I stole a Red-Ear Turtle

28 Dec

My backyard turtle enclosure. There's a 600 gallon pond in there somewhere!

Two years ago I stopped at a Local Fish Store.  It was a new business. I bought some little hermit crabs for my Saltwater tank.

I noticed a tank with a turtle in it. The tank had gravel on the bottom and in one corner was a water dish,  but it was a little water dish, like you use for a food dish for a hamster. This would suffice temporarily for a land turtle but the turtle in this tank was a Red-eared Slider, an aquatic turtle. The little guy was turned head-first into the corner of the tank.

The owner was not there so I said, politely, to a young employee, “This turtle is an aquatic turtle. It needs enough water to completely submerge. It won’t eat unless it is underwater.”  I suggested they fill the tank about halfway, give the turtle a place to bask, etc, and I asked the young man to tell the owner.

A month later, let me repeat,  a month later, this store had moved. I stopped in at the new location. There was the same turtle , in the same tank, now he was dying.  Seriously, he was dying of thirst and starvation.

My brain short-circuited.  I said, “I need a box. I am taking this turtle. If it survives I’ll bring it back to you.”  I’ll give the owner credit, he knew I was serious and he found a box right away. I reached in, grabbed the turtle and put him in the box. I said “Look, an aquatic turtle swims, it’s shell is stream-lined. It needs water so it can eat and swallow.  If you order a land turtle, it’s shell will be domed, you can give it a shallow water dish to drink from and sit in. ” I also mentioned that the only exception I could think of is the Pancake Tortoise, which is a desert tortoise but has a flattened shell.

But I was moving fast, I was agitated, and I was anxious to get this turtle home. After driving about a mile I started laughing to myself. “What the hell did you just do?” I didn’t even think to pay the 15 dollars for this turtle. I really should have but it never occurred to me.

It was a challenge to bring this turtle back to health. It could never compete for food with my other turtles. It was so weak it could not submerge and swim properly. I set up a tub of shallow water, maybe 3 inches deep, put a heat lamp over it, and tried various foods. It would not eat for the first two days.

On the third day I took some guppies, and I killed them. Hate to say it but I did. I squished them so their guts were hanging out, and the turtle nudged them and finally, barely, opened his mouth and took a taste. Eventually, he ate a few guppies. Within a few days he was getting stronger, and now he has turned out to be a SHE and has grown into a big strong, healthy turtle.

Every once in awhile I thought I should go back to the store and pay for the turtle. The owner really seemed to be a great guy who knew a lot about fish, but I never went back and the store is now closed.


6 Responses to “I stole a Red-Ear Turtle”

  1. aprlshwrs December 30, 2011 at 4:14 pm #

    Wow…poor little…girl…lol. You could have paid for her but, seriously, it was a rescue mission, they should have paid you to take care of her properly.

  2. fishtanx2011 December 30, 2011 at 4:52 pm #

    Thanks! I’m glad you see it that way. I’m trying to atone for the lives of the little baby turtles I had when i was kid and didn’t know how to take care of them properly.

    • Mark Bowerman January 27, 2012 at 5:30 pm #

      I agree. It makes me sad to see large fish mistreated at stores. I bought my 7″ piranha just because he was in a 10 gallon tank at the store. Poor guy was just running back and forth into the glass. He had nowhere to hide. And it gave me an excuse to buy another tank lol.

  3. fishtanx2011 January 28, 2012 at 9:44 am #

    Many people would not see a Piranha as creature that evokes sympathy, but you saw that even it deserved a better life. Good for you!!

  4. Kristy March 31, 2012 at 3:17 pm #

    I’m glad you reacted the way you did and didn’t pay for the turtle because the owner will probably never do that again! (we can hope)

    I’m the type of extreme animal lover who thoroughly enjoys researching facts and the proper care for pets. So a year ago when 2 of my friends came home from LA with “mini turtles” I was perfectly happy spending my spring break reading countless websites about Red Eared Sliders. I then shared this research with my friends who bought tanks (instead of the awful 6 inch plastic containers), lights, and new food. I think my mass of information was too much for them though because they didn’t read everything and still didn’t have ideal housing. Luckily, I helped convince my friend to give her one RES to someone who owned several and knew how to take care of them. My other friend has 2 RES and I just keep working at getting her and her parents to slowly improve the habitat. They’ve gone through several tank sizes from a 5.5 gallon to a 10 gallon to now a 20 gallon (which is still too small). But at least they have a UVB light, basking light, filter, floating turtle dock, and the proper food. I know this is not the best environment and my anti-animal negligence-ness is just itching to make it better, but I’m trying not to be too pushy. If I weren’t going away to college next year, I would definitely have taken 1 off their hands. I’m hoping within the next few years that I (or my parents) will buy one or both RES from them. In the meantime, I’ll just keep trying to convince my friend to improve the tank.

    • fishtanx2011 March 31, 2012 at 6:21 pm #

      It is so good of you to try and help your friends turtles. Too bad that the Red-ears get so big. No one ever comprehends that they are buying a turtle that can live 40 years and have a shell as big as a dinner plate. In my case, I bought these turtles THEN realized they would need a large place to live, hence the pond that I built, but most people can’t do that.
      And if the eggs hatch that were laid last week, what will I do with them? Can I find people who can take proper care of them?
      At least this once I want to raise a few babies, partly to erase my 1960’s childhood guilt about keeping baby Red-ears in plastic bowls and feeding them Wardley’s ant eggs. (yes, that’s how we were told to do it, and no UV lighting needed!) Thank goodness for the Internet. See an animal in the Petshop? Don’t buy it on sight. Go home, Google it and then decide.
      Keep your eye out for a larger tank on Craigslist. When you see a used 55 gallon , or a pool of some kind, send our friends the ad and hope they are in a position to buy it. My best purchase has been a Fluval canister filter. I might even hook it up to their outdoor pond this year.
      Thanks for writing!

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