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It’s that time of the year again! Rain showers, spring flowers and that’s right… gravid red-eared sliders. If you have noticed your female red-eared slider acting a little strange recently, it could very well be because she’s gravid!
What does being gravid mean exactly? To put it simply, it means to be pregnant. Now I know you might be asking yourself, “How can my turtle be pregnant if I don’t have a male turtle?” Well, truth is, a LOT of egg-laying female reptiles will still produce eggs even without a male to fertilize them! Kind of like chickens.
Now I can’t stress this enough, even though the eggs are infertile, it is still extremely important to be aware of the signs of a gravid turtle and to know what to do. If not, it can be fatal.
How to tell if your red-eared slider is gravid
Every year around spring and summertime, red-eared sliders will begin to lay their eggs. Female red-eared sliders reach their sexual maturity and begin egg laying around 5 years of age. Like most reptiles, they will lay them in clutches (several eggs at a time) usually a couple of times a year.
Your female turtle will probably start exhibiting certain signs of being gravid around this time.
These signs can include:
- Loss of appetite
- Trying to escape
- Kicking or digging with back legs
If your female red-eared slider has most if not all of these symptoms and it is spring or summertime; there’s a very good chance she could be gravid.
What to do if your female red-eared slider is gravid
If you are fairly certain your turtle is gravid, it is extremely important to make sure she has access to a nesting box so she can lay her eggs. If your female red-eared slider does not have access to a nesting box, she can very easily become egg-bound which can be fatal. I also recommend giving your turtle a Zoo Med Turtle Bone* which will help them regain the lost calcium from producing their eggs.
How to make a nesting box for your red-eared slider
There are several different types and methods of nesting boxes you can try. The two most common options are:
- A bin or area located adjacent to their basking spot
- A separate container (usually a large plastic bin)
If your setup allows it, I would recommend the first option so she can use her nesting box at her leisure and you don’t have to worry about unnecessarily stressing your turtle by having to physically move her to the nesting box. Just make sure she can’t escape. A word of caution though, if you choose this option be prepared to really clean your tank and filter from the dirt your turtle is going to be taking with her when she jumps back into the water.
If you are going with a separate container like a large plastic bin, make sure you also have a lid with some air holes cut out so she can’t escape.
What size should the nesting box be?
The bigger the nesting box, the better. A 25-30 gallon rectangular plastic tub works great but sometimes you can get away using a smaller one. You can find these for only a couple of dollars at Walmart or the Dollar Store.
What kind of substrate to put in your nesting box
The most recommended option is a combination of about 75% premium topsoil*and 25% play sand*. Make sure you spray it and keep it moist, but not overly wet. The ratio of topsoil to sand may vary for your turtle.
Another option is a manufactured substrate that is supposed to be attractive to egg-laying reptiles such as Zoo Med Reptisoil Blend* or Zilla Jungle Mix*.
Whichever you decide to use, make sure you have about a 5 inch depth of substrate so she has enough room to dig.
Okay, so you got your nesting box all ready, now what?
If you chose a separate container for your nesting box, I recommend placing your turtle in it around dusk. Now you can sit back and try to relax but monitor your turtle’s behavior very closely while giving her some privacy. If you’re extra like me, I would recommend a pet camera* so you can watch her without bothering her =D
I would leave her in the container for an hour or so. If you see signs of her being stressed, try turning the lights off or putting a towel over the top of the container. If she doesn’t lay the first time, don’t fret. You can try again tomorrow.
If you see your turtle digging in the nesting box with her back feet, this is a very good sign! Check for eggs once a day and make sure to spray the substrate to keep it moist.
What to do if your turtle will not lay eggs in her nesting box
You’ve done all of this hard work. Great job! But unfortunately I have to warn you to be prepared for your turtle to not like the nesting box you made. Sometimes it is trial and error and every turtle is different. In the words of Captain Cold: “Make the plan, execute the plan, expect the plan to go off the rails, throw away the plan.”
If you aren’t having any luck with your nesting box or you see your turtle start laying eggs in the water; try switching it up! Try a different substrate blend, a bigger container or even putting the substrate under a heat lamp for a little bit to warm it up so it mimics warm dirt under the sun like in the wild.
I can tell you personally I have tried both options listed above with different variations and none of them worked! I still recommend trying them because they have worked for many red eared slider keepers and yielded great results.
But If your turtle is anything like mine, she is very picky about where she lays her eggs. Actually in nature, wild red eared sliders will dig “test sites” until they find the perfect spot to lay their eggs. Even though your turtle might be captive bred, this instinct is still engrained in them. It is believed that the process of them digging test sites and walking around is what helps stimulate the egg laying process.
So with that being said, my final recommendation is to simply take your turtle outside!
Taking your turtle outside
I know some people do not have this option but if you have the ability to, I think this is the best option overall. Let your turtle walk around in the grass and their instincts can start to kick in. But keep a very close eye on them and keep them away from other animals! Even though they are slow, they blend in very well with the environment and can be lost in the blink of an eye or seen as a toy by a dog. A fenced-in backyard is best with no other animals.
If the conditions are right, your red-eared slider will start walking around and digging her test sites. If she finds one she likes, she will start digging a hole with her back feet and laying her eggs! When she is done, she will cover it up and walk away. This whole process may take 1-2 hours so be sure you have the time to commit to watching her or have someone switch off with you to take a break. Or make it fun and have a picnic close by!
Once you find what works for your turtle, you’re in business! After she lays her first clutch, keep an eye on her as she can and probably will become gravid again in a couple of weeks. In which case, you now know what to do!
What works for your red-eared slider? Let me know in the comments below!
If you are worried at all about your gravid turtle, please seek help from an exotic vet immediately! If your turtle cannot expel her eggs, she can become egg bound which can be fatal or she may need emergency surgery which is very expensive.
*This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links at no additional cost to you. We do not recommend any products that we have not or would not use personally.