This beautiful Eastern box turtle was spotted laying eggs in Fairfax, Virginia. Fortunately for her, the photographer left her and her eggs alone. Many other reptile moms aren’t so lucky: often, a person will find reptile eggs and will move them either indoors or to a different outdoor spot. This is often fatal for the developing embryos.
There are a few motivations people have for moving reptile eggs. Some people may simply want the experience of “raising” reptile eggs. Well-meaning people worry that the spot the mother chose is inconvenient or unsafe, perhaps too close to an anthill or a pet. But a mother reptile has powerful instincts that guide her to the right spot for laying her eggs, even if it doesn’t make much sense to us.
One factor that influences a reptile’s egg-laying site is temperature, and this is something we humans may get wrong. When moved to a place where it is too warm or too cool, the eggs may decay or fail to develop at all. A sunny spot may look ideal to a human, but if the spot gets hotter than about 95 degrees, the developing embryos will die.
A mother reptile may also know something we don’t know about predators in the area. Perhaps you think your dog is a threat to turtle eggs but the turtle may have selected your yard because she knows it’s safe from the armadillos and skunks on the other side of your fence.
Even these considerations aside, reptile eggs often die simply from being handled. Reptiles don’t turn their eggs like birds do, and the embryo can easily become detached from its yolk if you turn the egg on its side or upside-down. This can happen accidentally even if you’re careful.
Please leave reptile eggs where you found them and don’t intervene or kidnap them! If you know of a situation where reptile eggs absolutely must be rescued— such as a box turtle nest in field that is about to be plowed— please contact a rehabilitator who can safely incubate, raise, and release the little ones.
Let’s work together to let mother animals have their young in peace!