Frankie Tortoise Tales Frankie Tortoise Tails sulcata care tortoise sulcata husbandry Frankie Tortoise Tails Frankie Tortoise Tails: January 2009



January 29, 2009

Where Socks Go

For Christmas I don't ask for big ticket items like a new car or a food processor or a TV. I like getting a lot of small silly items. Greg has adapted to my preference for cute little gifts. This year he got me a sign that said "Beware of Attack Tortoise", a set of little plastic turtle figurines, a small frog flashlight, a pack of Christmas pencils, and two pairs of socks:  gecko socks and a beautiful pair of socks featuring Laurel Burch cats. Yep, I am easy to please.

A pair of fun socks for Christmas is a tradition for us. Greg really has to scavenge around to find just the right ones. I know he mail ordered the gecko socks and he found the cat socks locally. He remembered how much I like Laurel Birtch cat designs. He did great because I love my cat socks!

....but I am sidetracked a bit.

The other night we were watching Modern Marvels on TV and it featured underwear manufacturing. They did a bit about socks. It was mentioned that the sock company, despite lots of research, could not explain what happens to socks that go into a washer machine but never emerge from the dryer.  It's a big mystery.

But I know.

Yesterday the morning was cold but we had sun thus it could warm up before it plunged into the twenties that night. Frankie, who slept the night in the gecko room, was interested in going out.

I predicted Frankie would not get past the gecko room door or just go outside long enough for a couple of bites of grass. I escorted Frankie from the gecko room through the garage and opened the back door. He stopped inside the open back door, noticed the cold temperature and refused to go farther. He was not going outside. Frankie was contented to sit inside and look outside.  I left him there and returned to the gecko room to carry on daily chores.

I am smart enough not to leave a large sulcata unsupervised for any length of time in a garage full of potentially dangerous items. Since he seemed content to just sit at the door I decide it was safe to let him sit there if I returned every five minutes or so to checked on him.

At the end of five minutes I return to the garage and find no Frankie at the back door. Instead I find him next to the washer machine eating something. You guessed it -- Frankie is eating one of my lovely Laurel Burch cat socks.

I grab the end of the sock that Frankie has not yet eaten and begin the process of slowly pulling the sock out of his mouth (retrieving items from turtle mouths is a basic keeper skill). When the sulcata opens his mouth to chew you tug a bit of the item out of his mouth. It may take a few minutes to get the whole object out so keepers must be patient.

I manage to retrieve the whole sock intact. Frankie returned to the gecko room where a pile of wet soggy hay awaits him.

Absolutely this is a very dangerous event! This is a potential veterinarian visit which means picking up the monster, putting him in the car, and a possible very expensive surgery to removed a impacted object from the digestive track. This is why sulcata owners regularly walk around their property checking for dangerous items, supervise their sulcata when they are in new places, and never never leave a sulcata alone with socks.

Missing any socks?

January 27, 2009

Hay to success

After more than three years of struggle, dozens of wasted bags and bails of hay, allergy attacks, and one starving tortoise I am happy to report that I have finally succeeded in getting Frankie to eat hay as a primary food source. Boy am I tired. This has not been an easy road to go.

Tough love failed to get Frankie to eat hay last winter. He simply went without food, his immune system slowed and he caught a upper respiratory infection. Caught early I was saved having to needle inject him with antibodies. Anyone with a ten pound or heavier sulcata can attest that this is a job for superman. Prevention is key to avoiding this impossible task. Food is necessary.

The sneaking favorite snacks into a pile of hay resulted in Frankie learning to shift through hay with his nose to get to the tasty tidbits. Occasionally he would eat hay: One bit of hay would sneak past that talented nose of his and ta-daa hay eaten. Chopping favorite foods in to itty-bitty pieces and mixing into the hay was only slightly more successful. The best results were feeding the itty-bitty favorite finely diced items mixed well with hay to a completely starving sulcata. It was the most I ever saw him eat hay. The result was a slimmer cranky Frankie. Not a good route.

My friends on Sulcata Station Yahoo Group were encouraging Frankie's conversion to hay. Lots and lots of advise about hay preparation has waffled in and out of my brain. I would wonder daily which trick would work. I mean this sulcata is getting BIG and winters have a huge effect on available grass outside. Its easy to pick grass and weed for a twenty pound sulcata. But for a fifty pound sulcata there just isn't enough live material outside to feed him. Advise kept coming in.

It was mentioned that the best results came when hay was soaked in hot, hot water for five to ten minutes. With nothing to loose, I tried it.

So I present Frankie of pile of steaming hot, wet, droopy hay. And he eats it. I think I stood there for about two minutes not believing he was actually eating hay. Okay, so I give it another. First time is beginners luck (I mean the sulcata is hungry), but a second time shows some kind of learning going on. Day two. Present Frankie with another pile of steaming hot wet droopy hay. And he eats it.
Its been several weeks now and I have bought my third big bag of dry hay from Petco. I am actually using the gift card Frankie won from the costume contest. Double plus: no cost and fed a Frankie.

Frankie is happy. He gets to eat even when its 15ยบ degrees outside and mommy will not go out and pick grass. Mommy is happy because she can prepare Frankie his breakfast in her nighties instead of getting completely dressed at 6:00 in the morning with coat and hat and gloves and scavenge the neighborhood for enough grass to feed a fifty-six pound sulcata. My neighbors think I am nuts.

Is there a bad angle to this? Hmm. Yes, I will now have to pay to feed an animal who is perfectly contented to eat free food growing in the yard. My Frankie food budget of $15 per month for carrots, cuttlebone, and vitamin supplements will now go up, up, up. Do you know how much hay a 56 pound sulcata can eat? A lot.

January 22, 2009

A very valuable keeper skill

People who keep reptiles embody special skills that go completely unappreciated by the public. For instance, as a keeper of well over 200 rare geckos I am capable of really astonishing things. I can manipulate the sexual outcome of a gecko egg by a turn of a temperature gage and a tweak of a humidifier. I can tell you the food preference of well over a thousand reptile species. I can identify a poop on my gecko room wall and tell you which gecko species has breached its enclosure, what its last meal was and in what direction it is traveling. I can identify where that gecko is most likely hiding and catch it without the gecko loosing its tail or some of its skin.

Remarkable stuff. But even more spectacular I can wrangle two thousand crickets. Let me explain.

My dear 56 pound sulcata tortoise Frankie has learned that as a bigger tortoise he can communicate with a greater degree of accuracy than ever before in his life. When he was only six ounces big, he could look me straight in the eye hoping desperately that I get the message he is very hungry. As a human I interpret incorrectly.

"Gosh darn. You are just the cutest tortoise in the world and by the way you are looking at me I know you just love your mommy!".

"Yea right," Frankie is thinking, "Feed me you big stupid human. I'm starving down here."

It's just not easy for tortoises to communicate to humans. We reptile keeping humans are looking for biological cues: smacking the jaws, looking at the feeding dish, eating newspaper. Anything beyond that and we are thinking the cute little thing loves us.

Frankie is getting bigger and more clever.

He learned that at 6 ounces, sitting by the door meant nothing to me. At 56 pounds, ramming his shell against the door means "Let me outside NOW!" I have learned that lesson.

But what is a sulcata to do when Mommy is in the next room?

Answer: Get her attention.

So yesterday, Frankie did.

"Hmm," says Frankie, "Two full containers of crickets sitting on a not-so sturdy wooden box. I think I will just turn these over and see if Mom in the next room gets the message." CRASH!

I dash into the room to investigate an unmistakable loud noise only to be greeted by 2,000 crickets scurrying across the floor. OMG it's a cricket catastrophe!

There is no getting around the fact that this will take every bit of reptile skills I have to contain this....and get Frankie outside -- oh, yes, I get THAT message.

Now here is where unusual reptile keeping skills come wrangling. Step into the room without crunching to death ten crickets with every step. Pick up 2,000 crickets without smashing them. Prevent any from escaping into the stairwell. Employ several techniques to corral them into containers. Pick up crickets by the handful. Identify cricket favorite hiding areas and employ live-traps. Use all my only-a-reptile-keeper-would-know skills.

It takes me two hours.

This morning there are about 50 left on the floor. More near the normal number loose crickets for a typical gecko room.

The really, really down point about this whole event is not the unavoidable loss of maybe 100 crickets (feet, etc.) but that Frankie has learned a really valuable lesson on how to get my attention -- it involves a big crash. This is not good at all.

January 18, 2009

It's been cold

It has been cold and that is no understatement with temperatures hoovering in the teens for nearly a week. Only a few days last week did the temperatures bother to get anywhere above 40. This makes for one miserable sulcata.

I know lots of people keep their sulcata indoors and in fact (which I cannot phantom) indoors year around. This is all but an insane thought to me. Frankie would not tolerate this and probably because he has been raised in the very best manner possible which means outdoor as much as possible and eating what God intended and that would be grass.

So what in the heck does one do with a sulcata indoors? How can one possibly entertain a sulcata kept in doors? Well folks, the answer is a clear as can be -- absolutely nothing. Frankie wants outside. Frankie wants outside like the Cookie Monster wants cookies. He wants to be outside NOW. No getting around that fact.

So, temperatures in the teens, Frankie is at the door banging his head to go outside. Fine. I let him make up his own mind. I open the door. He takes three steps. Stops. Turns right around and heads back into his nice warm, artificially heated enclosure. And that is entertainment.

This goes on all week. He wants out. He gets to look and decide for himself. Only once does he actually make it all the way to the grass. Of course, after four days he is desperate. Hungry or just perhaps in need of fresh air and sunlight. But the moment outside is but a moment. He heads back inside.

And it is now too cold for me to go out and pull what is left of grass outside. We soaking hay in hot water for ten minutes and then giving it to Frankie. And a miracle occurs. He eats it.

So, there is no entertaining a sulcata indoors. Hay is a last resort food for a starving sulcata. If I have to mop up sulcata pee one more time I may scream. OMG it is only January.

By the way. I can finely type with my sulcata crushed finger. It does not feel so good but I can type.

What a life. Would not trade it for any other.

January 9, 2009

One day it happens

There comes a day for every sulcata owner as they gaze upon their ever growing monster that said owner realizes they can never pick up their beloved sulcata again. I have faced that day.

I remember gone days when my precious baby sulcata would sit gently on the palm of my hand. Oh boy, Frankie was so cute back then. And I could carry the older juvenile sulcata in a woven little hand basket. But the already growing size was evident. Frankie outgrew his basket and I had to buy a big rubber tub to transport him around. You know those totes - the big ones you store Christmas decorations in.

But one day Frankie got big enough he could no longer turn around in the tub and besides by this time the tub has been scratch into complete destruction. By this time a two-handed pick up is necessary. But I can still pick him up. The warning signs are there.

Then the first back injury happens and then the second. Frankie needs to be moved quickly inside like during a thunderstorm. I reach down and forget to "use my legs" when picking up heavy objects. Two weeks of Tylenol and my back finally starts feeling better.

So I began to take extra precautions in picking up the now 35 pound sulcata. Still, picking up is possible. I could get Frankie in and out of the car. I could get Frankie out of the bushes. I could pick him up and re-direct him when he walks off course. But still, on occasion, my back gets hurt. In fact it seems like I have chronic back pain. I purchase tylenol in bulk because I need it.

Then comes the time period of brainstorms on how to move the sulcata. I buy a little red wagon, a garden cart, a skateboard and any other mobile device because at this point I can still pick him up to put him on these numerous contraptions. Occasionally I had to call for help from my husband. I have been guilty of asking a perfect stranger to help pick up Frankie.

This period of invention solving The Growing Problem (and it is a growing problem) went on for perhaps two or three years. I even believed for a short time period that I was turning into a champion weight lifter. But the time was ticking away on all of that....because one day I have my first serious sulcata related injury.

For others it may be throwing out the back. It may be getting the foot run over with the cart carrying the sulcata. I've heard of one man who fell when moving his sulcata and the sulcata broke his arm. It is an injured foot or finger, or broken bones. The first serious sulcata related injury usually involves a crushing incident. A trip to the emergency room. Lots of ice. More Tylenol.

And one day it happens.

I am staring at the monster that I grew. I mean I fed it after all. It's all my fault. That little cute tortoise who stole my heart eight years ago is now a walking potential disaster. I see Frankie in a whole other light.

As I nurse my black and blue finger that was crushed by my 56 pound sulcata a week ago I am still wondering if I will ever type with ten fingers again instead of nine. I've postponed his trip to the park for a walk because it involves picking him up. I am not enthusiastic about taking him to Petco or Petsmart because I have to get him into the car.

Yep, it happened. And I have absolutely no intention of picking Frankie up ever again. If he wants to go somewhere he can just get there himself.

January 4, 2009


I had my first serious sulcata related injury. ....big ouch!

I was soaking Frankie this morning in his big water tub. He usually likes to soak in water but for some reason this morning he just wasn't in the mood to be in water. I did my best to wash him while he was soaking (or not soaking) so we could go to Petco to walk around today. Finally after fighting him the entire time I decided to give up and take him out.

I put my fingers under both sides of his shell and lifted him out of the water. Frankie was still acting uncooperative and started flapping his legs everywhere. That was all it took to make my fingers slip.

Luckily I was holding him just four or so inches from the ground. But unlucky for my left hand middle finger which could not clear Frankie's 56 pound shell as it hit the ground. Frankie was cushioned by that middle finger but that finger got smash to about half its normal thickness.


I really didn't know what to do for a crushed finger other than howl like a wounded dog, which I did. After the short burst of painful noise making, I elevated the hand, popped some Tylenol and put the finger on ice.

The good news is I get to flip off everyone as I proudly show off my sulcata injured finger - all black, purple and blue and twice its normal size.


Everyone look!

January 3, 2009

Frankie's New Year's Resolution

1. Eat enough grass and weeds until I can fertilize the entire backyard all by myself.

2. Out dig those silly gopher tortoises who brag they can dig tunnels 15 feet long. <_<

3. Beat the tortoise speed walking record of 15 feet in 43.5 second.

4. Find a way to get mom to feed me more carrots.

5. Evict the cockroaches making themselves at home in my outdoor enclosure. :angry:

6. Figure out why I didn't get anything I ask for on my Christmas list. :(

7. Gain ten pounds.

8. Find a way into the box turtle enclosure.

9. Get help for my newspaper eating habit.

10. Spend more time with mom.