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My New Pet Box Turtle

Friday, May 22, 2015

A friend emailed to tell me her son had found a box turtle crossing Pike Street, midmorning, in the middle of Marietta's busiest street.

This is what happens when we kidnap box turtles off the roads and out of the woods they know and bring them to our homes, then put them in our backyards to "let them go."
They strike out looking for something they know, sometimes in ever-increasing concentric circles, sometimes in a jaggedy line. Mowers, dogs, coons, cats, roads be damned. I'm looking for home.

Pike Street is five lanes of unrelenting fast traffic, a plastic strip full of gas stations and mostly plastic food. (Although I excuse Bar-B-Cutie from this broad-brush assessment. Bar-B-Cutie has real food.)

My friend wanted to know if I knew anyone who wanted a pet box turtle.  As in, "Do you want a pet box turtle?" She knew who to ask.

Any more, the notion of keeping a box turtle, or any turtle, as a household pet is repellent to me. Who are we to put a wild creature (and a threatened one at that) capable of living 130 years in a glass tank, to limit its world to a few square feet, to take it out of the breeding population and drop it into solitary confinement for the pleasure of feeding and observing it? And where is the pleasure in that, anyway? I love box turtles with a passion, but as pets, I'll take a dog any day. And you know which dog.

I told her to bring him on out so I could keep him for life as a pet in my rather expansive backyard enclosure. He paddled his legs furiously when he saw the area where I plan to confine him. An imperfect solution, to be sure, but better, I think, than being crushed by tires or given a life sentence he never earned. This way, the places he wanders through will have food, shelter, water, and very few roads and cars. And, given the season, perhaps a mate or two.

Piker showed some signs of having been kept in captivity for some time, including an absolute lack of fear and a flanged rear shell, but he was in excellent health, nice and heavy. Not interested in food. All he wanted was to go. Interestingly, when he got out into the big turtle confinement space, he began showing more appropriate fear responses. The reptilian brain is a marvelous thing. 

The Bacon eyed this new addition to the family.

Pet. Hmmph.  That is not a pet. That is a client, a charge, a ward of your duchy.

Piker, because you are clearly a faulty pet, and you need to be taught what to do, here is what a pet does. A pet hauls large branchtes out of the woods and brings them to his person for a surprise game of tug-o-war. See? She is laughing now. This, and other antics which are well beyond your capabilities, makes her laugh. A proper pet makes his person laugh. Unnf. Unnf.

 Go, now, live long and prosper, Piker. Your pet services are no longer needed. She will be back to check on you in the morning. You stick around now.

Oh my. I like my new enclosure a lot better than the old one. It has several pools!
Think I'll do some exploring. 

It's heading for June, and by the looks of this place, there should be some brown-eyed girls out there I can dance for. I will stomp my feet, nod my head and ask them for their claw in marriage. 



Posted by Anonymous May 22, 2015 at 7:47 AM

I love your new pet box turtle. I can't wait to hear how life unfolds for this beauty.

Hey, what does having a flanged shell have to do with having been in captivity?

Not sure. Bit of information I picked up from Lisa Fosco, former head of animal care at Ohio Wildlife Center. Probably nutritional. I have seen two examples of extreme flangeing in long-term captives--one so bad he was almost all flange!

Neat-o. I look forward to hearing of his new adventures.

My daughter has a box turtle that she got from a pet store when she was 12 - she is now 43. She has a spot in her suburban back yard just for him, but it's limited. He loves it out there in the nice part of the year. Recently she was 'forced' to take in 2 other box turtles that someone had & wasn't taking care of!! Now, she has 3. They are different types of box turtles. She thinks the 2 recent ones were from a breeder so they were never in the wild. Do you think it's possible for these to be relocated to the wild? Probably not? It's sad 'cause the 2 recent turtles are females & the one female & the older male of my daughter's are eying each other (they are separate, but can see each other). Sad. My daughter feels bad that they are in captivity, but it's due to the stupidity of humans (had she not gotten the one from the pet store he'd probably be dead.

Posted by Anonymous May 22, 2015 at 9:35 AM

Julie, How big is the enclosed area and how is it enclosed?? Just curious. I didn't think any of your property was fenced... Sounds like Piker will have a good life.

Love that last picture from Piker's view!

I'm so glad that at least one of these poor creatures who are taken from the wild for human amusement will have a good home. And hopefully, many offspring from passing female turtles. (If Piker is fenced in, how will the females get to him?)

Posted by Anonymous May 22, 2015 at 11:59 AM

I think I've been a bit too subtle here. Unless Piker's planning to write to tell us what he's up to, there probably won't be more installments. My enclosure is very large.

Yeah, but I have no doubt you'll be seeing more of this guy. You just have that way. :)

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I have no questions, no observations at all. Just tears in my eyes. Can I change species and become something else? There are too few Science Chimps in the world and far too many capturers of wildlife.

May 22, 2015 at 3:57 PM

When I was a child, a box turtle use to come visit our peach tree when the peaches were falling to the ground. Sometimes we would find it at other times and bring it in and give it canned peaches. As an adult one of my children had a standard poodle. Sometimes she would come into the house with something in her mouth. I'd say "out" and this poor box turtle would go bouncing across the floor.

They ARE delightful but not as pets.


Hi Julie, No comment about the box turtle, but would like to remind you to please update your "Julie in the flesh" sidebar. I got to meet you once at a Midwest Bird Symposium. Would like to see you again but need to know where you will be. Can't go to Africa. Thanks.

Your enclosure is perfect!!! I think that possession of wildlife, runs into mental illness of control freak! UGH!!

Posted by Anonymous May 23, 2015 at 6:25 AM

I hope for sure that the Bacon will include Box Turtle news in his notes about life. Barbara in Saint Louis

Posted by Anonymous May 23, 2015 at 8:19 PM

Hopefully, the only sign you'll see of Piker in the future will be young box turtles as you're surveying your duchy.

I too thought it was unusual that you might have a large fenced area for your new pet box turtle! Now I get it--large enough to be safe until Mr. Boxy finds his mate and crawls into the sunset with her.

This is one of the greatest posts in the history of the world.

Posted by Suzanne Wagner May 25, 2015 at 10:11 AM

I have a red ear slider and was needing some advice he is active eats the only thing is I am concerned he might have shell rot he has pale spots on his shell they are not White just lighter than the rest. Please help how do I know own if it's shell rot?

Hello Amanda Chadd. I am no expert on keeping water turtles. My advice would be to go to, select "Images" and type in "shell rot red eared slider." That should get you a variety of results you can then follow down. You could also take your pet to a veterinarian experienced with small animals and reptiles.

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