My kids have been nagging me to get a pet, because they think it's too quiet back here in the bush and that I need something to talk to. I think (as I've said before) that having a pet might make me MORE nutty, and I do not want to talk to animals.
But I've considered a "herp." I don't think I'd be inclined to speak to a reptile.
If I had a totem, it would be the handsome box turtle. I enjoy turtle-rescuing season and will always screech to a halt at the sight of a turtle in the road. (If it's alive, that is.)
There are a lot of turtles around my place but we don't see them often. Once Zed saw one taking a huge bite out of a mushroom. Some box turtles are shy, some are valiant. Did you know the ones with red eyes and depressions in their lower shells (so they can get closer to their sweethearts) are male?
Below are extracts from a very old Durham Herald-Sun article by John H. Koontz.
Have you ever kept turtles successfully? Leave me some tips!
... "Box turtles make great pets," Jorgensen [a turtle maven] says. "They rarely bite, unless they're in great pain. They don't make noise. They don't do a whole lot of anything."
Turtles in captivity need reptile food as a basic, along with supplements of phosphorus, calcium, and vitamins. Jorgensen gets these at pet stores.
Her turtles also munch on fruit, vegetables, insects and worms. She says they'll follow you around the world for strawberries and watermelon. Remember to walk slowly. Turtles love meat, but it's unsafe to give them a steady diet of dog or cat food. Too much protein can be dangerous to turtles' kidneys.
Some flower gardeners love to have them around, since turtles love to eat slugs. Vegetable gardeners aren't as fond of them, because they're like humans with a Whitman's sampler - they take one bite from everything.
Having turtles has affected simple things in Jorgensen's life. She doesn't wear red socks, since turtles are attracted to the color red and she doesn't want to squash one of her pals.
In her backyard, Jorgensen has made pens to keep her buddies. The walls of their enclosures are made from horizontal cross ties, topped with 3-foot wire fencing. Inside the pens are small houses, plants and swimming pools. During summer afternoons, the water turtles get to visit a larger pool where they can dive, cool out or play sunbathe-on-the-log.
"I didn't know some female turtles can hold sperm inside themselves for up to five years," she says.
All winter Jorgensen looks forward to April, when her turtles come out of hibernation. "The males have one thing on their mind," she says, "making love."
The males spend most of early summer chasing females, who show little interest. Finally the males win out, and they do mate.
The females usually start laying eggs in June, and the eggs take 80 to 90 days to incubate, depending on the weather.
After a 30-day gestation period, the females search out a place to lay eggs. They'll spend five hours or more to dig a hole four inches deep. They usually lay three to four eggs before covering them. Turtles often have two hatches a year.
Sometimes Jorgensen ... scoops up the eggs using a plastic spoon. "Be gentle with the eggs." She's always careful to keep the same side of the eggs up, since letting them turn over can kill the embryo inside.
She puts the eggs into an aquarium containing moist sawdust and covers them with another two inches of sawdust. She has to monitor the moisture in the aquarium, since letting the environment get too dry can cause the babies to be born blind or deformed. Letting the sawdust stay too wet can also cause problems.
Jorgensen uses a thermometer to check the temperature. "If it stays near 70 degrees," she says, "most of the babies will be males. If it's nearer 80 degrees, most will be females."
Doing things artificially speeds the process. The little ones come along in 65 to 75 days. Jorgensen says most turtle breeders uncover the eggs at day 65 to see how things are going. If the eggs are swollen and rounded, they're getting ready to hatch. ... she doesn't disturb the eggs any more.
Hatchlings have a slow climb to the top of the soil, taking as long as a month. If they're hatched late in the year, they'll go directly into hibernation and won't come out until spring. Hatchlings born in August and September are usually about the size of a dime.
When they're two weeks old, she begins feeding every other day. She says it's smart to use paper flooring ... peat moss can give them mites, and cedar chips have chemicals in them.
Jorgensen warns that you shouldn't be surprised if baby turtles die. A mortality of 10 to 50 percent is normal.
If you have the flu, you shouldn't handle turtles, because they're prone to respiratory disease. Keeping them in a warm room helps when they are sick.
Since turtles' ears can't drain, they're prone to ear infections. Treatment involves having the abscess lanced.
"The best way to separate two turtles that are biting each other is to drop them into water. Sooner or later, they'll let go or drown."
- The North Carolina Herpetology Society
- Box Turtle Care
- General Care of American Box Turtles
- Box Turtle Care and Conservation
- You can join the yahoo Box turtle list
In the course of writing this entry I've decided I won't be giving this a try, primarily because of what I read at the excellent Pioneering Box Turtle Conservation Strategies. This site says box turtles reproduce very slowly over the more than 120 years they can live in the wild, and that due to predators and disease a female may bring perhaps only 3 offspring to adulthood over that time.
We who ignorantly (if innocently) collected box turtles for "pets" were oblivious to the impact of our action: After we took our few pets, we could look around and see "LOTS" of adults still left in the woods the rest of our lives ... but since adults live so long, the population we saw was an increasingly "geriatric" one with too few young to sustain it in the distant future. This impact mushroomed by 1990 as escalating pet collecting removed tens of thousands each year for the international pet trade alone!On the other hand, Michael J. Connor's website gives more optimistic information.
A released turtle has a homing instinct that causes it to search for its home; a box turtle moved much more than a quarter mile is not likely to find its way back home ... its subsequent fruitless searching (which can last for years)
The magnitude of the displaced turtle problem can be mitigated if people learn to stop moving box turtles from native homes. When found crossing a road, they should be helped to the side toward which they are headed (and hope that they spend most of their time in the adjacent woods, away from that highway, thereafter).
McKeever's first hatchlings came in 1996 from a nest that was protected by screen installed by volunteer Clarion U. student, Ann Davis, following her late night vigil to guard any nesting females. All hatchlings were eaten by raccoons the following year; the predators breached the fenced enclosure designed to protect young during their first 6-7 years in the McKeever habitat. The hatchling enclosure now receives additional protection from an electrified perimeter. Click here to see the hatchlings.
I maintain an adult pair that I have had for over 6 years in a 10 feet by 12 feet pen. They spend much of their time buried in the mounds of compost provided for them with only their heads showing, ever alert for any food item that may go by. While having the typical preference for live food (snails and worms) and fruit, they seem to eat more green vegetables than my other box turtles. I supplement this diet with Purina trout chow, which they eat with gusto. I have observed mating only in the spring. The female is prolific, laying multiple clutches of 4-5 eggs, and always late at night. I usually harvest the eggs and incubate them indoors, but for the last 3 years hatchlings have appeared in the enclosure from undetected nests. Finding these hatchlings can be a real chore. They tend to remain hidden under the compost. I rear the hatchlings indoors on a moist potting soil substrate that is deep enough for them to bury themselves in. The hatchlings will learn to eat trout chow, and I have raised them to adulthood almost entirely on trout chow and small amounts of seasonal fruits.
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