Overall, the snapping turtle excursion on Nantucket turned out to be a very memorable part of Memorial Day weekend, especially for my son, Owen. He is the kind of kid who is likely to jump up and tell you the differences among the 17 species of snakes that make New York State their home, whether or not any of them are venomous, or rattle off some key foods an Italian Wall Lizard might enjoy, like crickets. Even though the only contact I plan to have with a creature like a snake involves the purchase of a pricey handbag or pair of shoes, I still try to be encouraging.
With that in mind, we recently gave him a Red Eared Slider for his birthday. It is an adorable turtle, about 5 inches in length. Owen was thrilled with this gift. For better or worse, I spent all of 10 minutes considering what type of turtle to buy. I knew we didn’t want a “tortoise,” since I heard they can live for 90 years and that it was likely to out live us. A better idea seemed to involve choosing an animal with a shorter life expectancy.
I decided that obtaining the turtle might be similar to purchasing a boat. The two happiest days are the day you buy it and the day you sell it (or the day it goes to live in that great turtle graveyard in the sky). Isn’t the death of a pet an important life lesson for kids? That’s what I was thinking as I quickly Googled turtles on the morning of Owen’s 8th birthday.
My dad emphasized that we should acquire a turtle that is indigenous to this part of the world, and not some foreign animal from China or New Zealand. I suppose this has something to do with its ability to adapt to the environment. He highly recommended we get an Eastern Box Turtle, a pet that lives on dry land. After engaging in an intense, seven-minute online investigation, I discovered that Box Turtles are illegal to sell in most states. Immediately I had the sense that if I could just track down some remote, privately-owned pet shop run by a reptile-enthusiast, freak show of a guy, that he might be my connection to the underworld of illegal pet turtle trades. It’s not like I was looking for some Mexican drug lord hook-up—just a simple, friendly, little Box Turtle. In any case, time was short and cultivating a relationship with an eccentric reptile lover would have to be a task for another day.
On the plus side, my dad’s sister, Suzanne, told us she had previously spotted a Box Turtle in her garden in Virginia. Now, she has promised to keep her eyes peeled for another one for Owen. So, we might end up with one yet. Fingers crossed.
As it turns out, Red Eared Sliders live in water. We acquired a tank and filled it about a third of the way with water. Apparently, these turtles like to swim, but it’s also important for them to be able to get out of the water and “dry” their shells. So we placed a big rock in the tank for the turtle to climb on to sun himself, so to speak. The tank came equipped with a UVA lamp to provide adequate rays and heat. I should have known from the beginning that this was a bad idea. Please take note of this tidbit from my guide to good parenting: do not set up a scorching hot, fire hazard of a lamp in the bedroom of two boys under the age of ten.
My husband, Tom, commented that the turtle seemed to be living in a spa. He wondered what it might be like for this turtle out in the wild, where it wouldn’t be treated to a daily stint under a mini-tanning lamp to catch some rays.
Stay tuned for A Pet Turtle for Owen: Part II, where things really get disgusting and I begin to worry about us all contracting salmonella. Oh yeah, and as you may have guessed, we nearly burn the house down too. Fun times.