Box Turtle Observation Project

Box Turtles Are Lousy Pets

O.K. This guy has several box turtles as pets, and he doesn't want me to get one - what gives?

Turtles make lousy pets. A pet is an animal that can give affection, that comes to you out of free will and enjoys, rather than tolerates, your presence. Dogs are good pets. By this definition, cats are not. And neither are turtles.

I have an aquatic turtle that I rescued from a highway in 1979. She's still doing fine. I pick her up maybe 3 times a year. That, in large part, is the secret of her longevity.

My box turtles are all road rescues. For every one I've kept, I've put at least 10 back on the far side of the road. Of the ones I've kept, I've turned several loose after studying them for a while. The ones I've kept have come from areas where the habitat showed signs of recent trauma (like clearcutting or subdivision).

I am studying box turtles because I'm concerned that they are going extinct. They die by the thousands on the roads, and suburbanization is bringing them into contact with those egg-stealing raccoons. Cats are eating the babies. It's not a good time to be a box turtle, and I hope to find out some things about them that will help them survive. One tidbit - they can't climb that well, and I think it may be possible to keep them off highways at key points. I can also predict with some accuracy when they will be out on the roads.

My turtles are not pets. They are fun to watch, but in the summer, when they're outside and try to get in the patio door to the bedroom at 5 am they are a nuisance. They do not keep the same hours we do, and that makes for a boring pet. They don't bite, but that's about as cuddly as they get.

I use the turtles for educational displays - to teach about heat exchange, adaptation, and sensory perception. I talk to local groups about turtle conservation. And, obviously, I'm worried about the double standard you might perceive here.

Please, give turtles a break (brake). Move them across the road, check your lawn before mowing, keep the cats inside and the turtles outside. I hope these pages give you a vicarious feeling about what keeping a box turtle is like, and that you find that this is enough. Go down to the pound and take home one of those adorable puppies - they're a lot more fun.

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Modified 10/23/96