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Building an incubator and hatching turtle eggs 


There are few ways of making an incubator, using variety of materials - depands on the person making it ( everyone has his own ways of making things work ).
There is an easy way to build an incubator using shoe box, but the outline below describes a way of making a 'good one'.

The following incubator can be used with variety of turtle eggs, snakes and lizards. According to reptile keepers this temperature set up will work with most turtle species, but when used with specific other reptiles, the owner should do some more research and set the temperatures according to suggested level for particular species.

List of materials:
  • 2 aquariums ( about 10 gal. tank & 5 gal. - the second one could be a large plastic container )
  • two thermometers
  • submersible water heater with thermostat
  • sand, peat moss or bag of vermiculite
  • sheet of plexiglass to cover the 10 gal. ( thick, firm so it could play its role as thermal insulation )

Action plan:

  • Fill the 5 gal. tank with your choosen substrate: sand, peat moss or vermiculite. ( using peat moss might attract bugs though )
  • Pour cups of lukewarm warm water into the smaller tank until the sand is soaked but not damp.
  • Place thermometer about 1 inch into the sand at the center.
  • Place the 5 gal. tank & the set to 80 degrees aquarium heater into the 10 gal. tank.
  • Fill the bigger tank with lukewarm water until the water level is about 1/2 - 3/4 inches above the sand line in the smaller tank.
  • Put the other thermometer into the 10 gal tank.
  • 7) Turn on the heater.
  • Drill few holes in the center of the sheet of plexiglass ( 5-6 about 1/4 of an inch in diameter )
  • Lay plexiglass over the whole set up and secure it with stripes of tape.
  • Check the temperature in both tanks every hour or so for a couple of days, until the temperature will get stabilized. The proper temperature should be 82-830F in the outer tank and 82 in the inner tank. The temperatures should be stable before depositing the eggs. Make an indentation in the substrate for each egg to rest in.
  • Make an indentation in the substrate for each egg to rest in ( insert the eggs about half way or so )
  • Since the temperature usually flactuates between night and day time, it would be a wise to keep track of all the adjustments made by making a chart.


  • As a general rule, the eggs are safe to touch or move from the nest only within few hours after being laid by the turtle. There is a possibility though, that saving eggs which have been already disturbed later might still result in a turtle being hatched, so even with slim chances it's always worth to try the impossible - miracles do happen in nature and it's a god idea to go the extra mile.
  • Be gentle handling the eggs and don't shake them - it would destroy the embryos.
  • If removed from the nest or taken from some place, mark the tops of the eggs with a soft marker and place them in the same position as found.
  • If some of the eggs are stuck together don't try to seperate them. The eggs with unusually thin walls might break during the seperation and get distroyed.
  • If you would decide to separate them for any reason, make sure they have hard solid shells and don't do it later then within few hours after being laid.
  • Try to keep the temperature in the incubator steady. Adjust the thermostat according to the made charts.
  • If you would see drops of water condensating on the plexiglass and possibly drippin on the eggs, drill some more holes to keep the humidity down.

Snapping turtle eggs should hatch after 80 to 90 days, but there are many cases when it happens even after about 60 days.
depands on the set temperature, the produced hatchlings could be mostly male or female. To find ouy more about how temperature influences the sex of new born snapping turtles click HERE.

To read about care of hatched baby snappers click HERE.

Here is an article written and posted on the net by one of the turtle breeding groups.
It describes some experiences of the breeders with different set ups in the incubator.

Hatching Turtle Eggs

By Russ Gurley, Director and John Richards, Breeder
Turtle and Tortoise Preservation Group

We have found at The Turtle and Tortoise Preservation Group that several new ideas being used here are greatly increasing our hatching success rates. Of the 1, 200 eggs we produced last year at the TTPG, we experienced an overall success rate of roughly 65%. With the implementation of a detailed plan of action, and the use of a new composition in our hatching soil mix, we have experienced hatching success rates of 90 to 95% in recent clutches. One of our important goals at the TTPG is to pass on information to advance the keeping and breeding of turtle and tortoise species. We hope this information will spark some interest with beginners and experienced keepers alike.


If you know that a female turtle has indeed laid a clutch of eggs, there are several steps to insure successfully hatching these eggs.

You will need the following:

Plastic shoebox with lid (Available at Target, Wal-Mart, etc.)
Damp soil mix - We use 1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 sterilized play sand, and 1/3 peat moss. (Add rain water into this mixture until damp. It should clump, but not pour water when squeezed.)
Digging utensil (spoon, etc.)
Soft lead pencil

We believe that the peat moss is an important addition to this mix. We feel that the acidity of the humid peat over the incubation period aids the hatchlings in their escape from the eggs. We have noticed that in our new mix the eggs appear much healthier and more "full". The texture and look of the egg's surface feels more natural and healthy. And most importantly, we have experienced significant increases in our hatching rates since the addition of the peat to the mix.

We also spray the eggs with rain water about once a week during incubation. We have switched from using normal dechlorinated tap water with a pH of about 8.2 to using low 6.8 to 7.0 pH rainwater. This also seems to have helped increase our hatching rates.

Put 1-2 inches of perlite in the bottom of the shoebox to allow good drainage. Spread 3-4 inches of the damp soil mix on top of the perlite layer. Put about a dozen thumb depressions into the mix and have your box ready for eggs.

Carefully dig up the eggs. This will be stressful as you near the clutch and you will be afraid of breaking an egg. Gently scoop away the dirt and mark the top of each egg as you remove it. This will insure that you place the egg as closely as possible to its original position. Place the egg into the shoebox in the depression you have made with a thumb. Push the mix up around the edges of the egg.

When all of the eggs are removed from the laying site, place the shoebox in a warm room. Utility rooms, sewing rooms, closets, etc. have all been used. Avoid direct sunlight. A temperature of around 80 degrees would be best, but eggs kept cooler will hatch.

A simple incubator can be constructed using a styrofoam-lined tropical fish shipping box (usually available at your local pet shop). Inside the box, place a submersible aquarium heater into a large glass jar of water. Place this in one corner of the box. This will keep the humidity high inside the incubator. (Check it daily and do not allow the water to evaporate Eit will bust the heater!) Pour a few inches of water into the bottom of the box. Place the shoebox containing the eggs on top of two bricks, lying in the bottom of the box. Set a thermometer on the lid of the shoebox and determine that the temperature inside the incubator will not become too extreme. Aim for a temperature of 80 to 82 degrees F.

Hatchlings will emerge from the eggs at varying times according to species and incubation temperature.


(Based on outside temperatures - with fluctuations - At 82 degrees F, in a controlled, warm environment, your babies will hatch out faster than these reported times.)

Red ear sliders 55 to 60 days
Painted turtles 55 to 60 days
Musk turtles 60 to 65 days
Snapping turtles 60 to 80 days
Diamondback terrapins 60 to 70 days
Spotted turtles 70 to 75 days
Spiny softshell turtles 55 to 60 days (* Caution: eggs are very brittle!)
Box turtles 70 to 75 days
Desert tortoises 90 to 100 days

* From Ernst & Barbour, 1994

After hatching, let the hatchlings stay in the shoebox for a day or two. Remove them to another shoebox with damp paper towel as a substrate. After four or five days, when their yolk sacs have been completely used up, they should be ready to transfer to a new vivarium. If in doubt as to the type of turtle you have, please contact a local turtle breeder, reptile society, or The Turtle and Tortoise Preservation Group for identification. (Putting the wrong species into the wrong microhabitat can do more harm than good.)

If you decide to keep one or two of the hatchlings to raise and enjoy, here are some basic care tips for keeping them. ..


Box turtles are fairly carnivorous in their feeding habits. Babies and adults will eat a lot of insect matter. They are especially fond of mealworms, red worms (bait store), waxworms, and even crickets. They can be supplemented with melon, strawberries, banana, grated apple, sweet potato, etc. Variety is the key.

Most box turtles enjoy quite a bit of water. Be sure to offer them a flat water dish and keep it filled with clean water. Most species will even enjoy a misting of warm water once or twice a week.

We suggest a substrate of sand and peat. (A commercial potting soil called Metro-Mix 350 is excellent!!!) Add to their enclosure bark, rocks (resting firmly on the bottom of the enclosure), leaves, cork, etc. They will find a nice secure area and spend a lot of time hiding there, especially as babies.

A nice outdoor box turtle enclosure can be made with landscape timbers or railroad ties. The larger, the better! Be careful Ebox turtles are furious diggers and can quickly dig out of an outdoor pen. Be sure to give them a nice bush to hide under or other shady areas. They must still be fed well and watered daily even in their outdoor habitat.


Aquatic turtles need exactly what you would expect Eclean, filtered, healthy water. There have been many advances in the last couple of years in equipment for keeping turtles. There are "turtle tanks", special turtle filters, turtle food, etc. To keep turtles happy and healthy, you need to spend the money and get the proper set-up. Cutting corners will eventually cause you problems.

Stock tanks from your local feed store make excellent turtle enclosures. Be sure to put them in an area out of the direct sunlight or place a shade cloth or shade area over one end. Hook up a nice filter and pump, put in some plants, and you have a fascinating, educational habitat right in your backyard. Be sure to add several places for your turtles to climb up and bask in the sun. A large stump, thick branches, or piles of flat rocks work great.

Outdoor ponds and garden pools are being constructed across the country for turtles, fish, lilies, and other aquatic life. Check out your local bookstore for books on building yourself a pond!

Most water turtles are carnivorous and will eat a variety of insects. The more variety you can offer, the better. Your local bait shop and pet store can be great resources. (Check out a reptile magazine for sources of large quantities at cheap prices!) Trout Chow (feed stores) is a good food for water turtles and there are about a dozen commercial diets available now. Some aquatic turtles will also eat vegetable matter. This can be supplied by throwing in some water hyacinth or duckweed from your local garden pond supplier or you can also use kale, spinach, or green leaf lettuce as a supplement.

Enjoy your turtles and turtles. Read as much as you can about them and their proper care. Learn about them. Seek out others who keep turtles and tortoises and encourage those who don't to establish an interesting, educational, and peaceful turtle or tortoise habitat for themselves.


Ernst & Barbour, Turtles of the United States and Canada, 1994,
Smithsonian Press.
Highfield, A., Practical Encyclopedia of Keeping and Breeding Turtles and
Tortoises, 1996, Carapace Press.

** This article is copyrighted, but may be reprinted by interested individuals or societies as long as the author, Turtle and Tortoise Preservation Group, and internet address are acknowledged and printed with the article. RG 1998

More reading & related links:
        Basic snapping turtle info in one file - Introduction to snapping turtles.pdf (116 Kb)  


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