Tuesday, July 17, 2012

how we came to have this turtle

For those of you who are not familiar with Big Mama yet, she is our 23 +/- year old red ear slider. Our son, when visiting his grandparents at age 10, fished her out of a golf course pond and brought her home when she was about the size of an old 50¢ piece.

Big Mama with her posse.

I've probably told this story before but here goes...

We had no idea when he brought her home that 23 years later we would still have her. In fact, he brought home two baby turtles but the other one didn't survive the first night, having gotten flipped over and drowned. This was back in 1989, long before any question could be answered in minutes by typing it into a search engine.

We got the surviving little turtle a ten gallon fish tank and when she outgrew that we got her a 20 gallon tank and when she outgrew that one we got her a 50 gallon tank and moved her outside. And when she outgrew that one, she got a small kid's swimming pool with a fence around it and when she outgrew that one...well, you get the picture.

The pool got bigger, someone donated a smaller red ear slider they no longer wanted to care for and one day, the big turtle laid an egg on the sunning stone and immediately smushed it.

I guess that's when the Big Turtle, to distinguish it from the Little Turtle, became Big Mama. Previously we just referred to them in various forms of 'big' and 'little'. Cup Of Soup and Hors d'oeuvre come to mind.

Once the turtle became a girl turtle we decided it would be cool to have little baby turtles so we fenced off a section of the yard around the pond. Well, first thing, Little Turtle made his escape.

Eventually we moved the turtle compound from the back yard into the front right in front of the house where there was a little porch (behind that porch was our bedroom) and included a water garden for plants from an old bathtub. We had the water circulating between the two 'ponds' with a filter which had the added benefit of keeping Big Mama's water clean and fertilizing the water plants. It was very pleasant to hear the sound of the water at night in our bedroom.

Don't imagine anything grand, it was a built-in cast iron bathtub and a small waterlily kidney shaped pond and about 30 sq ft of roving space for the turtle. But it was the source of a lot of fun and pleasure and a pain in the ass every spring when we had to muck it all out. The waterlily kidney shaped pond became her permanent pond, not very big around but about 3 times deeper than the wading pools. She grew to about 10” and laid many clutches of eggs over the years but we never got baby turtles.

After we finally made the transition to the country house, that first year Big Mama still resided at the city house with my SIL taking care of her. 

Big Mama's big pond.

I wrote about bringing her home to the country house to her new 8' diameter x 22” deep pond in the Little Back Yard here. This is her second year out here. The first year when the 'urge' came on her to dig and lay eggs, I just took her out of the pond and let her roam for a couple of hours, putting her back in the pond. She eventually laid three eggs on her sunning stone and smushed them. Full circle.

This spring, I rigged up a ramp so she could get out of the pond when she so desired. The problem is that the dirt out here has a lot of clay and is so hard. Last year my grandson went around loosening up the ground for her with a garden claw whenever she started digging but that just sent her off to another hard spot.

She has spent the last several months, attempting to dig a hole. She learned how to navigate the ramp into the yard without taking a nose dive into the landscaping bricks but she has never understood that the same ramp will take her back to the pond. Until this last weekend apparently.

Five days of rain and she was able to dig an adequate hole. Last Thursday, she dug a hole and laid two eggs as near as I could tell, but she missed the hole, smushed the eggs, and the ants made short work of them. She seems to have successfully dug a hole, laid eggs, and filled it back in again on Saturday. And made it back into her pond. Hopefully by next spring we will have improved a ground area for her.

The first hole, those white things at 7 o'clock are the remains of the shells.

The second, successful(?), lay.

I doubt any eggs that might be in the ground are fertile since it's been many years since we had a male. We have supplied her with several over the years but she runs them off eventually. They are pretty single minded in their intent and she tires of the attention.

Anyway, you wouldn't think that turtles would be much of a pet, but she has been very entertaining over the years. Different sources say they can live anywhere from 25 to 50 years. That's why I was a little upset to see that there was a vendor at the Freedom Fest here in Wharton that was selling baby red ear sliders. He must have had 50 of them. How sad, I thought, every one of those tiny turtles will probably be dead within six months.


  1. What a great story! I never knew anyone who kept one of those poor turtles alive. You have really accomplished something here. And I can see how she would be an entertaining pet.

  2. you have definitely done a lot more to keep her happy and comfortable all these years than most folks would have done. if anything, others would have released her into a pond after she outgrew the fish tanks. you've just continued to modify your yard(s) for her. :)

  3. Wow, I had no idea. Big Mama is lucky to be with you, who will always provide a pond and a yard and plenty of food.

    Here in Oregon it is illegal to bring red sliders in b/c they are so successful at dominating the local turtles. Our neighbor just moved here from VA, where he had them in a pond. He misses them so much that he's building a pond in his yard to put some native species in. I can't wait to see it.

  4. I enjoyed this post about Big Mama turtle so much!

  5. Amazing story !!! Thanks for telling us about her.

  6. Big Mama is a cool lady with a cool history and a wonderful home.

  7. What a greqat tale. They have very good eyesight and are alerted to any presence close by easily.

  8. If you've told the story, I had forgotten. It's a beautiful story.

    You go Big Mama!

    I love it that she runs off the males.

  9. I had heard the story of Big Mama but didn't realise she once had a companion.

  10. it's a wonderful story!!
    actually, could you adopt me?
    Big Mama has a fabulous life with you guys :)

  11. For a turtle 23 yrs old is pretty much still a baby- We had a pacific tortoise for about 35 years, she laid eggs in the bathtub, I tried to incubate them , no luck. I really loved that tortoise, she was so sweet...I left her outside without water one day- forgot- so much going on at that time...I killed her.

  12. That's a lot of dedication for a turtle - but I can see where each new problem was a challenge to solve. And then of course she's part of the family now.

  13. Aw, you did better than I did with my reptiles--iguanas named Sparky and Scheister. I was, as most people are, ignorant about their care and they got skinny and sick (nothing sadder than a wrinkly iguana) and I had to put them down. It was my fault, wanting something exotic. I'll stick with my kitty. Indoors, of course.

  14. Now, now...don't be so pessimistic. Yes, it's sad he is selling turtles to people that may know nothing, but imagine someone is as smart as you, seriously, as they get lucky and have a big Mama 23 years from now?

    I love big Mama stories. Such a cool pet.

  15. Oh my gosh, Ellen--all for the turtles! If this gets out to the rest of the turtle world, you find yourself inundated with these hard-shelled creatures. You're a very generous landlord. ;)

  16. Wow! I'm impressed with all you've done to build suitable turtle accommodations! I've never heard of a pet turtle living so long or so well.

    When I was a boy I had a pet turtle (a different variety, called a cooter) and it lived a couple of years in a small tray on my desk. I'm not sure it ever would have occurred to me to try to transfer it to larger quarters. Maybe if I had it would still be with us!

  17. her dwellings are very creative, she must be a very happy turtle.


I opened my big mouth, now it's your turn.