Hatch or wait? A dilemma in reptilian incubation


  • Ricky-John Spencer,

  • Michael B. Thompson,

  • Peter B. Banks

R.-J. Spencer and M. B. Thompson, Heydon-Laurence Building (A08), Inst. of Wildlife Research, School of Biological Sciences, Univ. of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia (rspencer@bio.usyd.edu.au). – P. B. Banks, School of Biological Sciences, Univ. of New South Wales, NSW 2052, Australia.


Animals often form groups to reduce the risk of predation through the per capita dilution of their individual predation risk. The advantages of grouping also influence the timing of reproduction in many species. In particular, synchrony in the timing of births may have evolved as a predator-avoidance strategy as it dilutes the risk of predation upon vulnerable newborn and naive young. Eggs of an Australian freshwater turtle, Emydura macquarii, can hatch synchronously despite developmental asynchrony among eggs of a clutch and hatchlings have a reduced predation risk by emerging from the nest as a group. Developmental asynchrony within clutches was induced to reflect natural nests by dividing clutches and incubating them at either 25°C or 30°C. Some eggs were then reunited with their clutch-mates and hatching occurred synchronously in some of these groups. In groups where synchronous hatching did not occur, less advanced eggs still hatched earlier than the normal incubation period. Synchrony occurred because the less advanced eggs hatched up to five days earlier than the control embryos. We conclude that the less advanced embryos within a clutch either accelerate their development or hatch prematurely to ensure synchrony of hatching and hatchling group formation may facilitate emergence from the nest and dilute predation risk.