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Raising Box Turtles

Monday, September 1, 2008

Wow. This Labor Day Weekend has been entirely too much fun. I did do a bunch of weeding and trimming and cleaning up, working out in the sun with the cicadas and crickets singing to me. Which I consider fun. We also went to the county fair and I whipped myself into a photographic frenzy, all those fancy chickens, baby pigs and midway lights. Wooo. The stuff of many posts. Just thinking about uploading all those photos makes me sleepy.

It's all I can do to put a post up. I feel like lying on a chaise lounge instead, falling asleep to cricket songs. But I'll show you the hatchling box turtles we're raising for release on our sanctuary. The idea is to raise them until they're big and strong and able to withstand chipmunk attacks and the like, thus giving them a better start in life and better chances of making it to reproductive age. You feed them like crazy, give them sun and exercise, hibernate them in the winters (well, at least I do) and then let them go. It can take three or four years, although some people who don't hibernate them and keep them under lights can get them to release size in a year and a half. Release size is 3/4 lb. Yow.

We've had Shoomie for three seasons now. He hatched in captivity from captive parents kept in a palatial turtle enclosure by my biology professor friend Dave McShaffrey of Marietta College. I believe Shoomie's almost ready for release; he has bulked up tremendously on Repto-Min Aquatic Turtle Food Stix. The tough part will be convincing Liam of that. Shoomie is Liam's turtle.

Every fiber of Shoomie wants to head for the woods when we take him outside. He's an adventurer. He's also kind of cranky and impatient, and is the only reptile I've ever seen throw a tantrum.

Before I learned about the Repto-Min regime, I used to try to get him to eat things like butternut squash and cantaloupe and strawberries. I'd put mealworms on top of them, or wiggle the bits with a straw until he was inspired to take a bite. Once Shoomie got a big mouthful of baked squash, realized it was probably good for him, and went on a stomping, head tossing rampage around the tank, plowing the remaining squash into the dirt. Twicked again.
Shoomie only wants live food. I got him to snap at the food sticks by putting them in his water dish, where Brownian motion made them swim around. He immediately snapped and was hooked.

Liam escorts him around the yard, always remembering to bring him back to his planted terrarium when the walk is over.This little hatchling came to us only this month. A woman had found it in her suburban yard, hardly turtle habitat, as a tiny hatchling, and raised it for almost a year on, of all things, hard-boiled egg. She brought it into the local pet store looking for advice on raising it for release, and the manager contacted my dear friend Leslie who called me. Apparently egg is a great hatchling food, because this little turtlet has the hardest shell and brightest eyes I've seen since Shoomie. She's strong and energetic , full of beans.I was a bit concerned that this turtle be exposed to live foods, too, so it would know what to do in nature. I think it expects hard-boiled egg wedges to drop out of the sky each morning. So yesterday I dug a couple of small earthworms and, after careful neck-craning and consideration, the turtlet grabbed them. Hooray! Big sigh of relief. Now I need to get her to take Repto-Min to keep that growth rate going.

No, I'm not sure of the sex of these turtles. Shoomie has a thicker, shorter tail, while Shelly's is long and thin. That may indicate that Shoomie's a male and Shelly's a female, but I don't know that for sure. Males don't get their red eyes for quite a few years, and I'd imagine that the hollowed-out plastron characteristic of males also takes some time to develop.

Phoebe renamed the new turtle Shelly. She's got her dad's gift for naming things (He's responsible for Chet Baker's name).
Phoebe adores Shelly, and takes her on outdoor adventures with Liam and Shoomie. But sometimes she just relaxes and exchanges thoughts with Shelly.


Sweet, sweet pictures.

Oh dear, I see two somewhat distraught down-cast kids when the turtles need to go wild.
Shoomie and Shelly! Wonderful names.
Keep us posted on turtle news.

Great photos!

We once had a turtle, species indetermined, that I rescued from a busy highway.

I tried feeding it all sorts of things; the only thing it would touch (and I found that out by accident after a month of laying out tempting treats and worrying if he was going to starve to death) was fresh morning-glory flowers. They fell from our vines, and he ate them before they wilted.

After that, he lived beside the wall where the vines grew, and kept the ground clear of dying flowers.

Once I got him to sample a bit of ripe tomato. And maybe he ate insects beneath the vines. But I never caught him at it.

We have 4 slider turtles left from eggs we hatched 2 years ago. The long drought gave us an excuse to keep them longer than I meant to ... now it's hurricane season of course, so they may have to stay a bit longer ...

When I was 8 years old I tethered a scrap piece of cardboard to the plum tree in the front yard of our brand new suburban home and the "Box Turtle Rescue Farm" was officially open for summer business. I had scraped one too many smashed turtles off the neighborhood streets.

At that time the lush oak forests where I lived survived only in photographs -- but that didn't seem to deter the resilient box turtles that had lived in the area for who knows how long - still circumnavigating their birth place on shiny new asphalt streets. I took in about a half-dozen a summer and relocated them to fields and forests seemingly out of harm's reach.

In 1969 - if it wasn't box turtles needing rescue - it was "horny toads" or leopard frogs. By the time my sister was 8 in 1975 -- those too only survived in photographs.

Now, in 2008 she has to take her kids to the "Oklahoma" exhibit at the zoo to see any of the three.

This post brings back so many memories and so many ghosts at the same time. See, I told you I wanted to be Julie Zickefoose when I grow up. That's likely not to change.

If I were a kid and had a science chimp Mom like you, I'd be in heaven.

"...only reptile I've ever seen throw a tantrum." I had to laugh at that one! I want to see a turtle throw a tantrum.

Liam loving his Shoomie is a boy's dream and that last photo of Phoebe with Shelly is priceless.

From Mary who loves the turtles.

What a neat story....who knew turtles have such personalities!
Phoebe and Shelly make a cute pair!

I would LOVE to do something like this! Not just for the cuteness factor, but for the dwindling numbers. But I assume I'm not qualified--is a license necessary?

We've always "rescued" turtles as we find them, and been pretty vocal to others about making efforts to make roadways safe...but to raise hatchlings for release...I'd love to.

That last photo of Phoebe--precious. A better friend for girl-talk I cannot imagine.
I've heard turtles keep great secrets!

I miss box turtles, and the many other turtle species, from my Ohio days. Oregon only has two species, Western Painted and Western Pond. I guess I will have to find comfort in watching Tufted Puffins and Varied Thrushes. Thanks for the photos.

Oh, I love your children. So gentle and wise. Lucky children, lucky turtles.

Three years to get to 3/4 pound. Wow. That's some growing to do, and I can see how they need to be a wee bit bigger in order not to be a quick snack out in the wild. Sweet photos of Phoebe and Liam with their charges.

You have a cool yard and neat kids.

Lovely, lovely post and pictures. Year's ago I would rescue turtles from the roadside, but it has been many years since I've seen a turtle locally. The turtles and turtle lovers everywhere are grateful for your work.

I am currently tortoise sitting for my niece whose Russian tortoise is named....Shelly! Thanks for sharing this story!

I loved your post on the box turtles!!

I am the "accidental" proprietor of a box turtle ranch here in central CA. Over 14 yrs ago, a friend gave me a small box turtle who at the time was about the size of an apricot. Today, "Peanut" is the matriarch of over 25 baby turtles and she is around the size of a large grapefruit!!

Peanut aquired a husband a few years back. Who knew male turtles were so frisky?? Then a friend of mine donated another female that she could no longer care for. Polygamy is alive and well on our turtle ranch and together they have been producing lots and lots of babies!!!!

All our turtles live outdoors and have an entire side yard to turtle romp and play. They're out from around late April to late October, then they all go to sleep for the winter. They eat all sorts of plant material, but we also supplement their diets with mealworms, large night crawlers, (get those from the local bait shop) snails from my other flower beds and fresh fruits and veggies. You are right: box turtles are really spoiled....they typically want live food and only certain fruits. I have to let them get a little hungry to get them to eat the veggies.

Currently we have hatchlings from last summer (3) that are the size of quarters!!! They are so cute with their bright eyes and perfectly formed little toes and tails!!!

I only wish I had somewhere I could take them to return them to the wild....but, they are super-tame and walk right up to people, so don't know if they would make it in the wild.

In the meantime, they live in the side garden, guarding my finches and grasskeets in the outdoor aviary!!

these are great kid and turtle pics! and who doesn't love little turtles? we headstart eastern box turtles and diamondback terrapins where i work....

Is my 20 year old turtle safe from chipmunks outside?
I have been taking him out this summer in the day. He is in a dog crate, the wires are 2" apart.


He should be OK, as long as you make sure he has deep shade to retreat to; don't let him bake--they don't like that.
Should be safe from chipmunks as long as he's 3/4 lb. and has a nice hard shell. I understand that shrews can be dangerous to hibernating box turtles, chewing whatever bits they can reach.

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