He settles the childless woman in her home as a happy mother of children. —Psalm 113:9

July 24, 2010

How Is a Turtle Like a Tree?

For a long time now, I've been wanting a pet box turtle or tortoise. But since the local reptile sellers never seem to have box turtles in stock and tortoises run too far out of my price range, I figured I'd just wait until I encountered one on the side of the highway in need of rescuing. Because every single summer of my life there has always been an abundance of turtles plodding right into traffic and needing someone in possession of better common sense to stop and pick them up and save their lives. Every single summer, that is, until I decided I wanted a pet turtle. It's like word got out and they all made a plan to stay hidden whenever I drove by.

Apparently one turtle missed the memo, because on Wednesday morning, while I was eating breakfast, it strolled right up onto my patio and settled in to chill. I squeed so hard I almost choked on my Kashi, then ran outside to pounce on it. I couldn't believe it. A turtle! On my back porch! In the middle of the city! What are the odds?

It was good timing, too, because I'd already planned to take the day off to give my wrist a break. So as soon as I could I set to work McGuyvering an outdoor habitat out of things we already had around the house and yard, which included flowerbed fencing, plastic chicken "wire", bread ties and paper clips. Yes, I actually used paperclips to hold the chicken wire in place, and it worked like a charm. Add a bowl sunk into the ground for a "pond" and a half-log Matt had left over from his reptile-keeping bachelor days, and it turned out to be a pretty nice, if small, turtle habitat.

Now before anybody reams me out for taking an animal out of the wild, let me say that I did take time out to check my conscience on that. My yard is surrounded on two sides by busy streets and on the other two sides by a big dog and a fresh-off-the-boat immigrant family who appears willing to eat just about anything that moves, so I didn't like her odds for survival once she left our yard. So we decided to keep her on a trial basis for a few weeks. Originally, I was thinking that if she didn't take well to being a pet, we'd drive her out to the country and release her, but now I can't stop imagining some bozo on a four-wheeler tearing through the countryside and ending her, so I'm thinking it would be better to see if the zoo or any local wildlife sanctuaries would take her. On the other hand, if she seems fine with the pet life, we'll build her a bigger habitat with plenty of room to roam. In the mean time, she pretty much just sleeps and eats in the little pen, and the rest of the time we let her roam around the yard or the house. Supervised, of course.

Since she literally walked into my life, I've been doing a lot of research on box turtles, and here is what I've learned:
  • How to tell the sex of a turtle - her yellow eyes, shortish claws and convex bottom shell tell me that she's a she (you can also tell by looking under the tail, but I won't get into that here - this is a family blog).
  • How to tell the approximate age of a turtle - this is the answer to the title riddle. Turtles have growth rings on their shells that you can count to get a good idea of their age. Going by this, she's 4-6 years old (a couple of the rings were faint enough that I wasn't sure whether they should be counted, hence the +/- 2 years margin of error). She'll live around 30 years, so it's a pretty major commitment if we decide to keep her.
  • She's an ornate box turtle and as such won't get any bigger (her shell's about 4 inches long), and she needs a drier habitat than other turtle varieties.
  • I have to feed her bugs, which is gross, and she particularly likes roly-polies, which is just sad. Hopefully I'll manage to get her outdoor habitat populated with enough of these that she can hunt them on her own and I won't have to feed them to her.
After spending some time with her, I've decided to call her Matilda (after trying on and rejecting Phoebe). This is her fourth day with is, and so far she's doing great. She's already used to us enough that she responds when we baby-talk her, she's totally over any initial fear she had of the other pets (although they're still pretty freaked out by this strange rock that can sprout legs and come after them), and she's taking food out of our hands. Well, out of tweezers, since she accidentally bit Matt hard enough to draw blood while snatching a roly-poly out of his fingers. At night we bring her inside and let her sleep in a heated terrarium,another left-over from Matt's pet reptile days. If we decide to keep her, we'll also build her a bigger indoor habitat in time for winter.

She's pretty neat, and I'm having a lot of fun with her. If we end up having to give her up to keep her happy, I'll definitely have to start saving my pennies to buy a captive-bred turtle. But she already seems to be getting pretty comfortable with the ridiculously pampered lifestyle that goes with being our pet. I have a feeling she's going to stick around for the long-haul.


In other news, I haven't blogged all week mainly because my tendonitis has been flaring up a lot lately, and I can't type for very long without pain. I've also been having to write a lot of eHow articles for Demand Studios to help make ends meet while business has slowed down for the summer, and that's pretty well pushing me beyond my pain tolerance threshold. Any time I can make for blogging is mainly going to my new Task Wrangler blog, and I'm only managing to post there once a week.

As a compromise to tide me over until my wrist quits acting up, I've started a Tumblr blog, "Falling In the In Between", meaning that if it's too big for Twitter but not really appropriate for here, it goes there.

And now I have to go write some more articles to make up for Wednesday's turtle-centric slackitude.

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