Frankie Tortoise Tales Frankie Tortoise Tails sulcata care tortoise sulcata husbandry Frankie Tortoise Tails Frankie Tortoise Tails: 2011



December 5, 2011

Cat on a hot tin roof

Today was big chore day in the gecko room which includes the yuckiest job of all:  cleaning cricket containers, all eleven of them.  Each box has about 1,000 or so crickets.  These boxes must be cleaned or the gecko will stink.

It's a nice morning and so I decide to do the dirty deed in the garage where I can open doors and get a nice breeze and fresh air.  What the heck!  I will make it a party.  I drag the box turtles out so they can get some sun.  I put Rose, the water dragon, on her leash and set her in a nice place in the sun.  Newt the cat joins the party to catch some rays too. 

The final participant of this fine gathering?  Frankie of course!  He however goes outside the garage to his favorite basking spot.

There is a reason for this madness:  Birmingham is expecting rain for the next three days so the chosen critters get some sun before everyone is shut indoors. 

Now to my work.  I drag all 11 cricket containers into the garage and commence cleaning:  scraping cricket poop, dried fruit, dead crickets, and old food from each container.  I do this all the while the thousand live crickets are in the container.  It's not a job for the dainty.

Bump!  Bump!  Bump!  Looking outside I can see Frankie banging the side door.  Hmm.  Too much wind?  Too many clouds?  I am reluctant but I like having Frankie around.  I open the other door so Frankie can walk into the garage out of the wind.

Frankie comes into the garage and walks around a bit.  He quickly gets bored and decides to inspect my work.   This gets more than mildly annoying.  Frankie gets up against the container and tries to get his head over the side to look inside.  Of course when he does this the container moves.

The cat nearly get's run down by the Frankie driven container so she jumps to a higher area in the garage.

"Really, Frankie?  Do we have to do this?"  Frankie is having fun so yes, it has to be done.

I retreive the container so I can actually get some cleaning done.  Frankie just moves on to another container.  Eventually he is moving all the cricket containers around the garage.

This goes on for fifteen minutes.  Frankie pushes, Leann retrieves, Frankie pushes, etc.

Then Frankie's keen eye spies an orange object in one of the clean cricket containers.  It looks like a carrot.  He wants the carrot.  Frankie attempts to get his head over the side but this only causes the container to move again.

This starts a chain reaction of one cricket container driven into another cricket container which bumps into two more cricket containers.  Frankie, in his attempt to get the carrot, is driving a number of containers across the garage.

Newt the cat has no intention of leaving her safe overhead spot and Rose the water dragon decides to find higher grounds as it is no longer safe on the garage floor.

I try to get control of the situation.  I throw Frankie the carrot out of a cricket container that's been push up on my foot.  He doesn't notice.  Three more carrots later and Frankie spies one on the floor.   While Frankie is eating, I safely escape the containers surrounding me.

Did you note the huge error?

Frankie now absolutely knows that those orange items in the containers are carrots.  He must have all the carrots.  Commence a new and fervent cricket container drive.

I can't just halt rescuing the containers (the mess would be horrific) so I throw carrots around Frankie to distract him.  It's not working because I don't have enough carrots to slow down an 85 pound sulcata.

It's a loosing battle.  Frankie isn't gonna quit. The cat and water dragon look terrified.  I am out of carrots.

A brilliant idea crosses my mind.  There is a big pumpkin in the gecko room.  I scoot Frankie back six feet from the nearest container and run for the pumpkin.

I get back just in time to plop the Frankie-sized pumpkin between him and cricket containers.

Awe, shells and tails!  No knife.  It's in the gecko room.  Frankie is is staring at the pumpkin so I have a few seconds to fetch knife.

When I get back Frankie is in an utter state of confusion.  He is total unsure of what he should do with the pumpkin:  should he eat it or date it?

With no patience to see if a romance will commence, I cut a large slice out of the pumpkin.

Frankie pops out of his X-rated fantasy world as I a big slice of pumpkin is set next to him.

For the first time in 20 minutes, I feel in control of the garage again.  Containers are set against the wall.  The cat is taken down off the shelf and the water dragon returns to basking again.

A dozen bite sized pieces of pumpkin are line up toward the back door, past the drive way and into Frankie's back yard.  Having finished the big piece of pumpkin, Frankie takes the bait and starts eating his way to the backyard.

Once again, disaster is averted.

I do my very best to explain to people what it's like to own a big sulcata.  They think all the information they need is in the books and care sheets.  All that husbandry stuff is only 10% of what you got to know.  The other 90% is pure experience. 

November 29, 2011

A Bit of Coordination

I am back inside the gecko room.  Again.  I don't know why I just can't stay outside.  Is it cold or something?  Might be.  Mom is wearing socks.
The gecko room's been moved around or something.  There are not so many areas for me to squeeze myself under or between.  The cricket containers are still on the floor for me to push around.  Steel Stella is here except she looks sorta odd turned up:  more like a bowl than a hump-able shell.  I will think about this and eventually figure it out.

Mom wakes me up with her "Good morning, Frankie!" song.  She's here in the morning to water the geckos and turn on my ceramic heater before returning up stairs.  I find my self humming that tune over and over all day. 

About the cat, Newt.  She comes downstairs anytime mom is here.  Get this:  Newt spends more time with me than chasing crickets or watching the geckos.  Newt likes to get in my box with me and sleep.  No kidding.  She doesn't even bother sleeping under the heat lamp.  She just curls up next to me and falls into one of those deep kitty sleeps that require her head to be tucked under her whole body.

I haven't tried to eat the cat.  She is just too nice.  And fluffy.

The gecko room is like a gym where I can train to get into shape.  It gives me a chance to work on my personal manuvers.  We sulcata have movement limitations due to our distinctly different front and back suspension system.  Sure we are capable all-terrain  travelers.  Forward walking is natural.  Nothing else is that easy.

My front feet are wider than the back end so turning in a tight area is tricky.  Backing up doesn't come natural:  it takes practice.  Neither does stepping up and down.

There is a shelf  so close to the floor that I can walk over it.  Mom is wise enough to keep it cleared off otherwise I just push everything off.   Still, it's not so easy getting all the feet to line up on the way up or down.  There is a wicked 90 degree turn on either side so I have to start my turn as soon as I step down.  Really tough stuff.

One tricky move is is the back-up turn.  This takes unbelievable coordination with all four feet: Back step on one foot, then hold it in one place to pivot.  One front foot steps out to the side and the other front foot steps in front of my face face.  I often smacked myself in the nose doing this one. 

I mentioned the cricket containers I get to move around.  Really want to get one up to ramming speed. 

Need to talk the management about the cuisine.  I make it a point to eat newspapers when the food gets too borning or I think mom is holding back on the good stuff.  You know, "where's the pumpkin!"

Being inside isn't all that bad.  Lots to do.  Geckos are good company.  Cat visits often.  Mom is always around.  Until I get to go outside again I'll keep busy looking for weak spots in the Gecko-Anti-Frankie-Wreck-Room.  If there is a weakness, I'll find it.

November 18, 2011

Good for my spirits

I just couldn't stand it anymore.  I really was missing Frankie.

As a big sulcata tortoise, Frankie spends the entire summer outside in his yard.  No need to bring him in every night.  He has a great solid fence.  He sleeps in his climate controlled enclosure.  I visit him often if it's not too hot.  Best of all, my computer overlooks the yard so I watched Frankie all day doing his tortoise thing.

This fall his enclosure proved that it could take the cold down to 40º F.  For the first time ever, Frankie stayed outside in his yard in his heated enclousre into November.

Yeah! for Frankie. 

Yep, Frankie was living indoors by this time last year.  Frankie would be walked outside every morning and back inside every night.  Greg insulated his enclosure so he no longer has to stay inside.

However, if the outdoor temperature doesn't get above 65º and the sun doesn't shine, Frankie remains in his heated enclosure all day.   No watching Frankie in the yard.  No watching Frankie bask in the sun.  Nope, he is snuggled up in his nice warm house.

Sad for me.

So yesterday, I dragged him out of his enclosure.  The very slow moving Frankie took forever to inch toward the sun were I waited for him with a carrot.  Frankie is not a speedy tortoise when cool.  He looked increasingly colder and slower between his enclosure and the fifteen foot walk to his basking spot.

If it were colder, I could imagine Frankie freezing into a tortoise statue.

A Frankie statue would be a sad sight so I help him a bit by dragging him into the sunlight.  We sit together in the sun  for the first time in a long time. I've missed him.

If Frankie was sleeping inside at night I would see him a lot.  I decide that it would be good for Frankie if he slept inside the gecko room.  He would get a big warm up and we could spend time together.

Frankie isn't liking it outside so I ask him, "Wanna go inside?"  Amazingly, Frankie remembers what this means.

Good news:  Frankie pivots toward the gate and starts walking.  Bad news:  Did I say "walking?"  Cold as he was he moves more like molasses in January.  Sun sets in an hour.  We may just make it to the back door by then.

Ever so slowly Frankie inches past the gate, past the garage door, into the gecko room, and into a waiting box stuffed full of newspapers.  He wastes no time tunneling under the newspapers.

In the morning I show up at 7:00 am just before the gecko room lights turn on.  Cup of coffee in hand, I sit and watch Frankie sleep.

He is so cute.  He sleeps with his head on his arm.

When the light come on he continues sleeping.  He is a late sleeper.  He will not be fully awake until well after 9:00 am.

My spirits genuinely improve as I sip my coffee and give Frankie a shell rub.   

Good for both of us.

November 6, 2011

Snack Attack

Okay, so here it is.....I got run over this week.   I got run over this week by Frankie.

Next day I hear the song "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer."  I felt a little ashamed. 

Really, it was not all his fault.  I still think of Frankie as my 25 pound tortoise I can carry in a basket.  I forget he is a slow-moving, object-leveling, potentially dangerous 85 pound tortoise.  It was my mistake.   

What specific error did I make? I got between Frankie and a snack.

Frankie gets a carrot snack almost every day.  I cut up a carrot into four or five bite sized pieces for him to eat.

"Frankie!  Wanna treat?" and Frankie responds like a hot rod when the traffic light turns green.  Frankie knows exactly what those words mean.  Frankie, who is at the higher end of the yard heads my way in a huff.  I decide to sit down on the ground. 

The outside temperature was warm so I was wearing shorts. The sun is nice and warm so I stretched my legs out in front of me as I wait for Frankie to reach me.  

Wearing shorts around Frankie is about as smart as riding a bull in a mini skirt.  There is a very good reason cowboys wear boots, jean and chaps.

I am sitting on the ground getting my carrots sorted out.  I put two carrots on my left side nearest the rapidly approaching Frankie and set the other three carrots on the right side of my legs.

Without thinking about it, I have put myself between Frankie and carrots.     

Sulcata tortoises have a blind spot just under the chin.  Did you know that?

Frankie is moving so fast that he misses the carrots on the grounds and instead aims for the carrots on the other side of my legs.

His left front foot digs deeply into my tender white thigh.  This is going to leave a mark.  Gasping in pain, I try stop him before his right front foot crushes my shin.

Lifting an 85 pound sulcata tortoise off my lap is just something I can't do.  Tears in my eyes, I grab the three carrots and offer them to Frankie if he will back off.  He retreats just enough to free my leg. 

My newest Frankie wound looks like a vampire bite:  Two very deep puncture on my upper leg.  Blood  oozes from the points every so slowly.

I say to myself, "Isn't the season for True Blood starting soon?" 

Over the next few days, the puncture wounds swells up and shades of blue, purple and red spread out around it.  Ouch at the touch.

Frankie is a changing hazard to which I must constantly adapt.  He is not aggressive, he doesn't mean any harm and he wouldn't hurt a flea.  But, Frankie is an uncommonly heavy pet with unique destructive features.  I just have to be alert around him.

I haven't gone to the hospital because of Frankie.....yet.

October 29, 2011


Frankie had lots of fun today.  We took him to the Shelby Humane Society's First Annual Pet Costume Contest at the Galleria Mall.   We were not able to get clear guidelines to know if a big sulcata could go so we just took the chance. 

His costume?  Frank-a-saurus!

The biggest challenge?  Getting Frankie through the mall to the area where the costume contest was.  We put him on his new cart.  The cart really worked great.  We strapped him down and pushed him on cart through the mall.  We kept a very brisk step as people wanted us to stop to see him. 

We LOVE his new cart.  Folds up to a nice flat square.  He can't touch the ground with his feet (not yet) so we had control over the cart.

Link to see new folding cart

The pet costume contest had three categories:  best costume, best pair, and congeniality.  We entered Frankie in the best costume contest.

So, what pets did Frankie go up against?  All dogs from a tiny Chihuahua to a Great Dane.  Two dogs were dressed in turtle costumes.  There was a mermaid, a fish, a bee, diva, chicken, hot dog, just lots of costumes.  Some costumes were very detailed and elaborate, some simple.  I think Frankie had the only costume that was held together with hot glue.

What would we do without a hot glue gun?  His costume is two years old and he is larger.  I had to let the seams out and add material so it would fit him.  The hot glue gun helped since my sewing skills are rather bare.  But the costume held up.  It will be the last year he uses the costume.  Next year there WILL be a new costume.

Back to the costume contest.  No matter how ingenious his costume or unusual he is as a pet, judges can hardly overlook a cute lap dog with those big black eyes.  So the dogs won out in the Best Costume Contest.  Frankie isn't necessarily UN-friendly but he is in his own world.  He doesn't bother with dogs, or people, or baby strollers, or a man in a wheel chair....get the picture.  So he didn't get most congenial pet.  Nor were we a matched pair.

So after all the prizes were awarded they announced they had one more special award.  Frankie was given a prize for the most unusual pet.   Frankie got a big round of applause from an audience of about 100 people.  Afterwards there was lots of photographs.

Frankie remains the most photographed tortoise in the state of Alabama.