of eggs will not likely hibernate. However, just because they mated, it doesn't necessarily mean they will lay eggs. You should be able to see what she does and act accordingly.
Hello sir/madam
Actually I wanted to know that is white slurry type of substance common after mating of a star tortoise?it is thick and odourless.....please tell me as my female star tortoise has just done mating on 22-03-2020 and today is 26-03-2020 ........she is about 13-15 yrs old... thanking you in anticipation.
Should I soak my Russian tortoise when she's about to lay eggs???
Can a female tortoise lay eggs if she hasn't been with a male tortoise?
Also, will a male Redfoot mate with a female Herman's tortoise? If the male is only 1 year old can he father hatchlings?
Administrador AnimalWised
Hi again Becky!

Parthenogenesis is the term for asexual reproduction, meaning the eggs can be grown without fertilization. It occurs naturally in many reptile species such as Komodo dragons, rock lizards and boa constrictors. However, not many/any turtles have been observed doing this. It does not mean it has been ruled out, but it is unlikely.

However, something observed in many turtles is that females can store sperm from the male for long period of time (potentially up to 7 years in some reports). This means they can fertilize the eggs even if they have long since had contact with a male. It is quite an extraordinary ability which is not yet well understood, but is a fascinating topic for research.

You should not try to breed two different species of turtle together. Firstly, it is unlikely they will want to mate. Secondly, even if they did, it is unlikely the ensuing eggs will be viable and for this reason it would be a cruel practice. Also, sexual maturity in a male turtle at 1 year of age is pretty much impossible. In the wild, male tortoises can take around 10 years to reach sexual maturity. In captivity, puberty is often reached quicker, but it would still take at least 4 to 5 years. It will depend on the species of turtle, but males will reach sexual maturity faster as females such as the Blandings species of turtle take around 14 years in the wild to produce eggs.

Thanks for your questions and we hope this helps!
Becky, No she can not. and also, from what I hear, it has to be the same species of tortoise.
i wants to know that how to care my Indian star tortoise when she is pregnant
and i think she was founding calcioum things and how can i make nest for her
she lives with male tortoise it is good?
please give me suggestion
can she eat boiled eggs and it sheel?
Alice Tapiol Breeze (AnimalWised editor)
Hi there,
First of all, we'd need to know about the habitat the tortoise lives in. However, your tortoise will dig a hole to lay her eggs. Therefore the ground should not be too hard, too humid or too cold, this is if your tortoise lives in the garden. If they are inside a home, putting a box full of earth with an earth ramp so that your tortoise can climb up it. Below it, use a heating lamp.
Regarding their diet, it should be rich in calcium and fiber. Add plenty of dark leafy greens, vegetables and their usual feed. These tortoises are herbivores which is why they shouldn't eat eggs.
Hope this helps

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How to Know if Your Tortoise is Pregnant