Your daily moment of d’awww: baby box turtle edition

April 10, 2021

Click to embiggen. Trust me on this.

What I think of as our phylogenetically-extended nuclear family grew by one this week: we got a baby box turtle. We got her from a local hobbyist, who hatched her last summer. We haven’t named her yet, so for now she’s just Baby Tiny Turtle. Unlike Easty, who is the three-toed subspecies, Terrapene carolina triunguis, baby turtle is an Eastern box turtle sensu stricto, Terrapene carolina carolina, so she might end up being quite colorful (f’rinstance). She already has pretty complex patterns of lines and spots on the sides and top of her head and on her beak, but she’s so small that you can’t really see them unless you take a photo and zoom in.

(Aside: how do we know she’s a she and not a he? Personally I’d be lost, but the guy who hatched her says that at this age he can sex the babies correctly about 80% of the time, based on the position of the cloaca — it’s farther from the base of the tail in males. If she turns out to be a he, we’ll love him just the same, we’ll just keep him away from Easty.)

Speaking of her size, here’s an obligatory random-objects-for-scale photo. Baby turtle was closer in size to that US quarter when she hatched. You can tell that she’s grown a bit already because each scute on her shell has a outer rim of smooth new keratin. It’s a bit bittersweet, because I want her to grow big and strong and healthy, but I will miss the tiny turtle days when she is bigger. 

If you just want to die of cuteness, watch this video of her trying to eat some banana. She got it all down eventually, but with a little more adventure than either of us expected. If you turn up the volume, you can hear me talking her through it. That was entirely for my benefit, because I’m a big ole softy who talks to animals a lot, and she got through just fine on her own.

Full bulletins as events warrant.

13 Responses to “Your daily moment of d’awww: baby box turtle edition”

  1. Andrew Says:

    You’d think we were genetically predisposed to find infantile facial proportions endearing or something.

  2. Matt Wedel Says:

    Oh, I know it’s some kind of evo-neuro Stockholm Syndrome, but I don’t care, because:

    look how cute she is!!

  3. Mickey Mortimer Says:

    Adorable video. I had a Malayan box turtle for many years.

  4. Matt Wedel Says:

    Thanks! The Asian box turtles are pretty darned interesting. I’ve never kept one, and thinking back now I’m not even sure that I’ve seen one in the flesh. They are pretty strikingly convergent with North American box turtles, despite not being particularly closely related IIRC.

  5. Ronald Says:

    I am glad I trusted you on the picture…, I just love turtles and tortoises.
    I had 2 African Leopard tortoises (Geochelone pardalis, or Stigmochelys p.) for some years, amazing how fast they grew, when taken good care of.
    When they grew bigger they banged around the living room and against the furniture, driving my (ex-)wife nuts, and I had to choose between them and her, so I chose for her and sold them to a real tortoise adept. Wrong choice in retrospect.

  6. Mickey Mortimer Says:

    She was named Stripers on account of the yellow stripes on her head. Would not eat any meat or animals, but did like produce and catfood. Couldn’t swim, but liked to wade in water. She was surprisingly fast when we let her in the yard and a great climber as well. Died of a respiratory illness unfortunately.

  7. Matt Wedel Says:

    Ronald, that’s very cool. I’ve read accounts from people who kept tortoises indoors, just running around the house, and I’ve always been curious about two things: (1) don’t they sometimes get lost behind or under the furniture or appliances, and (2) how do you deal with their pee and poo? Thanks in advance for any insights!

    Mickey, how big was Stripers when you got her? I ask because IME a lot of turtles are super carnivorous/insectivorous as babies and then transition to being mostly or entirely herbivorous as adults, and I’m wondering if the same is true of Malayan box turtles.

  8. Mickey Mortimer Says:

    We got her as an adult and she never grew noticeably larger over the ~13 years we had her. I’d estimate her carapace was ~160 mm from memory, which is small compared to the sizes reported online but there’s no way she was 200 mm or more. I’m rather jealous of reptile owners now because back in the 90s it was much harder to find information on how to care for exotic species.

  9. Ronald Says:

    In answer to your questions:
    1) When they were small, but not tiny, they would sometimes get stuck underneath cabinets and the like and then keep crawling stubbornly. I must admit I found it a rather amusing, cartoon-like sight (only for a short moment, before liberating them).
    It made me wonder how they would deal with this problem in the wild. Apparently it isn’t an important selective factor, about the same as elephants falling over.
    2) The pee and poo was actually not as big an issue as I had feared, they usually did those in their warm terrarium, where they still spent much or most of their time. Possibly they pooped there the most because that is where they were fed.
    So, don’t feed them all over the house. And I used small woodchips as a base in their terrarium, instead of sand. Much more hygienic and easier to clean. And you don’t get sand in your house.

  10. Matt Wedel Says:

    Mickey, I definitely agree about the explosion of good information for hobbyists these days compared to what was available back when.

    Ronald, thanks for the info. Your story about the little ones getting stuck under cabinets reminded me of a story from not long after Vicki and I got married. We were watching TV one evening when Vicki screamed bloody murder and pointed at something small and hairy crawling across the living room floor. It wasn’t a mouse, it was our baby snapping turtle, which had climbed out of his aquarium, taken a stroll behind the washer and dryer and gotten completely covered in dust bunnies. We upgraded to a larger, more secure tank the next day.


  11. […] her shell and head are in fact very intricately patterned (compare to her dry photo at the top of this post). I’m really looking forward to seeing how her colors come in over the next few […]

  12. Blaize Says:

    I also call animals “friends” when I talk to them. But when you say, “little friend” it is very dear and charming.

  13. Matt Wedel Says:

    Thank you, Blaize. Almost everything I do is motivated by a love for and fascination with living things — or things that used to be living.

    But box turtles are best, and baby box turtles are bestest.


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