Backyard Turtles
Tour Three
Keeping Records on Your Turtles

     Do you keep records on your turtles like you might keep on dogs or cats. For dogs and cats these are usually health records since they require vaccinations periodically. We are not suggesting you have your turtles vaccinated or even see a vet periodically. Keeping such records on your turtles is not important. However, keeping various kinds of records can be useful and fun to do. We keep several types of records. Let us begin with some entries from a running diary we keep.

April 1, 2008: Emily spent the night in her aquarium at her request (I was in the room at the time attending to other turtles); she had only spent a few nights in her aquarium all winter. She did a big poop right after being placed in the aquarium which tells me she wanted in the aquarium because she had to go. Good turtle!

There was rain yesterday and this morning. It was the first rain on the new pond under construction. After work it was a beautiful spring day and the first day warm enough to let some fresh air into the house. I was looking forward to cleaning the new concrete. Before going outside I moved Emily to the utility sink to feed her. She refused to eat turkey and made it known she did not want to be in the sink. I placed her on the floor and she moved back through the house with unusual speed. I thought nothing of it since I was on my way outside. Shortly after I began working Emily came through a hole in the screen door (made by our dog) and onto the deck with a thump.  So I placed her in the pen with me. She roamed in and out of the pond and all around me and around the pen for some time. She explored the leaf pile but did not dig in. She plowed through leaf litter and the soft dirt. She clearly enjoyed being outside again. Then as I finished what I was doing, she predictably buried herself in the leaf pile for her spring sleep.

     I do not embed pictures in my turtle diary, but I did take some pictures. I was photographing the construction of the pond for another tour I will write later. Here are a few pictures from that day.

| pic 1 | pic 2 | pic 3 | pic 4 | pic 5 | pic 6 |

     Now compare the entry above with entries written one and two years earlier.

April 19, 2007: Finally filled the pond and put all the water turtles outside except Patches. It was too cold to put them out earlier in the month. I replaced the mud in the Tinytwo's mud hole (See Tour 21 A Muddy Pool for a Pet Snapping Turtle on the Raising Baby Turtles page.). Lenni was out of the leaf pile; he is the first box turtle to emerge from hibernation. While all the other water turtles enjoyed being out, Emily did not. She scratched at the fence. When placed on the outside of the fence she moved to the deck. When placed on the deck and the screen door was opened, she went inside and returned to her place under the bed.
April 20, 2007: Emily was waiting for me in the kitchen when I came out for breakfast. She was waiting to go outside. She just had to be the one to decide when she would go outside for the season. After a dip in the pond she buried herself in the leaf pile for her spring sleep.
April 1, 2006: "The weather has been mild so I filled the pond and brought all the turtles from the basement outside. I also put Laura and Emily outside."

     I keep a diary about our turtles and any herping we do making entries only when there are events I wish to record. These events include when turtles are brought inside for the winter and are put outside in the spring, when eggs are laid and by whom, when eggs hatch and how many, when turtles join or leave us, when turtles or people visit us, any interesting occurrences, herping field trips, etc. This is something I just like to do. I find it very useful when deciding seasonal events and predicting who might lay eggs when. It is also a very useful reference when writing for TurtleTails.com.

     Herping trips may be as simple as walking the dog down the road to shale banks to look for snakes and salamanders. It may be a hike in the mountains or canoeing on a local lake. Any herps seen are recorded and also the weather conditions. These are just personal notes not scientific field notes. If you do this you may be surprised at how well you will learn to predict the best times and best weather conditions to go herping. Not all reptiles and amphibians are active at the same times.

     We have learned that our turtles are also pretty predictable. They have an excellent sense of timing like Emily going outside for the season or when most females lay their eggs. Inside they perk up at the beginning of March. I need a calendar and my notes; the turtles do not.

     Emily going through the hole in the screen door is significant. She has been allowed to walk through the open doorway many times both in and out. But she very rarely goes to the sliding glass door when she is inside for the winter. Going through the hole in the screen was a learning experience she will remember. It was a lucky thing that I was outside to hear her thump down onto the deck. She will not understand that she can not do it if there is no hole in the screen. So to stop our dog and Emily, I added a pet guard to the door when I replaced the screen. I expect to see Emily try the same thing next year on or very close to April 1st.

     Emily pooping right after being placed in the aquarium is also significant. I would never say that she is house trained like a dog but rather that we are trained to respond to her. When she came into the room and went right to a place on the floor below the aquarium and looked at me, the communication was absolutely clear. She was not asking to be carried to the utility sink at the far end of the house where I would rather have her poop. When she indicates what she wants, that is what she usually gets. She did her part and I immediately placed her in the aquarium. It was easier removing the poop from the aquarium than from the floor. Keeping notes is a way of reinforcing the training my turtles are giving me.

     Before having a digital camera, I used to keep a record on each turtle. The record included writing a detailed description describing each turtle well enough that a stranger could tell them apart. That was very revealing and I recommend you try it just for fun. If you do try it, you will understand how revealing it is. The records also included such obvious things as when and from where/whom the turtle was acquired, measurements taken each year, eggs laid, etc. It can be very challenging to tell baby turtles apart even with digital pictures but names are useless if we can not tell them apart.

     This tour is included under the "Backyard Turtles" series for a reason. We have several pens and some of our turtles move between them. For this reason we keep a list of our turtles so that we can "call the roles" occasionally. Before hibernation it pays to know who is where. It is common to not be able to find some turtles before placing them for the winter. Some have hidden for nine months without being seen. Keeping a list is very helpful.

     Another record we keep is a list of who spends the winter where. Some come inside for the winter like Emily, some are moved to our basement to hibernate, some are moved to the leaf pile in our largest pen to hibernate, and some may have gone underground on their own. The list includes when they are moved where or were last seen. In spring we are anxious to see all our turtles emerge that hibernated outside so we record the date each is seen for the first time. The date the others go outside is also recorded.  Some individuals will hibernate longer than others and such record keeping helps us learn each turtle's habits.

     TurtleTails.com is also another form of record keeping for us. It includes many projects and now our turtle pens. We would not record nearly as much if we did not have this forum to share our stories with you.

     So you have a computer and some software like a word processor and spreadsheet program. There is no right way or wrong way to keep records for your own personal use. So try adding another dimension to your pet turtle hobby by creating some record keeping especially for turtles housed outside. It may help you reinforce what you are learning and be very useful over time.

     We hope you find this third tour of the Backyard Turtles series of tours enjoyable and informative. Come back again for there is much more to come.

 Revised 1/14/2010

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