What could go wrong with the egg during incubation?

Egg doesn't chalk

This will be the first sign of an infertile egg.  If the egg doesn't chalk, the egg isn't fertile.  Some people will suggest to keep it in the incubator.  I find that to be false hope. This particular egg never chalked. 

Chalk but not fertile

Annoyingly, an egg can chalk, but never become fertile.  Some people claim this could be due to not enough calcium in the shell.  Could be because the temps/humidity levels aren't ideal.  Could be just straight up natures way of saying this one isn't gonna be fertile. This egg chalked perfectly, I candled it at 30 days, no veins.

Egg shell starts to thin

Sometimes an egg's shell starts to thin. it almost looks as if it is reverse chalking. White shell will turn pinkish hue. This means the egg is no good. 

"exploding" egg

An infertile egg might eventually start to rot. Tortoise eggs are permeable.  bacteria can seep into the egg and cause a build up of gas called hydrogen sulfide. Eventually the build up causes the pressure inside the egg to increase and it  will find it's way out of the egg.  The rotten nasty smell is the hydrogen sulfide. Sometimes you can hear them "explode". It's like hearing a small deflated balloon pop. 

What could go wrong with the hatchling during incubation?


For no known reason, a tortoise can stop developing in the egg.  Its very disappointing because when you candle it, you still see the veins.  You usually don't find out until its way past it's hatch date.

Yolk and blood supply ruptures

This greek hatchling seemed to be completely developed.  It was absorbing its yolk sac prior to pipping, and it must have ruptured the yolk sac or blood supply and drowned. This has only ever happened to me once.  my hypothesis is that the egg shell had too much calcium and was hard for the hatchling to pip through and it couldn't get out. 


Sudden hatchling death.  For no known reason the hatchling can just die within the egg.  This Chersina angulata, also known as the Bowsprit tortoise just randomly died in the tail end of incubation.  The temps/humidity were spot on, there was no environmental assistance to its death.


If you look closely at this underdeveloped hatchling, you will notice it has half a face. on the right side of the head you see another mouth, and the pinkish tissue in the middle is the brain that was never encapsulated within the skull.  This tortoise actually pipped and survived for four days.  It never completely soaked up its yolk sac.  This hatchling most likely had other internal deformities that are unknown that prevented it from surviving.

Pip too early

A tortoises pips when it is ready to pip.  It knows when its body is completely developed to survive.  If an outside source causes it to pip too early, it wont survive.  It's lungs aren't ready to breath real air.  The inner membrane that surrounds and protects the embryo will dry out and prevent any yolk nutrients and blood supply to the tortoise.

Uni delicacy

Sometimes, the egg is never developed on purpose.  They are cracked open before development and used for a delicacy.  Here you see a turtle egg on some uni, which is sea urchin and its served as sushi in some countries in Asia. 

Hatchling issues that are NOT issues.

Large Yolk sac

Some hatchlings are born with a really large yolk sac.  Its normal to panic because you think it has gastroschisis (born with intestines outside the body), but it doesn't.  This will get absorbed over a few days.  Make sure you keep the hatchling on a moist dye-free paper towel.  try not to let it dry out. 

Perfect amount of Scutes

A "perfect" tortoise has 3 rows of scutes and 1 nuchal scute. 

- 5 vertebrals

-4 Costal or Pleurals


-1 supra caudal scutes

-1 nuchal

Extra and/or irregular vertebral scutes

Your tortoise could develop extra and/or irregular  vertebral scutes only and all other scutes end up perfectly fine in shape and quantity. This could be due to high temps during incubation. It could also be due to genetics. 

Missing vertebral scutes

There can be missing vertebral scutes as well. Once again, this has no harm on the tortoise what so ever. This Greek was born missing one of its vertebral scutes, but costral and marginal were perfectly fine. 

Extra symmetrical costal and an extra vertebral scute

This is my Aldabra tortoise, name is Enoch. He was born with extra costal and vertebral scutes. Doesn't affect him at all. 

Perfect scutes on a pancake

Just another example of a perfect scute pattern in a pancake tortoise. 

No Nuchal scute

This eastern Hermann was born without a nuchal scute. You can see it caused a little kyphosis in its shell. since it has some kyphosis, it prevents the front legs from being able to reach its head.  This makes it difficult for it to eat large pieces of lettuce. It's food has to be chopped up really small. This little girl thrives. 

5 irregular vertebral, asymmetric costals, 11 marginals and 1 supracaudal

This russian hatchling was born with 5 irregular shaped vertebral scutes. asymmetrical costal, with 5 costal on the left instead of 4. It has all 11 marginal scutes and 1 supracaudal. Nature is so cool how it changes things up a little bit. 

5 irregular vertebral, asymmetric costals, 11 normal marginals and 1 supracaudal

5 irregular shaped vertebral scutes. Asymmetric costal scutes. This time the russian hatchling has 4 costal on left and only 3 on the right. Again, this has zero effect on their health. This little hatchling is thriving with the rest of them. 

Two headed russian tortoise

A major deformity would be having two heads. This particular situation is more of twins that never separated as embryos and developed as one.

Deformed front legs

This western Hermann's was born with deformed front legs. It has two right toes and three left toes. This female is still in my care. It's about three years old and is doing absolutely fantastic

Extra Marginal scute

Its common to have extra and/or irregular vertebral and costal scutes. Its not as common to just have an extra marginal scute. This cute little russian has the normal amount of scutes every where except one tiny little extra marginal scute. 


Sharing the same yolk

These are western Hermann's twins, joined together by the same yolk sac. These were hatched by the famous Chris Leone. 

Facing Opposite within the egg

Crazy how nature creatively figures out growing life. These twins fit perfectly the same egg, clearly they were crammed in. 

Size of a quarter

Imagine how small a tortoise egg is. Now imagine putting two hatchlings inside of that egg. 

Healthy and growing

The twins are doing great. Healthy and active. The colors and patterns are absolutely vibrant and stunning.

Check out the video of them being separated

I met these famous twins

I personally met these twins while visiting Garden State Tortoise. This is my son and I holding them. 

No eyes. No nose.

Normal incubation

This Greek tortoise was the first to pipnormally. All 6 other clutch mates hatched perfectly normal. 

Pure instinct to hatch

If you look closely, you can see that it scratched the inner membrane for a while.  Having no eyes, it could not sense any light. This Greek essentially had no clue why it was breaking out of its shell, it was just pure instinct. 

zoomed in

Here's you can clearly see there are no eyes and no nostrils. 

compared to hatch mate

Next to a normal healthy Greek 

Syringe and hand fed

My daughter took on the task of keeping it alive. She soaked and fed it every morning. Surprisingly it was really active. We named it Mr. Magoo. Check out this link on me feeding it mazuri and dandelion. https://youtu.be/0heU1Ki5KMg


I found Mr. Magoo dead in its enclosure one morning. My guess is that it wasn't able to completely swallow its food. It had no nostrils to breath while chewing, my assumption is that it choked to death. 

Straight up random scute

Sometimes you will hatch a Tortoise that is perfect in every way, except one random scute. It has the perfect amount of scutes in all three rows. But smack dab in the middle of vertebral scute row is a random eye shaped scute. I call this one cyclone. 

Tortoise embryo stops developing

Yolk dried up

For no known reason, this greek tortoise stopped developing around day 21 of incubation.


This is hat the embryo looked ike when i removed it from the egg.

Embryo on it's stomach

I repositioned the embryo on its stomach for a better look.

Embryo on it's back

I repositioned the embryo on its back for a better look.

Close up of carapace

you can see the detail f it's scutes starting to form.

Close up of plastron

You can see the "umbilical cord" and its claws.

Prolapsed tortoise penis

The prolapse happened on 1/19/2018

This is a Western Hermann's tortoise from Sicily. He was introduced to a new female, and apparently could not keep it in his shell.

Soaking in sugar water

Did some research and it was recommended to soak the tortoise in warm sugar water. After the soak, I poured sugar directly onto the penis.  This apparently reduces the swelling.  I did this twice a day for three (3) days.  This was an all time low for me, rubbing sugar on a tortoise's penis, not something I expected to cross of my bucket list.

Damp Paper towels

I placed him on some wet paper towels with proper heat and UVB in hopes that it would subside and reduce back into it's cloaca.  He ate, he drank.  The prolapse did not seem to bother him (but it bothered me)

Scab fell off

I was under the assumption that the penis was going to dry out, shrivel up, and I would cut it off.  It is not a vital organ to survive, nor is there a vital vessel that supplies it with blood, so I didn't think this would be an issue.  During a routine soaking, the scab came off and revealed a "fresh" penis.

A+D Ointment

A+D seemed to work on my son's "fresh" penis after being circumsized, so I thought, why not...

Smothered it in A+D on 2/17/2018

Remember when rubbing sugar on a tortoise's penis was an all time low for me, beat my own record, I mean nailed it!!!! I smothered the penis in A+D.  Hopefully this helps.