Turtles are unique marine reptiles that live remarkable lives. These creatures can live for over a century and spawn hundreds of offspring in their lifetime.
You might be wondering how exactly turtles mate. Simply put, a male turtle mounts a female turtle and inseminates her while the pair are underwater.
In this guide, we will discuss how turtles mate in great detail. We will also go over the various conditions surrounding this mating process.
Turtles often have lifespans that exceed that of humans. However, they reach sexual maturity sooner than we do.
The average turtle will reach sexual maturity between the age of 5 and 10. After this point, they are usually capable of mating with the opposite sex.
Turtles mate during the Fall, Spring, and Summer seasons. Turtles typically wait for water temperatures to reach between 50oF and 77oF before starting the mating process.
This water temperature is important to note because it will impact the turtle hatchlings’ gender. Studies have found that turtle eggs incubated below 81.8oF produce males.
Similarly, turtle eggs incubated at water temperatures above 88.8oF produce primarily females. So the gender ratio of turtles born in a particular region varies with temperature.
Turtles mate multiple times per season. These aquatic reptiles are polygamous. Therefore, it’s not uncommon for a single turtle to have multiple mating partners in a single season.
The mating process itself can take several hours. In addition to this, the pre-mating ritual can take several days. For this reason, it’s rare for a turtle to mate multiple times in one day.
Turtles typically mate underwater. These aquatic reptiles perform the act near the shoreline in subtropical or tropical waters.
This location is important as the female will later swim to the shore to lay her eggs. For this reason, the mating process rarely occurs far from the shore.
Turtles have a complex pre-mating ritual that can take multiple days. Most turtle creatures tend to be solitary and come together only for mating.
A male turtle typically starts courting a female a few weeks before the next nesting season. It’s also possible for multiple males to attempt to court a female simultaneously.
The males usually perform a distinct type of “courtship dance” in the waterfront of the female. The female turtle will then choose one male to mate with.
In some cases, the female turtle may reject each males’ courtship dance. In this scenario, the female will simply swim to the seabed and lie there.
She will then wait for another male or set of males to attempt their courtship dances.
A turtle’s mating process is relatively straightforward. The male turtle first swims above the female and climbs onto their back.
Male turtles have long claws embedded in their front flippers. They use these claws to hook themselves to the female’s shell edge.
These claws tend to be very sharp. It’s not uncommon for them to accidentally come in contact with the female turtle’s flesh and injure them.
Once both turtles are in position, they begin the mating process. Male and female turtles both possess body parts known as “cloaca” under their tales.
The cloaca houses each gender’s reproductive and waste organs. The male will then use their tail to reach under the female’s tail.
The male’s sex organ then emerges and penetrates the female turtle’s cloaca orifice and inseminates it. Following this, the male turtle will hang onto the female for up to 24 hours.
This is a necessary part of the mating process as it prevents other males from reproducing with the female. However, it isn’t a peaceful process.
The female turtle may fight with the male during this period in an attempt to get them to let go. This includes biting and scratching them repeatedly.
As a result, both the male and female turtles may end up injured during the immediate post-mating period.
Once the male turtle finally lets go, both separate and swim away from each other. They may then mate with other turtles during the rest of the mating season.
If the mating process is successful, the female turtle will become pregnant. She will then swim to the shore and lay her eggs in the sand after three to six weeks.
Female turtles typically reach their nesting site some time in advance of laying their eggs. They use this time to scout out a suitable spot and get it ready.
The female turtle will use her flippers to scoop sand and create an egg chamber. This consists of a pit that is around two feet deep.
Once the egg chamber is ready, the female turtle begins contracting her ovipositor organ and laying eggs. The average female turtle can lay up to 110 eggs in a single session.
Therefore, this process may take some time. The female turtle and her eggs are also incredibly vulnerable during this period.
If any predators disturb the turtle during the egg-laying process, it may flee back to the ocean. However, they will continue laying the rest of their eggs in the water.
This is undesirable as turtle eggs have a membrane that shouldn’t be submerged in water. As a result, any eggs laid in the ocean will end up dying.
If left undisturbed, the female tortoise will lay all her eggs in her onshore nesting chamber. She will then pile sand over her eggs to cover them up.
If you own multiple pet turtles, there are ways to check if one or more females are pregnant. This includes:
Your female turtle may be pregnant if you notice a sudden change in their behavior. However, you must be familiar with their usual behavior to utilize this approach.
For example, your female turtle may typically busk at a particular time of day. This means they emerge from the water and lay under the sun or other light source for several hours.
This busking process helps turtles dry off their shell and kill fungus that may have latched on. A pregnant turtle may exhibit changes to their busking habits.
Such turtles may start busking at a different time than before. They may also stop busking entirely while they are pregnant.
Similarly, you may see your female turtle attempt to “dig” into its enclosure’s busking area. This is similar to how a wild turtle would dig into sand to lay their eggs.
The second approach is to feel for eggs. You can do this by placing your hands underneath your female turtle and sliding your fingers along its underbody’s sides.
If the female is carrying eggs, you should be able to feel small bumps when you slide your fingers. However, this can be difficult to figure out without a reference point.
You can try performing the same procedure with a male turtle to understand what a non-pregnant turtle’s body should feel like.
This will help you understand what sensations to check for when you assess your female turtle.
Once you have confirmed that your female turtle is pregnant, you will need to take steps to care for her.
You won’t need to alter your female turtle’s feeding habits. However, you should create a nesting site for her.
You can accomplish this by creating a small area in their outdoor enclosure. This area should contain at least 8 inches of soft soil and rocks.
If you have chosen to house your aquatic turtles indoors, you can create an artificial nest for them. The easiest way to do this is to fill a plastic storage box with moist soft soil.
This box should be deeper than your turtle’s total length. It should also be at least five times as wide as your pet turtle’s width.
This box and soil layer will offer them plenty of room to dig and lay their eggs. Just be sure to avoid using soil that contains artificial fertilizer or pesticides.
If the nest is suitable, your female turtle should lay her eggs once she is ready. However, in some cases, she may still refrain from doing so.
If your female turtle isn’t laying her eggs, you should take her to the vet for a check-up. You can also check the nest conditions to ensure the conditions are optimal for egg-laying.
As you can see, turtles have a relatively straightforward mating process. However, the lead-up to this process requires specific conditions to be met.
For this reason, your pet turtles may or may not mate during a particular season. These reptiles are one of nature’s wonders, so you should do your best to take care of them.
Please visit our blog to learn more about turtle behavior and caring for your pet.
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