When life throws you lemons, thank it for the snack

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Evan the Gulf Coast Box Turtle

Our turtle is special. She became part of our family about 3 years ago when we still lived in Panama City Beach, Florida. She was crawling into our driveway as I was pulling in at the end of the day. I assumed she was a juvenile, maybe no more than 3 years old, because she was so small. My daughter promptly named the turtle Evan, after a friend of hers from school. I also concluded she was a slider because that's what everyone else told me and because they are a prevalent species in Florida. Because we thought she was a slider (we also assumed she was a male for so long), we had her in a fish tank, even when my daughter and I moved down to Orlando.

She seemed to do well enough in the tank. She swam around a lot and enthusiastically chased after minnows when we bought them for her as a treat. She also spent time on the rocks in her tank, dancing around and occasionally begging for food.
Then again, Evan did spend much time in her tank on her platform, absorbing heat from her lamp.
Unfortunately, we found out the hard way that Evan really wasn't a tank turtle. She didn't really look like a slider--no webbed feet, and her shell began to grow taller instead of wider--and she was eating too much gravel. She even choked on the small pebbles, unable to breathe for a while, and spent two days passing all the rocks she consumed. After that episode, which freaked us out immensely, we took the advice of my brother and let her out every few days to walk around to strengthen her legs.

I finally decided to get a definitive assessment of Evan's species. We brought her to a couple pet stores that dealt in reptiles before finding a "reptile expert" who instantly told us that 1) Evan was a gulf coast box turtle with very nice patterning on her shell, 2) she was definitely a female, and 3) that she was about 10 years old at the time we brought her in, making her three years younger than my daughter (instead of three years old). He also told us that she does not belong in a tank, but thrives in a much larger land-based space.
We converted our small screened porch into a habitat for Evan. I adapted a coconut planter into a little hut for her. She spends most of her outdoor time in it. I used an open storage basket (like an in-basket, but larger) upside down as a cave with hamster shavings for a floor. I converted a shallow under-the-bed tub into a swimming pool for her, placing her rock platforms inside for a resting place and using the tub's lid as a ramp for her to climb into the water.
Evan seemed to enjoy her new room. However, there were times when she wanted to come back into the apartment. Any time we let her in, she looked for a place to hide--in a box, under a bag, under the entertainment center in our living room, in a closet, anywhere in my daughter's room. My daughter panicked at first because she didn't want the turtle to get lost, to starve, or to make a mess anywhere in the apartment. As we got used to her, however, we found that Evan turned out the be the best kind of pet for us.

It turns out that our turtle does not need to eat every day and she does not excrete as much as many other pets. In addition, she doesn't crawl all over furniture or destroy carpet or other items with her claws. She doesn't even attack (okay, she did bite my toe once, but I think she was really hungry at the time) and she make no animal noises.Yes, she crawls under wherever she thinks she can fit (her shell is now barely too tall to fit under the entertainment center) when she is inside; we often find her when we hear her moving over various things lying on the floor. But, since she managed to remove a portion of the rubber seal around our porch screen and escaped into the wider world (twice!), I feel she is safer in the apartment until we can get the property maintenance to come fix the screen. At the moment, Evan is happily nestled between two tubs under my bed. I know she is safe and I know that she will emerge when she needs food or water. I also know that she is not able to climb my bed, so I don't have to worry about being jumped on or licked, etc. in the middle of the night as is often the case with many other four-legged pets. Yep, Evan is a nice low-maintenance pet with the perfect personality for us. We are very glad to have her as part of our little family.

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