How to Cut Open an Egg


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Preface: You may injure or kill your baby while cutting open an egg. Only cut open an egg if you are sure it is past the time to hatch and it will not hatch on its own. If you do not know how to determine this you must ask for advice. It is often difficult to balance patience and action. Remember that some babies are “just not meant to be”.


You may need to cut a chameleon egg if it has sweated and shrunk but there are still no slits. This is especially important to consider when other clutchmates have already hatched. I give a shrunken egg 48 hours MAXIMUM to either sweat and shrink more, or slit on its own. If nothing is happening after 48 hours I always cut. I often cut after 24 hours or less.

If I failed to observe the sweating and shrinking period, and stumble upon a clutch with several WRINKLED eggs, I will wait 0-6 hours before cutting, depending upon appearance (shape, color, wetness). I cut these eggs open much sooner because once an egg is wrinkled it will loose its ability to provide oxygen to the baby inside. Here is how it is done:

A SHARP blade is a must. I have a very thin, flat knife like a mini fillet knife but a razor blade or scalpel may work fine for you. It is good to also have handy tweezers, a hangnail clipper or other small surgical type scissor (different from a regular nail clipper) or other small surgical type scissor, and some paper towels. You will want good lighting. You may want to work over a separate bin containing soft dry vermiculite to catch the egg, and put the rest of the eggs back in the incubator.

If the egg is shrunken but still round and firm, my technique is to lightly slice a horizontal slit across the top of the egg without pushing down much at all (it is like you are beginning to open a lid on the egg). Your objective at this point is to barely break through the surface.

I cut mainly while pulling the blade towards my body, using minimal pressure and just letting the edge do all the work. If you find yourself pushing down and creating a dent, you blade is too dull. Also, the blade must be so SHARP that you do not need to stabilize the egg much at all with your other hand. Squeezing the egg too hard is dangerous because it will push neonate towards the top and thus the blade.

While cutting you may find that the shell is like several layers of skin – you cut through one and there is still another thin layer below. Keep cutting but reduce the pressure as you get closer.

Once you have created an opening and some fluid leaks, immediately STOP slicing. You can use a paper towel to blot some fluid so you can see things clearly.

Turn knife upside down and insert tip (or switch to scissors or cliper) into your hole so the dull back of the knife will face the baby and the blade will touch only the inside surface of the shell, coming up from underneath.

Push or lift the blade into the shell and make another tiny cut like a 1/2 mm nick. A specific hangnail clipper may be easier at this point because you can snip at the opening until it is a good size.

If there is an extra flap of shell now, you can grip it with tweezers -- just make sure there is not an arm or tail in the way. This will give you control without squeezing the neonate.

Anyway, insert knife again, make sure there is no body part between blade and shell, and repeat once or twice. The line you cut does not need to be straight. If you are using clippers it will most likely be jagged.

Opening can be surprisingly small, like 3mm.

Look for a nostril. If you can see it clearly and it is unobstructed you may be DONE FOR NOW. Place the egg back the incubation container by pressing your finger into the media to make a hole and place the egg back in with the cut hole facing up.

A clear airway is necessary to finish the job. If there is fluid in the way you can dab it with the corner of a folded paper towel. Do not squeeze out the fluid. Also, keep lint out (q-tips are too linty) and remove any seriously obstructive incubation substrate.

If you cant tell what you are looking at, cut a bit more. The tail is usually wrapped around the body and the tip may be at the same end of the egg as the head. If all you can see is a chameleon butt you have the wrong side of the egg and you may need to make a slit up the back side and try to retain as much fluid as possible.

At this point you have done all you can do. Once a nostril is clear, leave the baby in the fluid in the egg and do not disturb it. Keep it as moist as any other egg. If it is dead you will know soon enough. Good luck to both you and the baby!

Some final tips:

Avoid the yolk sac. Leave it intact at all times.

Keep the cut egg in high humidity – the fluid must not dry out. The original incubation container is usually the best place.

Pause occasionally and watch for movement from the baby. That said, it will usually not move at all, even if it is perfectly alive.

If using a razorblade you can place several layers of tape on the spine to create a grip.
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