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Baby Turtles: Names, Lifecycle, Diet, Care, and More

Baby turtles are called hatchlings or sparkies. Clutches of turtles hatch in synchronization and emerge from the egg fully developed. They are born precocial, receiving no parental care.

Turtles are beloved both as pets and as marvels of nature. But did you know that parent turtles don’t care for their young?

Hatchlings fend for themselves when they hatch, but these baby turtles have low survival rates due to their vulnerability. 

Read on to learn more about the risks turtle hatchlings face as well as their diet and development.

What Are Baby Turtles Called?

Baby turtles are called hatchlings or sparkies. A group of baby turtles is either called a bale or a nest. Before they hatch, the group of eggs is referred to as a clutch.

Baby turtles are primarily called hatchlings, a simple term formed from their egg development. They are sometimes called sparkies, but the origin of this term is unknown.

There are a lot of different terms used to describe turtle babies and collective groups of turtles. This range of names can be confusing, but collective nouns are rarely used due to the turtle’s solitary nature.[1]

Baby turtles Hatchling, sparkie
Group of turtle eggs Clutch
Group of baby turtles Nest, bale
Group of adult turtles Bale, flotilla
Group of tortoises Bale, creep

What Do Baby Turtles Look Like?

Baby turtles hatch looking like miniature versions of adult turtles. They are morphologically the same in structure and shape. The main difference is that hatchlings have underdeveloped soft shells that harden with age.

Most reptiles, including turtles, produce young that are physically the same structure as adults. This high level of physical development allows for young to hatch fully capable of movement and basic behaviors.

This reproduction strategy is an energy-saving and survival tactic. Precocial young don’t require parental care. Adults can lay eggs and carry on. 

What Do Baby Turtles Look Like

Are Turtles Born With Their Shells?

Yes, turtles are born with their shells. Baby turtle shells are soft, and it can take months or years for the shell to harden completely. Unlike other reptiles, turtles do not shed their skin as they grow. Their shell is made from keratin (like our hair and nails) and grows throughout a turtle’s life.

Can Baby Turtles Swim?

Baby turtles can swim as soon as they hatch, but they cannot dive as deep as adults or stay underwater as long due to their lower lung capacity. A hatchling won’t have the strength to swim as long as an adult and needs many opportunities to rest.

Baby Turtle Life Cycle

Baby turtles begin their life as eggs, and the incubation period varies between species but is usually between 45–75 days. After hatching, babies have no parental care and sustain themselves on their yolk sac for a few days before exploring the world to grow and develop.

Stage Behavior
Egg Between 1–180 eggs are laid (depending on the turtle species). The sex of baby turtles depends on incubation temperature: 83–85℉ produces a mix of genders, over 85℉ produces females, and under 83℉ produces males
The Incubation period is between 45–75 days. Babies communicate chemically in the nest to ensure they all hatch simultaneously.[2]
Hatchling Babies emerge using their egg tooth to break open the shell. Young remain in the nest for a few days where they absorb the remnant of the yolk sack for nutrition.
They receive no parental care.
Juvenile In sea turtles, this stage is called the “lost years”. They have a focus on survival, growth, and development while their shell hardens.
Adult At this stage the turtle becomes sexually mature. They start to reproduce. Sea turtles return to their nest site to look for mates.

Growth and Development

Turtles have a slow growth rate which reduces the effect of aging on their bodies.[3] This leads them to have longer lifespans than many mammals who grow only when young.

Factors that influence a turtle’s growth rate include:

  • Temperature & environment: A turtle’s external thermoregulation allows them to adjust their metabolism to the environment. In cool temperatures, they slow bodily functions, including growth. This can be harmful in the juvenile stages.
  • Diet: The quantity and quality of food a turtle eats massively impact its growth rate. High-quality diets increase their growth, while malnutrition can hinder it.
  • Age: The growth rate begins rapidly in the hatchling and juvenile stages, significantly slowing in adulthood. Young grow quickly to survive, while adults put more energy into reproduction.
  • Species: The average annual growth rate depends on its species. Naturally, larger species have higher growth rates.

How Many Babies Do Turtles Have?

Species Clutch Size
Sea turtle 65–180
Snapping turtle 25–80
Box turtle 1–8
Bog turtle 1–6
Mud turtle 2–5
Musk turtle 2–9
Painted turtle 4–12
Slider turtle 10–30

What Time of Year Are Baby Turtles Born?

Gravid female turtles mate and lay eggs in the summer months. Warm temperatures provide them with the metabolic energy and food resources needed to reproduce.

Turtle hatchlings emerge 1 ½–2 ½ months later, in late summer or early spring. They benefit from the warm temperatures and have the energy to move to safety and locate food.

Time of Year Are Baby Turtles Born

What Do Baby Turtles Eat?

Baby turtles eat insects, snails, worms, fish, and other small marine creatures.  A hatchlings diet is primarily protein to facilitate growth, but they also eat vegetation to supplement the diet.

What a baby turtle eats depends on its habitat. Each species occupies a specific ecosystem, so their diet varies based on other animals and vegetation nearby.

Some turtle species are omnivores, and others are herbivores, but baby turtles are primarily carnivorous. They eat small insects, fish, and invertebrates to provide their body with the protein needed for rapid growth.

Related: How to Take Care of a Baby Turtle

Species Diet
Freshwater turtles Fish and aquatic insects
Land-based turtles (tortoises) Snails, worms, and small insects
Sea turtles Molluscs, crustaceans, fish eggs, and jellyfish
What Do Baby Turtles Eat

Risks for Baby Turtles

Baby turtles face many risks in their bid for survival as their small size makes them vulnerable to predators. Human-induced circumstances such as pollution, fisheries, and climate change also put turtles at risk.

An estimated 1 in 1,000 sea turtles makes it to adulthood.[4] This poor survival rate has driven sea turtles to evolve large clutches of eggs (up to 180) compared to the smaller clutch of a freshwater turtle.

Predation

Turtles are low in the animal food chain, and anything bigger and stronger than them can turn them into a meal. The exact predator depends on their habitat. 

Sea turtles are mainly predated by sharks, where carnivorous mammals primarily eat freshwater and land-based species. 

Predators of turtles include:

  • Raccoons
  • Opossums
  • Fish
  • Other reptiles: snakes, lizards, other turtles
  • Birds
  • Felines: bobcats or housecats
  • Mustelids: skunks, otters, badgers
  • Sharks

Human Impacts

Many human behaviors impact the habitats of turtles. The main activities that affects turtles include pollution of waterways, land development of habitat, and by-catch from fisheries operations.

Climate Change

The changing temperatures across the globe directly impact food sources for sea turtle species.[5] Bountiful coral reefs are stripped of life, increasing the competition for food amongst turtles.

Climate change also alters habitats with erosion and extreme weather events.

FAQs

How Do Baby Turtles Know Where to Go?

The little turtles use signs such as the slope of the beach, the white crest of the waves, and the light of the ocean horizon to orientate themselves towards the sea. Human light sources such as campfires and street lights can send them in the wrong direction. Baby sea turtles head towards the sea under the cover of night to avoid predators. They sense the temperature of the cool sand, which indicates night has fallen. 

Do Turtles Eat Their Babies?

Turtles cannot recognize their own young, and they lack any drive for parental care, so they might eat them if they encounter their babies. Baby turtles are not a staple part of a turtle’s diet, but they eat their babies and eggs if they get the opportunity in captivity. To avoid this in the wild, they lay their eggs and leave the location altogether.

About Sophie Herlihy (Zoologist)

Sophie Herlihy, a trained zoologist, is a lover of true misfit animals. With a specialty in insects, birds, and rodents, she helps the Misfit Animals craft factual and valuable informational pieces on various animals.