Return to World Chelonian Trust Main Page for more Turtle and Tortoise Information

Breeding and Nesting of Manouria emys emys  - a photo essay - Pat Ruby and Darrell Senneke

(please note - this page is very photo intensive and may take some time to load - thank you for your patience)


Related articles:

Burmese Mountain Tortoise- Manouria emys - Glen Jacobsen

Quiz: Name that Manouria - Chris Tabaka DVM and Darrell Senneke

Differentiating the two Subspecies of the Burmese Mountain Tortoise (Manouria emys emys and Manouria emys phayrei) - Chris Tabaka, DVM

Manouria Gallery

  Copyright © 2003 World Chelonian Trust. All rights reserved

Manouria emys is unique among all turtles and tortoises, both in building a nest on the surface of the ground and also by providing maternal protection of the eggs. Nesting in captivity was first accomplished by Sean McKeown in 1982 at the Honolulu Zoo.

Since that time there has been breeding with varying success by several people but by no means can it be said even now, 21 years later,  that this is an easily bred species. Generally speaking the larger subspecies, M. emys phayrei, is more frequently bred than than M. emys emys. The same procedures are used by both species.  

Breeding is accomplished by the male trailing  the female (similarly to Geochelone carbonaria and  many other species) until she allows him to mount. If she is reluctant to do so the male may occasionally bite her  to immobilize her.   

In the picture below one can see the characteristic trailing behavior of this male M. e. emys as he attempts to breed with the female. This pair are of wild caught origin, the male measures 25 pounds (11.32 Kg), with a straight carapace length ( SCL) of 18 inches(45 cm)  and the female is 18 pounds (8.15 Kg), 16 inches SCL (40 cm)   . This pen contains a group of  2.4 emys They have been in captivity between 3 and 7 years.

In the photo below the male has immobilized the female and has mounted her. During the act of mating the male makes a rhythmic grunting call.

In the three photos below we see the female engaging in nest building. She does this by sweeping the loose plant material into a pile with her front legs. This material must be provided if not present in the enclosure.



The following pictures show the actual nesting by the female. Unlike most tortoise species she will hollow out a depression with her front legs  first, after doing this she them plows the front of her body into the pile and makes the nesting chamber more flask shaped with her hind legs and begins laying the eggs, adjusting them with her rear legs as she proceeds.  (note the lighter areas on the rear of her carapace, these are "rub" marks, the result of  the repeated attentions by the male.)  



After nesting the female covers the eggs and sprawls on top of the nest to protect them. Reports of the length of time this protection will last vary up  to 20 days as reported by McKeown. In this case the eggs were removed after laying and the female continued to guard the nest after egg removal.  


In the photo below the female can be seen chasing another female away from the nest.

The eggs were removed after laying and placed in an incubator.  Manouria emys emys produces quite large clutches, in this case 32 eggs.


The eggs were divided into two groups and placed into two incubators set at 82 to 86 degrees F  (28 - 30 C) and 80 - 90 % humidity.  One of these is a professional incubator (first two photos) and the other is a  home made incubator made from a freezer (second two photos). The home made incubator holds a more constant temperature and a higher humidity than the professional model. If eggs show dimpling they are transferred to the more stable home made one.   Depending on ambient conditions the home made incubator occasionally  needs to be left open a crack to allow excess humidity and heat to escape.  The metal wire frame was designed and implemented to protect the eggs from possible rodent attacks.  In the professional incubator the wire rack allows for a second layer of eggs to be placed within it.

Professional Incubator

Professional Incubator With Eggs


Converted Freezer Incubator Converted Freezer Incubator With Eggs
A problem experienced by many reptile breeders in warm climates is that the ambient temperature may exceed the incubator setting,  resulting in an uncontrolled high temperature detrimental to the eggs. In this situation the building housing the incubators is equipped with ventilation to reduce this danger. In addition the size and insulation qualities of the home made "freezer" incubator helps protect against such temperature "spikes".  


McKeown, S. 1982. Priorities and techniques of captive breeding reptiles at the Honolulu Zoo, with an emphasis on Testudinidae, Iguanidae, Scincidae and Gekkonidae. pp. 93-102. In: 5th Annual Reptile Symposium on Captive Propagation and Husbandry. Thurmont, Maryland.


McKeown, S. 1990. Asian brown tortoise (Manouria emys). Tortuga Gazette 26(6): 3-5.


Pritchard, P. C. H. 1979. Encyclopedia of Turtles. T.F.H. Publications, Neptune, New Jersey.


World Chelonian Trust

PO Box 1445

Vacaville, CA

95696 - World Chelonian Trust


Return to Breeding and Incubation

  Fauna Top Sites Click Here to Visit!    Exotic Pet Sites  Click Here to Visit!   Click Here to Visit!                     

Email Webmaster