Do turtles care for their young?

A healthy baby turtle is a happy baby turtle.

By Stacey Venzel

Forget calling the babysitter. The second a turtle hatches from its egg, it is on its own.

Even without parental care post-hatching, turtle mamas set their babies up for success. From choosing the perfect egg chamber to supplying them with nourishment to warding off predators, turtle parents are not apathetic to their offsprings’ survival.


Nest-laying females are quite picky about where they will leave their eggs. If a female is in the middle of nesting but senses danger, she will stop depositing eggs. This gives her a chance to find a safer nesting location for the remaining eggs.


Eastern box turtle with yolk sac.
Eastern box turtle with yolk sac.

Inside each turtle egg, the embryo is attached to a yolk sac. Lasting several months, this feeds the turtle as it grows and develops. The yolk sac is absorbed into the hatchling before it emerges from its shell, but still allows for some extra energy and leeway in acclimating to the new surroundings. Without this nutrition, a baby loggerhead would not be able to travel across the sand and miles out into the ocean’s drift currents.


A few turtle mothers stand by to protect their eggs from predators. The Asian brown tortoise piles up leaves as a lookout point, staying atop the nest until the disturbed earth blends in with the forest floor. Yellow mud turtles stay near the eggs for up to two weeks. Gopher tortoises typically put their eggs at the front of their burrows.


Karen Eckert, David Gulko, Sea Turtles: An Ecological Guide (Honolulu, Mutual Publishing, 2004), 63-64, 73.

Carl J Franklin, Turtles: An Extraordinary Natural History 245 Million Years in the Making (St. Paul, Voyageur Press, 2007), 34, 37.

Whit Gibbons, Judy Greene, Turtle: The Animal Answer Guide (Baltimore, The John Hopkins University Press, 2009), 68-70.

“Information about sea turtles: Genera behavior.” Sea Turtle Conservancy.