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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 June 2007, 11:05 GMT 12:05 UK
Tommy tortoise's special delivery
A Devon couple are recovering from the shock of finding their 50-year-old pet tortoise has laid a clutch of eggs.

But what was even more surprising for Peter and Mary Carlton was that Tommy the tortoise was in fact a "she" and not a "he".

"Tommy has been alone for 25 years so there is no way the eggs can be fertile," Mrs Carlton said.

The couple, who live in Paignton, now have to decide if Tommy's name will need to be changed to Thomasina.

Mr Carlton said he first found two eggs in the garden - then watched in amazement as Tommy went on to lay six more.

No 'tiny patter'

His wife said she simply could not understand how the tortoise, bought by her father 50 years ago as a pet for one of their children, could have suddenly produced the eggs.

"The vet told us more eggs could even be laid later in the year. We just don't know why this has happened after all these years," she added.

An expert from Paignton Zoo expert said: "It is very unlikely that a female would suddenly start to lay eggs after so long.

"The most logical explanation is that she has laid eggs before but they haven't been found. Tortoises will hide their eggs well."

Phil Knowling told BBC News the eggs are normally buried by tortoises, so it was possible Tommy had been producing eggs for years that Mr and Mrs Carlton had failed to spot.

Incubation period

It is unlikely the couple will have to become surrogate grandparents, as the eggs are unlikely to hatch.

"Unless Tommy's been got at by a randy tortoise from outside, then the eggs will remain infertile," Mr Knowling said.

Mr and Mrs Carlton will have an "expectant" wait of 90 to 120 day - the normal incubation period for tortoises.

Their lifespans are comparable with humans, although some are known to have lived longer than 150 years.

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