If you’ve ever fancied owning a dinosaur, getting a tortoise is probably as close as you’ll get. It should not be undertaken lightly, however, as they can sometimes outlive their owners. The easiest tortoises to keep in the UK are Hermann’s tortoises, which come from the Mediterranean, and if you become really passionate about them you might like to try breeding them. However, it is illegal to sell them without first getting permission from the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), so remember this before acting matchmaker.
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Things you need
- Two tortoises - one male, one female.
- An incubator
- An existing tortoise pen and with inside area and banks for nesting.
Get the environment right because Hermann’s Tortoise will only breed when it is comfortable and generally well fed and well looked after. Keep your tortoises well fed with plants, weeds and flowers and follow strict guidelines on general tortoise care in the run up to breeding. The female will want to dig a nest into the side of a sunny slope so you should prepare these before breeding. The soil should be light and dry enough to dig, but not so loose that it won’t maintain the nest. She will probably lay around half a dozen eggs.
Copulation Choose tortoises of a similar size to avoid injury and put them in a large outdoor pen. Pick a time in spring or summer when the temperatures are higher than usual and put one male in with up to three females. They will do the rest.
Pregnancy Diagnose your tortoise’s pregnancy by looking at her behaviour. She will probably begin to behave oddly– making strange noises, becoming aggressive and moving around in an unusual manner. If you need confirmation you could get your tortoise x-rayed.
Egg care Take the eggs out of the nest and keep them under optimum conditions so they develop properly. Keep them closely monitored in an incubator with a thermostat. The optimum temperature is just over 30 degrees C. Slight temperature changes can change the sex – higher resulting in more females and lower resulting in more males – but large temperature changes result in underdevelopment and abnormalities. Keep the humidity up by putting a damp cloth in the tank with them. The little tortoises will hatch on their own after about two months, but not necessarily all at the same time. There’s no need to help them out of the shell.
Hatchlings To ensure your new batch survive to fulfil their potential longevity it’s important they are let outside to be exposed to sunlight – vital for their growth. Take them inside in bad weather and feed them natural plants, weeds and flowers – no premade meals or food for other animals. Water must of course be available, but because they can absorb water through their skin, you should put them in a little container of warm water each day, filled so as they can still hold their head out of the water. You should keep a record of their weight gain, but don’t handle them too much.