If you have decided to keep your turtles out of doors, in conditions resembling their own natural habitat, and to let them hibernate, chances are your turtles will be comfortable enough in captivity to mate and bear progeny. Obviously, breeding turtles is not for everybody, and only the most adventurous should apply. If you wish to become a turtle breeder, or simply want to let nature take its course, consider the following information:
Most turtles and reptiles (especially snakes), have a hard time adapting to captivity, and it is sometimes difficult to breed them in such conditions. However, if you are highly skilled at taking care of your pets and give the animals a certain degree of freedom, they will think they are in the wild, and hibernate. Most terrestrial turtles, like the box turtle, or the mud turtle, come out of hibernation between March and May, and it is about that time when they begin to mate.
One thing to consider if you own multiple turtles is to make sure they do not become aggressive during that period. Separate smaller turtles from the bigger ones, especially males, since they sometimes have a tendency to bite each other’s heads off.
If you are planning on doing this full time, make sure you learn as much as possible about the species you plan to breed, and choose specimens that appear strong and alert as the mating pair. You should not let weak, related, or second generation turtles breed, as it may end up compromising the gene pool and yield deformed hatchlings. Also, mating, especially the formation of the female’s eggs is highly stressful and draining, especially when they are just fresh out of hibernation, so keep a close watch on their health and diet.
After mating with the males, the females start looking for a place to lay their eggs. Provide adequate quarters and shelter with plenty of soft soil areas. Make sure there are several places to hide and bask, and that the soft soil areas are surrounded by rocks or logs so that the turtle will feel safe burying her eggs in it. make sure the soil is at least 8 or 9 inches deep, as a turtle can lay up to 5 eggs in that same spot; the eggshells are soft and are made to absorb moisture and heat, and are very fragile, which is why the female buries them. Do not attempt to move the eggs from the holes, but adding a screen mesh cover will help prevent neighborhood dogs, scavengers, and even insects from digging up the eggs. Make sure there is enough moisture going to the soil, add some water yourself if there hasn’t been any rain and the soil appears to have dried up.
It should take up to 90 days for the young turtles to hatch, at which time the screen mesh will keep them from wandering out in full view of predators. Hatchlings are very fragile, and since turtles grow at a much slower pace than other domestic animals, you will have to keep them under constant watch, paying close attention to their diet, and making sure they do not get sick. You will also have to make sure each young turtle gets its share of food, and does not fight with the others. Even though the turtles are hatched outdoors, it would be preferable to keep them indoors for at least a year, in a small terrarium.
Another thing to consider before you decide to become a breeder is whether there is enough interest in your are to justify bringing more turtles into the world. Do not assume you can just release them in the wild, even if they are indigenous to the area, as it may upset the balance of the current population. Also, if you think giving them away is the answer, keep in mind that some people will want to take them simply for the novelty factor, and the turtles will eventually be neglected and die. Do your homework before taking your hobby to the next level.