Backyard Turtles
Tour Thirteen
Emily in the Spring

     Emily, our Florida red-bellied turtle, is a delight to live with. She is very domesticated and thought of as a member of the family. She has remarkable social skills both with people and with the turtles she lives with. She knows and likes her family members and seems to enjoy showing off for the public too. She came to us fully grown from an animal rescue organization. For some years after we adopted her, she would do public appearances with that organization because she was such a hit with the public. This tour is all about Emily and her spring time routine.

     We have never taken the chance of allowing her to hibernate. When she came to live with us the plan was to find her a ride back to the wilds of Florida. However, Emily was already very domesticated and followed me around whenever I go near her so we decided she could stay with us. She was the first "exotic" turtle for us, one that would not hibernate in winter. Since she is so big, housing her inside we thought would be a challenge.

     Emily is very heavy and is not a good climber so she was placed in a 30 gallon breeder aquarium. The tank was filled two thirds full of water. This worked the first year but she was quit a dirt load on this tank both eating and pooping. It was not long before I was feeding her in a utility sink in the laundry and putting her on the floor for some time to dry off. She  quickly knew the whole house and where her aquarium was located.

     Each winter Emily came inside and resumed her life inside as routine. We learned when and when not to put her on the floor so we did not have accidents on the floor to clean up. Her favorite places to settle into evolved from on my shoes in our closet to having her own "cubby".

     By the second winter inside she was very comfortable in the utility sink and preferred it to the aquarium which made my life much easier. It is so easy to just drain it, rinse it out and refill it daily. By the third winter the aquarium remained empty but on standby if needed. Emily has not used it since.

     My intent is to have her spend one night a week on the floor so she can dry off completely. I simply place her on the floor on top of an old bath towel and dry her off giving her a good rub. Then I just leave her there. She will usually move through the house to the bedroom used as the turtle room where she has her cubby. The next morning she will be looking out of the cubby waiting for whomever gets up first. She then proceeds to her utility sink and waits to be placed back in it. She would hang around the kitchen and be very sociable but this is not encouraged. You see Emily likes to move up behind us to our heels to be with us. She then becomes a real trip hazard us old folks cannot risk.

     I do take Emily outside for some sunshine in late winter and early spring if we get nice mild days. We will sit on the driveway together and enjoy the sun. She has even climbed over snow piles. And I take her to the turtle pen to check it out. I think these short trips outside help her judge the season.

     This year Emily had a good appetite all winter. Then at the end of February she stopped eating. She also grew more restless. On March 1st two box turtles emerged from hibernation. The same day Emily had had enough of the utility sink and was placed on the floor. She remained near the utility sink. We had a covering of snow two days later. After the snow very warm air moved in and it was very pleasant. The two box turtles reappeared. On March 9th I took her out with me while I took pictures of the box turtles. She stayed around the empty pond and posed for pictures.

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     In Tour Twelve I describe how I take the water turtles outside sometime in April. I prefer to take Emily out at that time if she is not outside already but Emily will not be happy outside unless she decides to go outside. In the past she has insisted on going back inside only to decide to go out the next day. But Emily has a routine all her own. When she decides to go outside for the season she will dig into the leaf pile and sleep for four to six weeks while the other turtles are emerging from hibernation. She does this every year.

     While the leaf pile is cold it is also warming. I don't believe Emily goes into a state of hibernation. I think she just enjoys some time out. Her routine is intentional on her part and not driven by cooling temperatures. I do check on her from time to time and she always appears alert.

     In the fall cold nights diminish the turtles' appetites. They eat less as the temperatures drop. They need to stop eating and digest the food in them before they go into hibernation. Undigested food would rot in their stomachs during hibernation and possibly cause them harm. But Emily did not stop eating because of cooling temperatures. It was a continuos decision on her part to stop eating in preparation for her spring sleep. Expecting this I was not alarmed when she stopped eating.

     On March 9th when I brought her in I placed her on the floor by the utility sink where she spent the night. The next morning she came into the kitchen to greet me when I came out for breakfast. She came back to the kitchen and greeted my wife when she came out for breakfast. I knew then that this would be the day she would decide to go outside. How? I just knew it.

     After breakfast Emily followed anyone who was moving, first me and then my wife. As my wife prepared to go shopping Emily followed her into the bedroom and back again. I had my camera ready and was prepared to record the events I expected to unfold that day. It started soon after my wife left to go shopping.

     While I was using my computer, Emily watched me and then made a move into the living room which has a sliding glass door that looks out over the turtle pen. For all Emily's wanderings around the house, she does not enter the living room often. And for the five months she had been in the house she had not gone to the sliding glass door once. I followed with my camera. When she was ready I opened the door and she went out. All I did was follow her taking pictures and open the door for her. In pic 10 you can see her by the door and the leaf pile in the foreground.

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     It was a very pleasant day. Emily and I often sit on the deck together and enjoy such days. I was with her and she was happy to be outside. And she was in no hurry. She sat and I took pictures. She made no move to leave the deck. After a time I placed her in the courtyard turtle pen just off the deck so I could go back in and finish what I was working on.

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     Emily is no stranger to the courtyard turtle pen so she was not upset when I returned. I placed her on the grass by the deck and she decided to take a walk out to the driveway which she has done many many times. When she reached the driveway she just sat in the sun. Since she was content to sit, I grabbed a lawn chair and joined her. I took more pictures while we were there. We sat there until my wife returned. I put Emily back in the courtyard turtle pen while I carried the groceries into the house for my wife.

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     It was now the middle of the afternoon. I again placed Emily on the grass by the deck. I still believed she would move to the leaf pile and dig in. She did not disappoint me. This time she headed to the turtle pen. I waited until she actually tried to get through the fence before lifting her over it. She moved to the empty pond and looked around. Then she headed for the leaf pile but turned just two feet from the leaf pile and headed into the garden area. She circled and went back to the empty pond for one last look around. 

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     This was the climax of the day. She had enjoyed our time together and was ready. She turned and headed straight into the leaf pile. In the time it will take you to look at the following pictures, she was under the leaves. Her trip from the house to the leaf pile was typical. She always roams around first. This day she took more time to be with me before heading to the leaf pile and I enjoyed being with her.

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     With Emily settled in for her long rest, I put the plug back in the pond so that it will accumulate some rain water should any turtle wish to use it. If you look closely you can also see a box turtle sleeping on the other side of the bog.

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     What is different this year is the early date, March 10th. This is the earliest she has ever gone out for the season. I hope she is right because I do not need more cold weather. The forecast does look good. 

     If Emily does not emerge form the leaf pile by a time I think she should, I uncover her and knock on her shell like knocking on a door. Within a hour or two she will then make her way to the pond and join her friends whom I think miss her. They are always glad to see her.

     I always tell turtle owners to allow themselves to believe they know what their turtles want and, if they do, that they will be right most of the time. Pet turtles are very good communicators and fairly predictable. Emily and I both new that she was ready to go out for the season. I simply allowed her to make the move. Other than the two times I placed her in the courtyard turtle pen, she moved freely. I just gave her the time. She rewarded me with choosing to spend some time with me along the way.

     I don't like to think of Emily as special among our turtles. That would be like having one of your children be your favorite. But Emily does stand out. Part of it is her size for sure. It is much harder to ignore a large turtle and she can roam the house without the fear of stepping on her. She is very outgoing and never shies away from people. Like I said at the beginning, Emily is family.

February, 2017

     February, 2017 was the mildest February in Pennsylvania this old man can remember. If it was due to global warming, I am all for it. But any weather we get in Pennsylvania is simply normal. Emily had not been outside yet this winter so how she could know what it was like outside, I do not know. But on February 24th, she wanted out of the utility sink. When I placed her on the floor she went to the back door. When I did nothing, she moved to the door to the garage and then back to the back door. Of course she also looked at me. She communicated her desire to go outside and I knew it. I knew the leaf pile was calling her. How did she know it was so nice outside. And it was only February 24th.

     As far as I was concerned it was entirely too early for Emily to go outside for her spring nap even though the weather was absolutely beautiful. I gave in and took her outside. She quickly dug into the leaves for her sleep. I knew if I dug her out she would be very unhappy and hard to live with inside. So against my desires I left her outside.

     As expected the weather did not stay warm. In fact the weather returned to normal average temperatures which are below freezing temperatures. Emily was only covered with a few inches of leaves. I worried but resisted my desire to take her back into the house. I had a barrel of wood shavings so I dumped them on top of the spot where she was buried to insulate her to reduce the penetration of the cold. I am sure she entered a state of hibernation because we had several weeks of freezing temperatures.

     I waited and as the box turtles emerged, I checked on Emily. When I knocked on her shell, she emerged like she always does completely unharmed by the cold. However, I will not allow her to go out this early again. It was harder on me than on Emily.

February, 2018

     We again received some warm weather in February. On February 21st the temperature reached 84 degrees F beating the old record high of 67 degrees F. Just a few days before we had six inches of snow. Another snow was also in the forecast.

     After returning home from an appointment, I got my wife out of the car and into a wheelchair. She is recovering from angle surgery. I asked her if she wanted to sit for a time out in the warmth which she agreed to do. I ran inside and opened windows and got Emily. I then grabbed a chair and sat and basked with Emily in the strong sun for about 30 minutes. Then after I took my wife inside, Emily would sit no more. She literally ran to the turtle pen and wanted in to go to the leaf pile. I refused to let her in because I was not going to worry about her for the next month or two. I finally slipped her inside on the floor by her utility sink.

     Inside Emily eventually went into the living room where my wife was sitting. By that time the vertical blinds had been drawn so Emily could not see the turtle pen. She moved over next to my wife and parked on her shoes where she remained until the following morning.

     Now several weeks later in March and several snow storms later, Emily is back to her normal routine in the utility sink and eating. We have snow cover and more snow in the forecast. I am happy she is safe inside. I think it will be mid April before the water turtles go outside this year. And yes I have spring fever too.

When Emily stops eating in Spring

     There is another point I would like to make. Emily often stops eating before going outside in spring. This is a deliberate act on her part not brought on by cooler temperatures. She chooses to stop eating to prepare herself to go outside for her spring sleep. Normally turtles stop eating as temperatures cool which prepares them to enter hibernation (when the days are growing shorter). But Emily is inside and warm. I think this is significant. She is near a window so she can observe the days getting longer. Other than that I do not know how she decides when to prepare herself to go outside.  I think she is much smarter than we would give a turtle credit for. Because of her size she is not easily ignored so she is allowed to make more of her own choices than other turtles. She is one very interesting turtle to live with and is my best teacher. She deserves much of the credit for what I present on TurtleTails.com.

     I hope this tour helps you develop closer ties with your turtles. Just give them the time and chance to respond to you. And what is a turtle "cubby" you ask. That will be our next tour.

 New 3/15/2018

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