Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Turtle on the Rock

Turtle stretching under heat lamps on the rock in his penthouse aquarium.
A little over two years ago we "rescued" a Trachemys scripta scripta from its prison. The yellow-bellied slider was kept by a friend of my daughter's in a small fish bowl with the water rarely changed. The friend did not really relate to the turtle. Turtles can be fascinating and colorful but they are not really what you might call "affectionate".  Still, my daughter took pity on it. She also took the initiative and brought it home, showing it to my wife, who was horrified by the poor turtle's living circumstances. Before I knew it we had a new member of our family. 

From the beginning there was no major discussion as to what to name the reptile.  His name was "Franklin" according to the friend but to us he was simply "Turtle".  He is a turtle, after all, and he really doesn't care what you call him.  Just give him plenty of room, clean water, and food.  Not necessarily in that order from his turtle-perspective.

We put him in an unused aquarium we had. Jennifer, ever the tenacious researcher, read everything she could find online about yellow-bellied sliders.  Soon we were in a routine with him. My daughter grew less interested in him though she maintained an appreciation of watching the little fellow swim around and get up on a fake rock surface to dry his shell under a couple of lamps Jennifer rigged up.

Now Turtle is on display in our living room next to our television.  He is a source of amusement to family, friends, and visitors.  After all, you don't see a yellow-bellied slider in everyone's house. He is colorful and more interesting to watch than any fish because he actually climbs out of the water now and then to sun himself and stretch. Apparently, it is important that he routinely dry his shell...it has to do with the healthy, synchronized growth of the shell and the turtle's body inside.

You see, if the body grows faster than the shell then the shell can crack.  And if the shell does not grow at the proper rate then the turtle's body becomes slightly deformed.  It gets more oblong than flat. We want a flat, wide turtle not a nerf football turtle.

Whenever he is on his rock I always proclaim to the house "Turtle's on the rock."  I started doing this about a year or so ago because when he first began to venture out and sun himself he would be overly cautious.  Any movement, such as someone walking through the living room, would send him scurrying back into the safety of the water.  Turtle felt threatened.  Over time, however, Turtle has matured and now tolerates us walking through the room and even over next to him to turn on the television or stereo.  You still can't walk right up and gaze down upon Turtle on the rock but at least he doesn't do a back-flip off the rock into the water at the sign of first movement.

I guess since turtles typically live such a long time their adaptive habits are slow as well.  But, he has definitely changed and shown us some subtle signs of actual personality over time.  For example, feeding time is usually first thing every morning after Jennifer gets up.  But, I am usually up long before Jennifer.  As Turtle notes my movements through the house to make coffee etc. Turtle begins frantically swimming into the side of the glass aquarium, as if he can climb it.  Often his flailing motion creates a sloshing sound inside the aquarium - like a washing machine.  It is quite humorous sometimes in its loud, vigorous intensity.

He's supposed to eat greens or carrots every other day and turtle food on the alternating days.  In the beginning he did just that.  He devoured kale, carrot pieces, spinach.  Good turtle.  But, now that he is approaching his turtle teen years, he isn't eating his greens.  Turtle's eating habits are persnickety.  He relishes the "good stuff", the turtle food pellets we sprinkle in every other day. Recently, we discovered that Turtle prefers fresh leafy produce from local markets instead of grocery store produce.  Turtle indicates there is a distinctive difference.  I wonder what that ultimately says about the "fresh" vegetables at most major grocery stores?

Oh, it gets even more complicated.  For her birthday last year Jennifer asked for an expensive Diatom Filter to clean Turtle's domain.  It was a pain to put together and she spent weeks trying to make it all work just right.  But, as usual, her persistence was rewarded.  Turtle now has super clean water of roam around in but when that filter is all hooked up - once every week or two - sitting on the living room floor with all its hoses going everywhere it looks like a freaky high school science project in our living room.  But, my wife is a Georgia Tech nerd at heart so she loves it. Whatever.

Little Turtle grew and thrived and sprouted a tail. It was a short tail, however.  That, among other tidbits of minutia, lead Jennifer to proclaim that he was, in fact, a she.  Turtle is female, even though we are now in the habit of calling her a him. This, of course, creates another potential problem.  Female sliders must lay eggs whether they are impregnated or not.  So, some day in the not too distant future, Turtle will need a place out of the water to expunge her infertile eggs from her body.  The consequences of not doing so would be illness and perhaps his (her) ultimate demise.

So, recently Jennifer saw on youtube how to construct a platform for Turtle out of PVC and other common materials.  She is far more into home projects of this nature than I am so she took great delight in creating this new platform.  It fits fine in Turtle's aquarium even though it looks a bit more functional than natural.  Only Turtle didn't care much for the arrangement.  He only got up on the platform a couple of times and then only for brief periods before plunging back into the water. Part of the reason might be how cold this winter has been lately.  We keep our thermostat down a few degrees compared with the rest of the year. Even though the platform sat under two lamps and was plenty warm, we figured the temperature of the water must be even more comfortable for him/her. So, for now, the platform is out and we are back to just the rock.

If Turtle can survive all this attention and the "treacherous" circumstances of laying eggs in a confined space then she will likely live for decades. She will outlive our dog, Charlie.  She will likely outlive our next dog, if we have one.  My personal longevity goal is now to outlive Turtle, and then some.  Turtle will likely get to be about 8-13 inches long.  She is about 4-5 inches long now.  Jennifer says we will need a bigger tank.  I say Turtle is far better off than he/she was in the fish bowl and I wonder how many bigger tanks we will go through? Will Turtle consume our living room entirely? What other madness awaits us as we attempt to care for this colorful, curious, but ultimately cold-blooded creature?

The platform might ultimately serve as the space for where Turtle has to lay her eggs.  And probably the aquarium will grow with Turtle, hopefully not requiring too much space, hopefully not demanding a prodigious amount of electricity to keep Turtle's "Jacuzzi" environment at the optimum temperature.  Now that I think of it, like most well-kept pets I suppose (dogs, cats, turtles, etc.), Turtle has it way better than I do.  All she does is swim all day, sleep when she wants to, take dives into the pristine Diatom-filtered water, bask in warmth, stretch, eat, and poop.  Gradually, Turtle is getting to know us and we are getting to know Turtle.  It is a much slower paced relationship than with, say, a puppy.  Turtle’s personality is there, we see traces of it, but it is not fully evolved nor is it fully adapted to our family. Turtle might not ever give me a hug or let me pet her but she makes an interesting pet nonetheless.  I look forward to many years of getting to know one another, at the turtle's pace, of course.
Turtle in his/her smaller, more cautious, yet still curious days.

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