Thursday, June 28, 2007

Lucky Larry

On Monday Larry the turtle nearly drowned. Since turtles don’t have gills, they will drown if they can’t get to the surface to breathe. Larry got himself stuck on the poles underneath his sunning dock and if we hadn’t intervened, he would have been one dead turtle.

As you can see from this photo of the ZooMed Floating Turtle Dock, plastic poles pass through holes in the dock and attach to the sides of the tank with suction cups. This design allows the dock to adjust to the changing water level as evaporation occurs. The designers evidently didn’t anticipate that those poles could pose a hazard for an inquisitive and stubborn turtle.

Larry must have been trying to move one of the vertical poles just like he occasionally moves the weighted log which decorates the floor of his tank. That’s the only way I can explain how he managed to get the nubs at the front of his plastron (bottom shell) firmly clipped onto one of the poles underneath the dock. If you look carefully at this picture I found on Randy’s Turtles, you can see the little nubs that stick out from the plastron on either side of the turtle’s head. The shell between the nubs recedes a little to allow more room for the turtle to extend his neck.

I wish now I had taken a quick picture of Larry -- his body at a 90 degree angle as compared to the turtle pictured above, forming a T with the dock. His face was pushed against the glass, his head and neck sunk nearly all the way into his shell. His front legs were folded back against his shell and his motionless back legs extended straight out. His eyes were closed. It was about the strangest pose I'd ever seen.

Since turtles do sleep in odd positions, I chuckled and called this sight to my husband’s attention. He was skeptical, so we tapped on the side of the tank and tried to wake Larry up. He opened his eyes only slightly but otherwise remained motionless. We were immediately alarmed because red-eared sliders are very skittish, and our tapping should have induced frantic swimming and thrashing about. Suddenly we both realized Larry couldn’t move -- and might be dead! We ripped the suction cups off the glass, and my husband forced Larry’s shell off the pole. After a minute or so, Larry opened his mouth and it seemed there was hope. We checked his shell and thankfully it was not cracked. I held poor Larry in my hand as he caught his breath. When his breathing slowed down I put him back in the water. He swam normally, a good sign. Several times he opened his mouth very wide and finally burped up some water and particles. After that he resumed totally normal behavior and has seemed fine ever since.

So far Larry’s been lucky three times. (1) He ended up with me, bypassing the fate of most red-eared slider hatchlings. Check out this article if you want to see just how lucky! (2) His mild shell rot seems to be completely cured - a condition which, unattended, would have slowly killed him. (3) He’s been saved from drowning. If things come in three's, maybe his life will be less dangerous in the future. But if turtles have nine lives like cats are said to have, I hope his luck holds out, and my nerves as well!

© 2007, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement


Erin C. said...

Glad to hear your turtle is okay! My goofy slider turtle climbs up under that same docking platform to sleep - oh, he's not stuck. I worried about that at first, and I kept pushing him out of there, but he'd go right back again. Eventually I realized he could get out. He's always been a bit odd...:)
Sounds like your turtle has a guardian angel - YOU!:)

patti said...

I also have a red eared slider and the same platform. She has gotten behind the poles and unattached them from the sides many times. Now I will have to look more often to make sure she does not get stuck.Thank you for sharing this.