Suddenly - A New Turtle Daddy!

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Shubooti

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I've never had a turtle, but have been interested in them for most of my life. Now that I'm 62 years old, disabled (in a power wheelchair), I suddenly find myself adopting four turtles! I knew about these four turtles, who were being kept in terrible conditions. I was pretty sure I could get them (away from the bad situation), but had little idea of what turtle keeping entailed. So I:

- Bought nine different 'general turtle' and 'box turtle' books from Amazon.

- Read everything I could find for three-to-four weeks, using Google search (tons of stuff).

- Found this and other forums and started lurking, reading, studying, etc.

- I even searched and found that the only Vet I can find who specializes in reptiles in our State - just happens to be located nine blocks from our home.

After a month of studying all the 'turtlology' I could find, my wife and I decided we could handle it, and in fact found ourselves getting excited about the prospect of giving these guys a better life. So we did it! We bought a large plastic child's swimming pool (an idea from a forum) for a temporary home for them. We covered the bottom with untreated hardwood mulch, added several flat rocks, one cinder block, two flower pots for hides, and two water containers (ceramic pot dishes). We mist the mulch as necessary to keep it from drying out. And, as I had thought, had no trouble removing the turts from their 'doom and gloom' living conditions and brought them home. We've had them for a month now, with no problems. They began eating well from the first day, and we've witnessed no 'arguments' at all. Our little family consists of:

Bubba - a large Three Toed male, with a dramatically marked carapace, and pretty colorful face and neck. No idea of his age, but he looks big, old, and a bit weather beaten.

Pewee - a smaller Three Toed male, with a very nice dark green shiny carapace without much marking, but he has a very colorful face and neck. He looks to be about 3/4 the size of a full grown box turtle.

Olivia - a small Three Toed female, who is ugly as mud, but she seems to be healthy and full of personality. She has the drabbest plain shell, and no color at all anywhere. She's about the size of Pewee, and looks like her carapace has had some (now healed) damage, but it remains very flat on top with what looks to be healed cracks.

Betty - an absolutely gorgeous female Ornate Box Turtle, with a beautiful carapace and very colorful head and neck. She's big! Our largest turt, a little bigger than Bubba, and has very flashy markings all over.

They all look thin, no doubt from the horrible conditions and lack of proper diet, but they're all working on filling out their figures, wolfing down most everything we give them. We have virtually no information about their history, only that they were initially collected from the wild, one by one. They've been together for a good while.

We're feeding them on Tuesdays/Thursdays/Saturdays, with a different mix each feeding. They get a mix of chopped raw vegetables, meat (worms, crickets, etc.), some fruit, commercial turtle food, and vitamin supplements. We also toss in some grass, weeds, flowers, and leaves occasionally. All but Betty will already take food from our hand, in just a month. We feed them just before sundown. They're usually buried in the mulch, but pop up and come running when they hear us. Each has their own separate flat rock where they get their own portion. It's cute to see them all chowing down on their own rock. We've gradually learned how much they'll eat, and give them what they'll clean up in an hour. Anything left over goes away.

We're now having a permanent facility being built for them (after reading much on the subject). It will be a large 18' X 4' rectangle, with two dividers, giving us the ability to let them have the run of the whole habitat or closing off any section. We're planning to remove the sod/grass from the middle 8 X 4 foot section, digging down 12 inches, then mixing hardwood mulch with the dirt. On each end there will be an additional 5 X 4 foot area where we'll leave the grass. We'll put a large recessed water container on each end, in the grassy sections, and surrounded by flat stones. Right now they get their water dishes filthy as soon as we clean it, dragging the mulch in them. Hopefully, having the 'water holes' away from the dirt and mulch will keep them a bit cleaner. Most of the hides, basking rocks and caves will be in the center bare dirt area.

The two dividers between the three areas will each have a 'turtle size' hole/door, to allow them to go from section to section if desired. These turtle doors will allow us to close off either or both end sections at any time. Initially we'll use cinder blocks as 'doors'. We'll place the cinder blocks on their sides against one side of the divider, aligning the holes in the blocks with holes in the divider, to allow access. To close a section we'll simply rotate the cinder block 1/4 a turn, to put the closed side next to the divider. When the 'doors' are open, they'll have a full 18' X 4' habitat, with 8' of bare dirt and 10' (two five foot areas, one on each end) of grass and foliage. I liked the idea of being able to close an area, to let the grass or plantings get a good start or recover from time to time (also to quarantine any patient). It will also have a wood frame/wire mesh top, hinged at the back and a pulley system so I can raise the top from my wheelchair. It will have padlocks to thwart any critters. The habitat backs up to one side of our garage.

We will be planting a good number of turtle friendly plants, flowers, and low bushes in all sections. We're planning 6-8 hides throughout, along with several large decorative flat rocks for basking, and a couple of rocky 'climbing areas'. There will also be two tunnels (subways!) under the basking rocks, and a turtle house, raised, with a ramp, with a 'cave' underneath. Most of the hides will include earth ramps on the sides, so the turts may climb over them, as well as going into them. Some hides will hold a single turtle, others will be large enough for multiple turtles (our guys already seem to like huddling). Box turtles are native to this area, so we're trying to make the habitat as natural as possible for them.

So, that's our story, we're suddenly turtle parents. I worried a bit about starting this at our age, but we have four children and seven grandkids (so far), and most of them are already interested in our little herd. We'll have no trouble keeping the little ones 'in the family' when the time comes. Meanwhile we're loving all the interesting things they do. As I mentioned, I'm disabled/retired, and was needing something to fill some long days. We can't save all the poor creatures we see smashed on the roads, but we're going to try to give a great life to four little lucky ones.

I haven't asked for advice - only because you've already been giving it as I've lurked for many weeks, reading many pearls of wisdom from your experience. And I thank you for that. Any additional advice or suggestions are welcome. When the habitat is complete and the plantings are in - I'll try to post some photos.

Thanks again,

Shubooti
 

Greg T

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Wow! You have certainly done some homework on this topic. It sounds like you have a great plan and I know those turtles will be much better off in your care. I can't wait to see some pictures of them and their new enclosure. :)
 

Yvonne G

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Hi Shubooti:

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to the forum!

Sounds like you've got it all together. Box turtles are great little pets. They become very humanized and have great personalities. I love it when I see those little heads on necks stretching up in the air...looking towards me, the food goddess, to see what goodies I'm bringing.

I'm very glad to have you and your wife here on the forum with us. Can't wait to see your pictures.

Yvonne
 

chadk

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Hi Shubooti. Sounds like you have a great new turtle family and they have good 'parents'. Good for you :) Boxies are sure fun. I have 3 now and I'm also working on a long term outdoor pen for them.

Post some pics if you can. Of the boxies and the pen progress. The pool setup would be nice to see as well.

What state do you live in?
 

Isa

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Welcome to the forum Shubooti :)
Wow, you did a lot of research :) I can't wait to see Buba Pewee, Olivia and Betty and their enclosure.
Your turtles are very lucky you found them, now they are going to live a happy turtle life :D.
 
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Maggie Cummings

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It's great to see someone else who enjoys their box turtles as much as I do...they have great big personalities as you have seen...welcome...I am looking forward to seeing your pictures...
 

tortoisenerd

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Welcome to the forum! Your family sure grew fast and sounds like things are going great. Also looking forward to pictures. :)
 

Shubooti

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Thanks for the welcome and kind words! :D

But no suggestions? All are welcome and needed by this newbie. We live in Arkansas and are trying to keep everything as natural as possible. There will be very few flat spots in the center section. We will use the dirt and mulch to make hills and valleys, with the tallest hill having a flat rock on top, flush with the dirt, providing a "King of the Mountain" basking spot. Lots of decorative rocks too, to crawl around and over. We want to break up the sight lines and make it interesting, hopefully they won't spend all their time patrolling the perimeter. We also want the various hides to look natural. We'll use various tupperware type containers (with a door cut into it), but cover them with dirt to hide all but the entrance. They will be able to crawl in the 'cave' or climb on it to bask. We also hope to use some large black PVC pipe to make hides, caves and short tunnels. We'll leave one well tilled and mulched area fairly open, or remove some things, to allow space for preparing a good spot for nesting, and hibernating in the fall. They're native here, and have always been allowed to hibernate (actually they had no other choice).

We hope to locate a rotting log, for beauty and insects. We hope to provide some hunting experiences for them, rather than just eating what we provide. We'll supervise to make sure no one is left out.

Nothing is costing much, we're using mostly 'found' stuff (used boards, rocks, etc.). Even the labor is free. A good friend who likes 'projects', and is a good carpenter, is doing most of it. He likes helping me since my disabilities make these things hard. He has all sorts of special carpentry tools.

Thanks again,

- Shubooti
 

egyptiandan

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Hi,
It all sounds pretty good. I was just wondering (as you didn't mention), How tall will the sides of the enclosure be? With having a wire top and growing plants, the plants will inevitably grow through the wire top. This will make it hard to raise the top. It could also pull the plant up by the roots or break it off. Things to think about when planting an enclosure with a top.
It's usually hard to give advice about enclosures until you actually see them being put up. :D

Danny
 

Yvonne G

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Here in Central Calif. in my neighborhood, there are coyotes, opposum, raccoons, large crows, etc. My box turtle pens are under a couple large trees. I have never worried about the night time critters coming into my pens and eating my box turtles, and I don't have a cover over the pens. I just go around every evening and clean up any un-eaten food, making sure that all the turtles are out of sight in their "digs." The only vermin problem I have is oppossum poop in EVERY SINGLE turtle and tortoise waterer on my property!!!! every morning!

The plans you have for your box turtle enclosure sound wonderful. I'm dying to see pictures. I like the idea of keeping it natural and having many sight barriers.

Yvonne
 

Shubooti

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egyptiandan said:
Hi,
It all sounds pretty good. I was just wondering (as you didn't mention), How tall will the sides of the enclosure be? With having a wire top and growing plants, the plants will inevitably grow through the wire top. This will make it hard to raise the top. It could also pull the plant up by the roots or break it off. Things to think about when planting an enclosure with a top.
It's usually hard to give advice about enclosures until you actually see them being put up. :D

Danny

The sides are 18", plus 4" anti-climb boards screwed to the top, angled at 45 degrees toward the inside. Besides preventing escapes, the top boards gives the habitat a nice 'finished look' border. The boards are cut on a compound angle at the corners to join without gaps, giving it a sort of 'picture frame' look.

We haven't made the plant decisions yet, primarily because I have no idea what I'm doing. I have a list of 'turtle friendly' plants that I plan to take to a nursery and ask for help about which might be small, low growing bushes/flowers. If none fit the bill I supposed I'd just have to keep them trimmed to fit under the top. I'm hoping that I might find some that are not only non-harmful, but also something they'd eat.

May I ask - do you think the top is necessary? I've read that it is, although we live in a suburb, and have never seen anything but squirrels and rabbits around here. And they've been outside in the wading pool for a month with no signs of anything.

Thanks for any input. - Shubooti
 
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