How not to hatch turtle eggs

Red Cheeked Mud Turtle Kinosternon scorpioides cruentatum

Back in April I was thrilled to find a clutch of Red Cheek Mud turtle eggs (Kinosternon scorpioides cruentatum) in the next box of one of my females. Although there are some reports of egg diapause in this species (sort of like a delayed development stage), I found the eggs within 24hrs of them being laid and quickly incubated them on damp vermiculite mix at 28°C, and all the eggs showed signs of development within the first two weeks.

This species normally lays between 2 and 6 eggs per clutch, so to get 4 eggs on the first clutch was a great result. Reports of fertility are few and far between, but in this case all 4 eggs began developing blood vessels and embryos, although at approximately 1 month, two of the eggs stopped developing further. In all honesty, I have no idea why this happened – temperature and humidity have been constantly monitored, and there has been no signs of cracking of fungal damage to the eggs.

The other two eggs however, continued to develop and actually passed the 3 month incubation time. Both embryos could be seen completely filling the inside of the egg when candled, and around two weeks ‘overdue’ I began to worry. At this point, neither embryo was showing any further signs of movement, and dark patches had formed at the end of each egg where I presume the baby turtles had been trying to hatch.

After searching for other reports on egg incubation in this species, I found a conference paper by Jonathan González (2015) detailing the same problem. His conclusion suggests that vermiculite as an incubation medium has a higher pH, whilst a lower pH medium such as peat moss causes slight degredation of the eggshell during incubation, aiding the hatching process. It also mentioned that vermiculite-incubated eggs had to be manually opened – and so I decided to take a chance.

Very carefully, I opened each of the eggs to expose the young turtles inside. As you can see from the photos, I was thankfully greated by two VERY chubby Mud turtles, fully formed and rather tightly squashed into their eggs. After a quick rinse in some clean water, I set the young turtles in some very shallow water to allow them to hydrate if needed and allow the shell to flex into a more natural shape.

Two months on, and both turtles are doing great. They didn’t feed for the first couple of days but now eagerly take small pieces of Tetra Reptomin and Fluval Bug Bites (a salmon & calciworm granule food I am testing out). Until they are a little bigger and stronger they are being kept in the incubator with shallow water covering their shells and some Elodea (pond weed) strands to graze on.

Hopefully I will have some more eggs from this species soon so I can try incubating on peat-moss or cocofibre to see the results. If you have any questions feel free to drop me a message as always.

Paul Edmondson

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