What Does a Sea Turtle Nest Look Like?

turtle eggs

Turtles, like snakes and lizards, are reptiles. However, what sets them apart is their ancient lineage and their semi-aquatic nature. While turtles spend most of their time in the water, they lay their eggs in carefully constructed nests on sandy beaches.

Locating these nests can be quite challenging. The turtles bury them deep in the sand and hide their location by covering the nests with soil. But let’s dive deeper into the fascinating nesting process of turtles.

Where Can You Find Nesting Sites?

painted turtles enjoy a shady spot
Image Credit: JA Dunbar, Shutterstock

Sea turtles prefer nesting in the sand, while freshwater turtles build nests in dirt or along river banks, ponds, or swamps. If you own a captive turtle, you will need to provide a secure area with soft soil for the female to lay her eggs. This can be created within an established outdoor pen.

Interestingly, nesting female sea turtles can travel up to two miles in search of their preferred nesting sites. These turtles often have specific spots they return to whenever they are ready to nest. They choose to nest at night to make it harder for predators to find their nests.

A female turtle may dig several holes before finding the perfect conditions for laying eggs. Using all four flippers, she continues to dig new pits for several nights until she finds the right spot. While the exact “right” conditions are still unknown, the site should be dark and quiet.

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What Do Turtle Nests Look Like in the Wild?

turtle nest_Matt Jeppson_Shutterstock
Image Credit: Matt Jeppson, Shutterstock

The nesting site, which is a hole, is typically flask-shaped and large enough for the turtle to lay and bury its eggs. The depth of the nest varies depending on the species and the size of the turtle. It also depends on how far the female can reach with her flippers.

After the mother turtle finishes laying her eggs, she covers the hole with soil to hide it from predators. Using her front flippers, she carefully conceals the location. The mother turtle then spends the night nearby the nest or returns back to the sea.

Once the eggs are laid and the nesting is complete, the female turtle does not attend to the nest. Instead, it is up to the eggs and the hatchlings to fend for themselves and find their way to the sea.

How Many Eggs Do Turtles Lay?

The number of eggs in a turtle nest, also known as a clutch, varies among species. Furthermore, these reptiles may lay more than one clutch during a nesting season, making it difficult to determine the exact number of eggs they lay.

On average, turtles lay about 110 eggs in a nest. They can make between two to eight nests in a season. The flatback turtles lay the smallest clutch with up to 50 eggs per nest, while the Hawkbill species lays the largest clutch with over 200 eggs.

Turtle eggs incubate for approximately 2-3 months until they hatch.

What Do Turtle Eggs Look Like?

close up turtle eggs on ground
Image Credit: Sunset Paper, Shutterstock

Turtle eggs are usually small and spherical, resembling the size and shape of golf balls. They have soft shells and can sometimes be misshaped, elongated, or adjoined with calcium strands.

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Is It Okay to Move Turtle Eggs?

Turtles may lay their eggs in “unnatural” places at times. You might even find them in front of your house, especially if you live near a beach.

It is important to know that turtle eggs have a naturally high mortality rate. Adult turtles also face a high mortality rate unless human activities do not disrupt them.

While it is crucial to ensure the survival of turtle eggs until they hatch, handling or moving them is not advisable. Moving the eggs can cause them to fail to develop properly if they are not oriented correctly.

It is best to focus on protecting adult turtles from endangerment rather than disturbing nesting turtles and their eggs. If you ever need to move a turtle, make sure to do so in the direction it is facing.

Do Turtles Lay Eggs Underwater?

seaturtle_Akiroq Brost_Pixabay
Image Credit: Akiroq Brost, Pixabay

Turtles must lay their eggs on sandy beaches to increase the chances of survival and hatching. The developing embryos in the eggs need to breathe air through a membrane, and they would not survive if the eggs were covered with water.

While it is rare, turtles may lay their eggs in the sea if their nests are disturbed. This happens only when they are unable to carry the eggs any longer. Otherwise, they will try to find another nesting spot the same night or on another day if their nests are threatened.

How Do Baby Turtles Emerge from the Nest?

Baby Snapping Turtle in hand
Image Credit: Hoth Cook, Shutterstocks

The egg chamber is usually deep in the ground, making it impossible for a hatchling to escape on its own. After the incubation period, the hatchlings break free from their shells, which stimulates other hatchlings to emerge as well.

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Once all the hatchlings are outside their shells, they climb over the eggshells to reach the top of the egg chamber. The baby turtles at the top then scratch the sand to create a pathway.

Turtle hatchlings often emerge in large numbers to increase their chances of survival. Many baby turtles can overwhelm potential predators. After a successful hatching, they make their way to the sea and start their new journey.


Unfortunately, most baby turtles do not survive in the wild. The same is true for captive-bred turtles, even with the best care provided.

It is fascinating to learn about the nesting process and the effort that turtles put into ensuring the survival of their offspring. Let’s continue to appreciate and protect these incredible creatures.

Featured Image Credit: Jarib, Shutterstock

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