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Reproduction: Mating

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The sexual maturity of a RES is mainly based on its size. The rough estimations for captive RES are: 2-4 years for males with a SCL of 4” and 3-5 years for females with a SCL of around 5”. Mating begins with a sexually mature male (though young males will try as well) performing an elaborate courtship. During the courtship, a male will attempt to get the female's attention by swimming backwards in front of her (in a face to face position) with his front legs extended outwards. His long nails would then vibrate or shake (flutter) very quickly in her face. If she is willing, the male will be allowed to mount her and position his tail under hers. He will release his front legs and stabilize in a vertical position. This courtship and mating normally occurs through the months of March and June. She may become gravid after two or three weeks. Captive turtles, which live in a more consistently controlled environment, may try to mate year round.
Comment: Unless you can care for multiple hatchlings or find suitable homes for them, I would not recommend trying to breed turtles. Sliders are not a threatened or endangered species and are considered overpopulated and invasive in many parts of the country and world.


When a female is gravid, or carrying eggs, you will need to provide an appropriate nesting area so she can lay them properly. A female RES can be gravid without the presence of a male and the eggs will not be fertilized. She can still be gravid if mating was unsuccessful. You can gently feel for eggs between the carapace and in front of her rear legs. Be very gentle and careful because there is a possibility of breaking the eggs. She will instinctively want to create a nest and lay a clutch of eggs. A clutch may contain over twenty eggs for a healthy, full-grown female. If environmental conditions are right, she may lay around 3 or 4 clutches in a season.

A female RES in an aquarium would show signs of wanting to nest by becoming very restless and exhibiting a lot of digging motions with her hind legs and will frantically try to get out of the tank. She may bask more during this time and additional calcium and UVB rays should be provided. A nest area is very important for her to lay her eggs naturally. If she does not lay her eggs, she might lay eggs in the water or retain them, which would cause egg binding. If the turtle has laid one or two eggs in the water, you still need to provide a nesting area. It is likely that the entire clutch was not laid and she is still gravid.

Egg binding, egg retention or dystocia occurs when eggs are abnormally held within the body. These eggs can decay, deteriorate or become calcified. They become brittle and can cause an internal injury, bacterial infection, peritonitis and death. Even a suitable nesting area does not always prevent egg binding because stress, poor diet, age, illnesses, abnormalities and personality can also cause dystocia or “difficult birth”. If a female attempts to lay eggs but cannot, then a vet visit is highly recommended to determine the cause of the obstruction or if there is an oversized or deformed egg present. Possible signs of a dystocia may be depression, breathing difficulties, prolapse and swelling around the cloaca. If the turtle produces a foul liquid, it is possible that the retained egg has fractured. Take her to a vet immediately.

A simple X-ray can determine if a RES is holding eggs. If a RES does not want to lay her eggs, a vet can inject her with Oxytocin to induce egg laying. If the eggs cannot pass naturally or by any other means, then they would have to be surgically removed. If your RES is regularly retaining her eggs, you need to review her diet and habitat. It's possible these factors are affecting her ability to properly produce and lay eggs.

California Turtle & Tortoise Club

Tortoise Trust

Pet Education

Anapsid.org - Dystocia in Reptiles

Nests and Incubation

Females can be selective about where they choose to nest. The more natural an environment is, the better chances are of her nesting - though there is never a guarantee. A natural nest area will consist mostly of soil (not damp or wet). If you are creating a nesting area, you can use a 50/50 mixture of sand and organic compost. For larger RES, the substrate should be around 12 inches deep. Rocks, stones and roots should be removed from the substrate. She may stop or refuse to continue if she feels an obstacle or if the depth is insufficient. Nests are dug with the hind feet in alternating scoops and it is best not to touch or disturb her once she has begun. The hole will be several inches wide and deep, and will vary depending on the turtle size. The eggs are laid and then carefully covered with the substrate as it becomes well hidden. There may also be a preference as to when a turtle will want to lay her eggs. If she is exhibiting signs of being gravid, try placing her in a nesting area at different times during the day.
Note: Do not ever leave your turtle outside and unsupervised in an unprotected area.
As previously mentioned, it is generally not recommended to breed sliders. Eggs should be destroyed and discarded once they are laid. The following incubation information is for educational purposes and for legitimate interests. Eggs should not be turned over; their position must always remain the same from the time they were laid. If they are left in the original nest, the area should be protected to prevent predators from having access. If you cannot leave them where they are, an incubator must be present to store the eggs. Eggs should be marked on the top by a water-based marker to be used as a reference of the egg’s position. Damaged eggs should be removed and discarded. Eggs laid in water become deprived of oxygen and most likely will not be viable unless they were removed immediately.

For an incubator, a shoebox sized plastic container could serve this purpose well. With several small holes drilled in the lid for ventilation, fill the container with several inches of heavy grain vermiculite. Keep the vermiculite lightly moist and periodically check for damaged eggs. Do not touch, remove or otherwise disturb them. Temperatures need to be kept around 81°F-86°F (27.2°C-30°C). Males are produced in cooler temperature range and females in the warmer range with mixed genders produced in the transitional range. Eggs, provided they have been properly taken care of, will hatch in 60 to 80 days. Eggs in artificial incubation may hatch several days earlier. A hatchling emerges by slicing the shell with its egg tooth. The hatchling may still be absorbing nutrients of the yolk sac, which should not be removed or disturbed. It may not show immediate interest in eating.

Tortoise Trust - How to Create Naturalistic Nesting Sites for Egg-laying Turtles

If you find a nest that a wild turtle left, you should leave it alone or, if possible, protect it.

Related Topics: Found Eggs
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This page updated: 2011/01/28 Copyright © 2005-2011 Red Ear Slider. All rights reserved.