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Breeding the Bell's Hingeback Tortoise (Kinixys belliana)

Jim Quirke

My adult male and female adult Bell’s Hingebacks were placed together in early March. Breeding started with my male ramming and pushing the female around; when mating actually started it was a very noisy affair and continued for some time. The male mounted the female several times during the following weeks.

Her appetite for food increased over the following few months and she put on over 100g in weight. I always have some cuttlefish pieces available at all times for my tortoises and use both limestone flour and Nutrobal, but while her calcium demand was going to be increased for egg production I increased the amounts sprinkled on her food.  Her normal diet would include an earthworm once sometimes twice a week; I also increased this to a couple of earthworms. Eventually she stopped eating, and from what I had read before I assumed this was because eggs were pushing on her stomach and filling the space. Drinking and her normal soaking routine didn’t change.

From what I had read she should be pacing and trying to find a nesting site, she did pace but not to that great an extent. She started to dig on a couple of occasions but stopped both times. I wasn’t sure if this was because I disturbed her or something was wrong. I thought the substrate would be deep enough at 6 to 8 inches of peat and topsoil mix with some reptile bedding bark mix at the surface level.  Because of the daily misting there was good moisture content in the soil. She had started to dig at dusk so I placed a small red coloured spot light on an area she seemed to like. I also placed a CCTV camera on that area so there was no need for me to check and disturb her.

On the 29th June 2008 she started to dig right next to the area where the red spot light was shining, I had also found that the light had warmed the area of soil underneath it. I didn’t think to take soil temperatures at the time, however. She spent several hours digging and resting, I couldn’t see what was happening too clearly because of the low light level, however. Finally, she started to push the soil back to cover in the nest. To the outsider it wouldn’t have seemed like much but to me it was like watching a leatherback turtle’s mammoth task of filling in her nest and hauling herself back down the beach! It was amazing to watch. I went straight to the tortoise house to collect the precious eggs.

I had already constructed an incubator based on the design in Andy’s book “Keeping and Breeding Tortoises in Captivity”. I used an old small fish tank filled it with a few inches of water and placed a fish tank heater inside. I then used a plastic lunch box type tub that fitted very snugly inside so that it touched the water at the bottom and the sides of the tank. This had rounded corners which meant that it let moisture rise from below. I used polystyrene to box the tank in for exta insulation. I then made a small door/hatch on the top with a few small air holes in so that I could gain access. After previously experimenting with the heater I found that the heater needed to be set at 32 degrees to achieve a temp inside the incubator of 30 – 31 degrees and a humidity in the 70%’s. It also has a digital display thermometer so I could continually check the temperature. I opened the door of the incubator for a minute every day so that the air could be renewed and refreshed.

Two eggs were laid and I placed them on vermiculite inside the incubator. Then on the 16th July she started digging again. It was too late to set up the light so I just snuck into the tortoise house and watched hardly daring to take a breath. The result was she laid two more. I did the same as last time and placed them in the incubator. And then I waited....

When I checked on the 26th October one of the eggs looked misshapen and on closer inspection there was the tiniest leg poking out.  After 119 days my first baby Hingeback was being born! Unfortunately the second egg failed to hatch.  The third egg hatched on the 18th of November  125 days after being laid and the fourth egg hatched two days after that.  The hatchlings had a nice long soak in tepid water after hatching as they were very thirsty. I had a table set up for the hatchlings to mirror the adults but on a smaller scale.

Hingebacks are a truly interesting and wonderful tortoise and as you can tell I’m smitten.

(c) 2010-11 Tortoise Trust