It is my
opinion that many pet turtles become domesticated; they become at home
and at ease in captivity. We are all familiar with the concept of domesticated
animals like dogs and cats. We do not hear this term applied to pet turtles.
Maybe it is time to think of and describe our pet turtles as domesticated
animals rather than as captive wild animals. Let me explain my thinking.
Many pet turtles
start life in captivity and never live as wild animals. That alone does
not make them domesticated. Being a turtle does not make them a wild animal
either. But life in captivity especially in close contact with caring people
can domesticate them. Some will not develop into domesticated animals.
I believe that turtles
have enough intelligence to like people. A turtle may like one person,
people living with the turtle, and people not living with the turtle. They
also have the ability to dislike people. They may like or at least accept
other family pets like dogs and cats and loose fear of them. Other turtles
may simply accept their lives in captivity.
I do not believe that
turtles understand that they are captive or intentionally confined. I do
not believe that they really reason that they should escape from captivity.
They may wish to move away from people and in a sense return to the wild.
Domesticated pet turtles will easily wander away and become lost to their
owners. Most turtles in captivity get urges to head off in a given direction
and are not easily deterred from moving in the direction they choose. I
do not believe this has anything to do with an intent to escape.
I am privileged
to have had and presently have some turtles that I know like me and like
being with me. It is really rewarding when this happens, but it is not
unusual. Other turtles I have since incubating their eggs, do not seek
my attention or display outward signs of wanting to be with me. Some really
do not like me and show it. So some turtles are captive and not wild but
can not be called domesticated.
Let me give some
examples of what I mean by domesticated turtles starting with Emily, my
Florida red-bellied turtle. Emily was found at someone's doorstep and turned
over to a wildlife rescue organization. I was contacted by email to help
identify her. If she was a red-bellied turtle native to Pennsylvania, she
would have to be released. If she was not native to Pennsylvania, release
was not permitted. When I identified her as a Florida red-bellied turtle,
I also asked for permission to photograph her for TurtleTails.com.
In the reply I was asked if I would take her which I did with some reservations.
Prior to accepting
Emily I had only kept North American turtles that could hibernate. Emily
is not only a warm climate turtle, she is also big; the biggest turtle
I have ever had. My thoughts were to get her to Florida. From the very
start Emily demonstrated that she is domesticated. She accepted me from
the start and followed me around wanting to see everything I was doing.
I never had such a domesticated turtle before. It was clear to me that
if she was moved to Florida she would end up at someone's door again.
So now Emily spends
the summers outside and the winters having the run of our house. She is
capable of some truly social behavior and continues to teach me more about
turtles. She is truly domesticated and a pleasure to have in our home.
We had a snapping
turtle named Turtle for eight years. He was an eating machine and was aggressive
when it came to food. I was concerned that he might snap one of my young
children. He could climb out of his 125 gallon aquarium at will which he
almost never did. I thought it would be better to have good memories of
him rather than to remember him holding on to one of my kid's fingers.
The day came to release him in the Susquehanna River near our home. I figured
he would slip away when placed in the water. I was wrong! He sat there
and looked at us. He never moved. It was clear he was unsure as to why
he was there and he had no desire to leave us. We had to abandon him as
he watched us leave. He was domesticated! I am sure he buried himself in
the mud for a long time and then thrived in the great snapping turtle habitat.
But he did not choose to be separated from us.
You have met two snapping
turtles on TurtleTails.com, Tiny and Tinytwo. Both were raised from
hatchlings several years apart in the same aquariums and outdoor pens.
Tiny is a very nice turtle who never snapped or threatened to snap. He
was very tolerant of other turtles scrambling over him for food. I often
impressed people when I pulled him out of a pile of leaves to show him
off. But Tiny climbed out of the pen he was in and left us.
Tinytwo is just
the opposite of Tiny. Tinytwo tries to bit me when I get him out of his
mud hole and he will even chase me trying to bit me. He is not comfortable
with other turtles in the pond competing for food. He is everything you
may expect from a snapping turtle. Tinytwo will have to be released someday.
He is still small enough to be amusing and he is great to photograph. He
will never be domesticated.
Wrinkles is another extraordinary
turtle I am privileged to have in my life. Wrinkles was adopted at a herpetological
society meeting. She was a very poor looking juvenile eastern box turtle
that everyone looked at but passed over. So I took her in. She is what
I will simply describe as a turtle with special needs. From the start she
loved being outside and looking for bugs and slugs and worms. She is very
domesticated and trusting. She spends winters in the house because of her
needs. One winter she spent with my daughter keeping Zeppe, another eastern
box turtle, and my daughter company. When she came home it was like she
It is risky to apply
terms to turtle behavior that we use for human behavior. It may seem far
fetched to some people, but I know some of my turtles trust me. Trust must
surely be the opposite of wild. The turtles that I believe trust me must
be respected and their trust not violated. I know Wrinkles trusts me.
Zeppe is another
example of a domesticated turtle. Zeppe was found when only a baby by my
daughter in our turtle pen. Zeppe has lived here and with my daughter in
several locations sometimes spending summers here. Zeppe was visiting for
the summer when he helped me demonstrate how to make stepping stones out
of concrete for one of our tours on TurtleTails.com. When Zeppe
visits it is like he never left.
Why do I make the
distinction of calling turtles domesticated? It is because many scientists,
regulators, and professionals view all turtles as wild animals and think
they know what is best for all turtles. To them turtles are just specimen
animals they must protect from the general public. They refuse to accept
that some turtles regardless of species or native species status are domesticated
pets. They are united in their purpose of keeping turtles from the general
I know what is best for my turtles, turtles I care for and cherish! No
one else! Yes I am tired of the attacks
by professionals and other do gooders making pet turtle owners out to be
bad people. My home state of Pennsylvania has recently passed new regulations
and goes so far as to suggest by giving permission via the new rules to
pet owners to kill their pet turtles. I will not kill my turtles! I believe
it is my duty to protect turtles like Wrinkles from harm! Kill my cherished
pets because some unidentified bureaucrat in state government says I should.
Absolutely not! Nor should you!
I have received
many email questions asking me what to do with turtles. I never tell anyone
what to do with their pets. I will make suggestions and give my opinions,
but I do not suppose to know what someone should do with their pets. I
often tell people to listen to their turtles who can communicate with their
owners. Only you should decide what is best for your domesticated pets.
So I am speaking
out. I am giving you my opinions. This is just the first such opinion you
will fine on the "In My Hard Shelled Opinion" pages. I want you to know
you are not alone if you feel like I do. I want you to form your own opinions
and act accordingly. I want you to know that your turtles have enough smarts
to bond to you. I want you to know that you are not wrong to feel an obligation
to a pet turtle that does bond with you.
And know this too.
Most professionals who would have you not own turtles are paid by your
tax dollars or fees or support for public institutions.
Stay tuned; I am
just getting started.
Thomas R. Schucker
P.S. So what can you
do to help. Add "domesticated turtles" to your vocabulary and help spread
the idea that many turtles are domesticated pets. In the pet trade two
terms have become common, captive bred and wild caught. These terms are
useful in describing the origins of the turtles available for purchase.
They do not describe the current state of pet turtles.
I receive many many emails describing the finding of turtles in garages,
on patios, in gardens, in lawns while mowing, in dirt piles kids are playing
in, along curbs and sidewalks, and on and on. Many eggs are discovered
while digging gardens and excavating construction sites. Many females are
observed laying eggs in the middle of driveways and other risky places
in yards and gardens. Many baby turtles are found shortly after hatching
and some even before emerging from the ground. Are these wild turtles?
And what about eggs found and incubated. They are wild caught or at least
the off spring of wild turtles who laid the eggs. But this is not a good
description of pet turtles years later.
So many wild caught turtles never live as wild turtles and many captive
bred turtles never live as wild turtles. There are even generations of
pet turtles. I think describing these pet turtles as domesticated turtles
is more appropriate and useful for our purpose.
So I would like to start the use of the term "domesticated turtles". Try
it. See if it works for you. See if it better describes the state of your
pet turtles when discussing them with others. Turtle owners do not need
this term to describe their turtles to other pet turtle owners. And elite
professionals will know what you mean and not like it. But we need to make
it clear to all others that our cherished pets are different than wild
turtles. We need our own code words. (There will be more on code words
later.) Join me and spread the use of "domesticated turtles".
More examples of domesticated
What do you call a turtle that comes over to you and climbs up on you repeatedly?
Domesticated for sure and a friend too. Let me tell you what happen to
me just this morning.
It is Memorial Day and I was out taking pictures of some of my turtles.
We had thunderstorms last night and the day started out cool, wet, and
overcast. Many of my turtles were just sitting around warming up and enjoying
the day. I wanted to get some good close-up shots and they were cooperating.
I basically take the poses they give me.
I was sitting on a step in a pen wearing old pants I only wear around the
yard so I was not worried about getting dirty. After taking many pictures
I was trying to coax a box turtle into extending her head more by talking
to her. W, our spotted turtle who had been at the other side of the pen,
heard me and came over to me. Then he climbed up on the step beside me.
As I continued to coax the box turtle, W climbed up on me. Then Wrinkles
came to me. So there I sat with a turtle on me, a turtle under me, and
turtles nearby I was trying to photograph. I love these digital cameras;
I got some great pictures and memories too.
1 | pic 2 | pic
3 | pic 4 | pic
5 | pic 6 | pic
7 | pic 8 |
That is not all. I would put W down and he would go to the water hole two
feet away. Then he would come back and climb up again. Like I said I was
wearing old pants and I was willing to let a wet muddy turtle climb on
me. He did this over and over.
9 | pic 10 | pic
11 | pic 12 | pic
13 | pic 14 |
W was found by my wife shortly after hatching three feet from where I was
sitting. Both W and Wrinkles were never wild turtles and are completely
domesticated. All the turtles displayed their trust in me by not moving
away while I took picture after picture.
Know this too. According to the new regulations that went into effect this
year, I am required by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission to kill
these turtles. That's right! I am required to kill these loving domesticated
pet turtles because some unidentified bureaucrats
in the PFBC decided so. Before the regulations went into effect I met with
my state senator who is on the PFBC oversight committee and asked him to
block the regulations. He said he would get back to me; he never did. And
I voted for him.
I am uneasy telling you this story. I am definitely putting my turtles
and myself at risk. The PFBC storm troopers may come and visit us. They
have more power than any conventional police in the state. They can kill
my turtles and cause me endless grief. My elected representatives will
not represent me. So this veteran on this Memorial Day chooses to celebrate
this day and my cherished turtles by sharing with you a story about some
remarkable domesticated turtles. I know that in back yards all across America
other pet turtle owners are having similar experiences too. I want you
to know you are not alone if you are one of them.