Monday, August 13, 2007

"Box turtles are outdoor animals."

This is Nemo, my 10+ year old but newly adopted male Eastern Box Turtle. Except there is nothing typically turtle about him. Nemo came into my life in early June 2007 to fulfill my need for pet companionship balanced with my SO Brian's allergies to animal dander.

Why a turtle? Easier than an iguana which had seriously been considered. And a box turtle loves being outdoors. I happened to be creating a zen garden space in the courtyard of my brand new townhome just for the new arrival. In the midst of completing the garden I had researched turtle-friendly plants and provided for lovely turtle shelter in the form of an oversized, overturned terra cotta pot. All other turtles would surely be envious.

Did you know there are websites like and a whole world of turtle lovers, some with educational websites with discussion forums? It was through such resources that I made three inquiries into potential pet acquisitions. I most wanted an adult male Eastern Box turtle. I didn't want a baby because they are so little, the garden would not be turtle-proofed sufficiently and I wanted to be able to not step on the little guy. My #1 choice came through and Nemo (the name I gave him) arrived overnight by DHL packed in a tied cloth bag (!) tucked in styrofoam! Geez. Like he was a knicknack instead of a live animal. Ok enough about that. Apparently I was more traumatized than the turtle. Newly retired Brian was home to accept the delivery and release the now air travel weary passenger into a Rubbermaid container with damp towels for rehydration.

At my home, I had set up an enclosure with all the luxuries and necessities for a box turtle. Also, we decided the zen garden was not quite turtle-proofed suffficiently and Nemo would remain indoors to become acclimated until it was safe for him to be in his garden. Photos of Nemo's 5-star indoor luxury blanketed accommodations can be found at the link provided at the upper right of this blog.

According to my research, box turtles need a varied diet, turtle substrate to dig and bury in (such as reptile bark or soil), a wading pool, humidity, lots of leafy green stuff, and don't expect them to be anything more than a lump. I was prepared for everything including lack of interaction. Put a pet in front of me and I start singing and being silly whether the pet likes it or not. Part of Nemo's habitat included a cat-sized igloo which provided ample reptile bark for digging. I set the igloo on top of a large folded towel for me to have easier clean up. That must have begun Nemo's world of choices. Obviously no one ever offered him blankies before.

Everytime Nemo wanted to hide or sleep, he crawled under the edge of one of the towels or baby blankets I had draped over his hides (half logs and other cubbyholes). At first I thought he was confused and would place him in the igloo. I realized after a day that he was merely kicking all the bark to the door of the igloo so he had room to move around on the towel that was the floor. Finally I gave him another igloo with just blankies and let him choose. A week later I removed the reptile bark completely. Only soft blankies for this little guy.

His response to being placed in his zen garden with wonderful shade provided by wisteria we had planted as a "baby" and required a trellis within three weeks was to run as fast as his little legs could carry him and try to climb the fence. After several more tries over the course of the next few weeks, I realized Nemo preferred the indoors. He still gets his fresh air and real sunshine several times a week. He now has a turtle terrace on my tiny 4' x 4' deck so he doesn't have to have mulch touch his belly. He still doesn't like it though.

Diet is a whole other story. Guess I'll save that for my next post. Basically, anyone reading this is now caught up to Nemo having entered my life. Obviously I love the little guy and he has quite the personality as can be seen in his photos. I hope you enjoy this journey with me of getting to know Nemo.