Many turtle species live in or around water. However, when it comes to giving birth, even the otherwise permanent water-dwellers leave the water, laying and burying their eggs in freshly dug holes in nearby sand, dirt or mud.
Mating and Planned Pregnancies
Some types of turtles, for example many marine turtles, may migrate long distances to mate. Brazilian marine turtles travel over a thousand miles to find the perfect mate. Some turtles return to the same spots each time they are ready to reproduce. Most female turtles have the ability to choose when they become pregnant. Sperm cells can live in a female turtle's body for up to three years, and she can choose to fertilize her eggs anytime she wants.
Digging a Pit
A female turtle leaves the water, usually at night, to choose a spot to lay her eggs. She needs a spot where eggs won't get swept away -- above the high tide mark, for example. Once she finds a spot, she rests. Then, using her feet or flippers, she digs as wide and deep a hole as she can. This part of the process may take a few hours, after which she rests again.
Laying and Covering the Eggs
Hovering over the pit, she lays her eggs into it. Once her eggs are safely deposited, she rests again. Then, she methodically covers the eggs with the sand or dirt she dug, creating a completely enclosed nest for the eggs to mature and hatch in. By now, sand or dirt may cover her body, face and eyes. She may produce tears to keep sand and dirt out of her eyes.
Disguising the Nest
Once the eggs are well-covered, she flips the dirt or sand in all directions. She is disguising the nest. Depending on available plant materials, she may also cover it with straw, leaves or other items. Once she completes the process, she needs to start the journey back to the water; if she overheats and can't cool herself in the water, she could die. Weeks to months after she leaves, turtle hatchlings emerge, and make their own way to the waters.
Sarah Whitman's work has been featured in newspapers, magazines, websites and informational booklets. She is currently pursuing a master's degree in nutrition, and her projects feature nutrition and cooking, whole foods, supplements and organics. She also specializes in companion animal health, encouraging the use of whole foods, supplements and other holistic approaches to pet care.