Frankie Tortoise Tales Frankie Tortoise Tails sulcata care tortoise sulcata husbandry Frankie Tortoise Tails Frankie Tortoise Tails: 2018



November 15, 2018

Renovate 'da Fence

This year turned out to be very wet, damp, rainy, drenched, soggy....well, you get the picture.  Frankie's yard never saw a lack of water.  I only turned on the hose to clean and fill Frankie's big-honking mini-pool water dish.  I cringed every time it needed cleaning dumping even more water on the lawn.  Pool always needs cleaning.  Where else is a 110 pound sulcata going to pee?  In the yard.  Perish the thought.  Frankie pees right in front of the patio door or in the pool.

Am I a bit grumpy?  Maybe.  There are good reasons.

So, lots of rain, rain washing away grass seed, water flowing down hill, mud splashes, water pools at fence, Frankie has a second place to soak and play in mud.
Frankie's Mud Pit

We build that fence real good.  Extra wide horizontal boards to keep Frankie from pushing through the pickets. Pickets thicker than the standard size, used screws rather than nails....

...because, yes, big sulcatas can take down a fence.

So, back to the extraordinary amount of rain we get in Mobile.

I noted, on one of my walks through the yard followed closely by Frankie would wouldn't think of letting me walk alone, that dirt was really beginning to pile up against the fence.  As regular maintenance I dig out the dirt that rain has washed from the high ground to along the fence at the lower part of the yard.

Frankie is always cranky about my digging in his yard so he watches with keen interest.

I dig until I see pickets and as I suspected, five years of rain and muck has rotted out the bottoms.  Further investigation of the horizontal board shows there is some deterioration to the point where the wood is spongy.  I note that about fifteen pickets and one horizontal board need replacing.

Leaving Frankie who gladly stays to double check my work, I head back to the house to discuss with my newly retired husband that we have repairs to make on the fence.

Newly retired and still recovering from working full-time for 40 some odd years, hubby decides repairs can wait a day or two.  Fine.  I'll go back and do some more digging in preparation for those repairs.  The fence was built tough and will last a couple more days.  Yes?  Right.

I'm grumpy.  I dunno.  Maybe it's because I've been a house-maintainer and Frankie Keeper for going on 20 years so I am not recovering from full-time working.  I do house, geckos, cat, hubby and Frankie so I am not bored.  So, yes, I'll work on the fence.

Apparently Frankie had the very same idea.  He was bored so he started taking down the fence for me.

Yep, Frankie discovered that if he pushed just right on the spongy-from-water-rot horizontal board screws would slide right through and POP! fence was coming down.

Frankie deserves the nick-name Monster.  The whole neighborhood heard me screaming, "NO!  You stinkin' Monster! Frankie!  Stop!"  I am cutting back on my cussing.

One carrot later and I've got Frankie off the fence which is dangling by the top where the wood isn't rotting.  While Frankie eats carrots to keep him away from the fence I spend the rest of the day replacing pickets and shoring up spongy bottom boards.  The Hubby has to help with the bottom board but he is still in Early Retirement Recovery so that will happen another day.  The fence is okay.  For now.

No this isn't over yet.

Two days later, I catch Frankie doing fence maintenance.  Frankie has taken it upon himself to point out another overlooked section of rotting wood including a fence post that I catch the Monster Frankie attempting to severe from the cement holding it in place.

At this point why even bother yelling?  I turn around, go into the house, grab tools and a bag of carrots and tell hubby that rest and relaxation ends and fence repairs begin.  Now.  Seriously, now. 

Blaw, blaw, blaw, three hours, repair fence, we shake heads as we look at Frankie incredulously.


September 7, 2018

Frankie's First Hurricane

Made it through our first official Hurricane on the coast.  Well, we were visiting family in Oklahoma so technically we participated from afar. 

Frankie, on the other hand, made it through his first official Hurricane. 

From afar, guiding caretakers on how to secure the sulcata monster in a hurricane proved to be a challenge. 

Frankie, geckos and cat had a morning Care-Taker, a mid-take Checker, and a evening shift Care-Taker.  Everyone had specific tasks from petting cat, watering geckos, feeding box turtles, petting cat, and last but not least, taking care of the 17 year old, 115 pound sulcata tortoise once known as Frankie but currently going by the name of Monster, and petting cat.  

Of all the care instructions, Frankie's seemed simple:  Make sure he is in yard, keep water filled, and throw him a carrot every day.  Sounds very simple, right?

The day the Morning Care-Taker showed up for training she did the unthinkable:  she wore an orange shirt.  The minute she stepped out in yard Frankie pursued her like the Cookie Monster pursues cookies. 

Reviewing care instructions while she dodged Frankie at every step was challenging.  She absolutely got why one THROWS the carrot rather than attempting to hand feed Frankie the carrot. 

(Everyone wants to hand feed the sulcata tortoise.  He has no interest in eating human fingers but a finger between him and the carrot can result in one losing one's finger.)

All care takers were told:  THROW THE CARROT. 

The biggest challenge was making sure Frankie was in his shelter during the hurricane.  In his shelter is a sturdy wooden box that would keep him safe.  Get in the box, Frankie, just get in the box. 

Early on, Frankie was annoyed enough by the rain to go into his shelter.  As Mid-Hurricane approached the Care-Taker followed instructions and closed the main door and dropped the flap over Frankie's smaller door. 

Sometime after she left, Frankie decided it was too hot and muggy to stay inside and pushed through his door flap. 

When the next Care Taker returned later she found Frankie sitting outside in the rain just before dark and hours before the peak of the hurricane.  The situation became tense. 

Can one explain over the phone how to lift a 115 pound sulcata tortoise during a hurricane and get him back inside his shelter?  Ya' can't. Neither could I expect anyone to endanger themselves when they should be home securing their own families. 

Frankie had planted himself between the fence and the shed.  He would get rained on but he would not get flooded.  There were no dangerous trees that would fall on him.  He chose wisely although any choice to be outside in a hurricane I though was stupid. 

Greg and I changed plans.  We left Oklahoma six hours earlier than planned, eliminated an overnight hotel stop, and drove straight through. 

The Hurricane turned out to be on the lower end of bad. Thank goodness.

The Morning Care-Taker arrived to find Frankie still in the same spot.  He refused to move or un-tuck his head.  Any attempt to sooth or touch him resulted in an aggressive backward ram and hiss. 

It took a carrot to get him to pull his head from behind his legs.  (The orange shirt would be useful in this situation)

The Care Taker called us (we were now in Mississippi) to tell us he was alive but "very angry."  She also said the cat desperately needed us to get home.

We arrived late that evening.  First stop, after petting the cat, was backyard to check Frankie.  He was in his shelter, in his box but did not acknowledge me.  A poke to his front foot confirmed that he was very much alive. In the morning he was much the same:  un-moving and refusing to acknowledge me. 

Time for a Wellness Test.  A carrot dangling close to his nose and a teasing "wanna treat, Frankie?" drew his head out enough to see that he okay.  He consumed the carrot in less than 20 second confirming he was in good health.

Frankie emerged from his shelter a bit later and spent most of the morning camped out by the backdoor.  His plastic lawn chairs (secured during the storm) were returned to the porch and he moved them about until he was satisfied they were in their rightful place. 

All considering, we emerged from our first hurricane in good shape.  Frankie braved the storm. 

We did find something serious we overlooked.  Even if Frankie had decided he wanted back into his shelter later that night he could not have gotten inside.  The flap on his door allows for him to get out but does not reverse direction to let him back inside.  Something we have to fix. 

If we don't fix it Frankie Monster may just ram himself a new door. 

June 14, 2018

Summer Mayhem

June is officially happening. Frankie transitioned from Winter-Blues to Spring-Burst-Of-Joy-For-70ยบ-Weather! then tumbling quickly down to Summer-Can-It-Really-Be-That-Hot? miserable tortoise.

I'm miserable for other reasons.  I spent late winter through Spring sprucing up Frankie yard with new grass only to have the local wildlife dig up most of the newly laid sod and then watch spring rains...downpours...wash away all the newly sprouted grass seed.

Can't blame Frankie for lack of grass in his yard.  Sulcata Tortoises are great with grass (I said grass) in that the tortoise beak is designed to cut the grass without uprooting roots.

I mention grass is safe because anything...ANYTHING else growing in Frankie's yard is fair game for complete destruction.  Due to Frankie's vigilant attention there isn't a weed in the yard that lasts more than a day.

Mushroom? Mushrooms don't stand a chance.  Worried about potential toxins, I race Frankie to the yard in the morning to get those newly bloomed mushrooms before he does.  Doesn't matter.  He gets the ones I miss.  He's still alive.  Maybe I worry too much.

As for spring cleaning, I pressure washed the back porch and put up a new awning to shade the patio door.  Three old beaten-up plastic chairs were set out by the gate to be throw away.  Ten minutes later and Frankie pushed them all back on the porch.  Chairs are his toys.  We never sit in them anyway...too dangerous with Frankie around.

In consideration of Frankie's love of dandelions, his most favorite food even over carrots, I planted a yellow hibiscus the front a dandelion substitute.  A couple of weeks later I delighted to bring Frankie his first four very yellow hibiscus.

Frankie isn't usually aggressive but as natural sulcata behavior he has his moments.  I am keenly in-tune for situations that stir that side of him:  Never surprise a sulcata.  Don't startle a sleeping sulcata.  Don't take away the bucket. 

Showing a handful of yellow hibiscus flowers to a dandelion-starved sulcata was unwise.

When I knelt down to present Frankie his yellow treat I nearly was knocked over.

Frankie pulled his head back, hissing as the air expelled from his lungs and in a surprisingly agile manner leaped toward the handful of yellow in my outstretched hands.

I dropped the yellow hibiscus and rolled on the ground to avoid the 110 pound collision-bound Frankie.  Who knew at 58 years I was still capable of a precision forward roll.

So, good rule:  no yellow or orange shoes in the yard.

Have I ever mentioned that I collect Fiestaware?  Kitchen ware in bold colors:  red, blue, violet, green, yellow, tangerine and more.  Plates, bowls, candle sticks, pepper and salt shakers, coffee cups, and so on and so on.  My Fiestaware never gathers dust:  everything is used.  Just looking at all of the brightly colored dinnerware sitting in open shelves makes me happy.

So yesterday, I grabbed a yellow Fiesta bowl filled with cereal and headed to the backyard to visit the morning-basking Frankie.

So soon forgotten the orange and yellow rule.

Apparently, Frankie can I-Spy yellow from across the yard.

Walking toward Frankie who was way across the yard I see the signs of sulcata aggression:  Head up, eyes focused.....and movement like a speeding train with no breaks.

Balancing bowl full of cereal, I dodge to the left.  Frankie matches the turn.  I turn back toward the house and pick up my pace.

In movies, why does the hero being chased by zombies stupidly look over their shoulder to see if they are still being chased? (JUST KEEP RUNNING YOU IDIOT BECAUSE YES THEY ARE STILL CHASING YOU)

Oh, yes, why not check to see if they yellow-crazed 110 pound sulcata tortoise is still in pursuit?  HE IS!

And I turn back just in time to dodge three old plastic lawn chairs I should have thrown away but noooo, Frankie needs his toys.

Cereal is lost mostly on the ground and some on my shoes but hey, I need some hand function if I am going to open that back door.

I hear that red flags and bulls are a mostly a myth.  Stab a bull and piss him off and he is going to charge flag or not.  To be safe, just don't wave a red flag at a bull.

Yellow and orange are Frankie's red flag, not mythical.  Which is why I don't wear yellow or orange shoes...or pants..or nail polish.  Or carry yellow Fiestaware in Frankie's yard.

April 26, 2018


I am not paranoid.  Really, I am not.  I'm not all that interesting.  I don't attract attention.  I am quite ordinary.  No one is after me.

My secret is this:  the smallest person in the room wins.  Survival tactics from growing up in a family of five kids.  Who get's called to do the dishes?  First person mom spots.  Who gets scolded?  The loudest most obnoxious kid.  When mom reaches blindly into the car back seat and starts swatting, who gets hit?  The center kid.

My mastery of the subtle is sublime.  When Frankie is not with me, I go completely unnoticed.  When Frankie IS with me everyone is looking at the 110 pound tortoise.

Home security is about the same.  Don't be noticeable.  Don't put empty flat screen TV boxes by the curb.  Don't place your best silver on the front window shelf. Don't keep Frankie inside a chain link fence.

The front door is locked.  All gates closed and locked.  During the day the backdoor is unlocked so I can run in and out to see Frankie.

I spent the morning safe and relaxed on my computer in the front of the house editing some new Frankie pictures.  Really concentrating on cleaning them up, cropping, saving, etc.  Occasionally I hear rapidly running paws across the carpet....Newt, our cat, running wild, getting her exercise.  She knocked over some boxes earlier but no real damage.

After spending too much time working on the photos I think soon I need to go check on Frankie.  It's warm so he is outside basking and grazing.  He may want hay because Spring grass is slow growing.  He'll want his daily carrot.

I hear boxes in the hall get bumped.  Dumb cat.  It's cat nap time so what is she doing still running around?  Silence.  Okay, back to the pictures.

I hear the sound of paper being stepped on.  That's odd.  Doesn't sound like a cat walking on paper.

Finish the photo edit.  Save current file.  Turn around in my chair.

Have you ever tried screaming, your mouth wide open but what comes out is more like a gasping coughing.  Air that is supposed to go out is still getting sucked deep into your lungs.  What comes out sounds more like "WA..WA....aaaaaaahhhhhh.  Yeah, that scream that pretty much ends in a complete helpless choking fit.

I start waving my hands madly not because I am scared but that poor Frankie, in the house, in the dining room, five feet in front of me, acts like he is under attack. 

He frantically exhales making this WHHHHSSSSSSSSS noise, pulling back into his shell and wobbling like a spinning toy top. 

Frankie, having discovered the back door unsecured and not completely closed, has made his way through the living room, down the hall and all the way into the dining room. 

I am caught completely unawares by the Frankie burglar looking for carrots.

It took Frankie some time to trust me again.  Two carrots to be exact.

April 25, 2018

A Chance of Frankie

Tuesday the Hubby tells me that the chance of rain on Saturday is 100% and the temperature predictions are cool.

Awe.  We've had plans since November last to take Frankie to the April Mobile Autism Funky Fun Run.  Ten years of Frankie's attendance harkens spring much like the spring rain brings spring flowers.  But weather...well weather has final say if Frankie gets to go or stay at home.

We took Frankie to an event once when it was overcast and cool.  He spent the entire time trying to tunnel under nearby cars and bushes.  He was miserable.  WE were miserable.

Another time we took Frankie to an outdoor evening event. Nope, sorry, Frankie's bedtime is the minute that sun starts casting large shadows...oh, around 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm fall through winter.  No bushes around so he buried his head into a corner.  Call him no-participation.

Summer he still turns in well before 8:00 pm.  He's just not a night owl, early morning bird, or evening reveler.  He needs his beauty sleep.

Wednesday I ask Greg to check again as the weather does what it wants....just in case the notoriously fallible weather forecasters get it wrong.

Not only is rain predicted, now they say it could be heavy rains all day.


Still I keep checking.  Thursday...same. it's chance of severe weather.  No chance of sun. No chance Frankie will get to the event.

I send an e-mail to Angel at the Mobile Autism office that Frankie probably won't be there due to the weather.

Notice I said "probably".  Ever hopeful.

Friday night I go out to Frankie's greenhouse, close up all the vents, wrap Frankie in hay, and close his door.  Ready for a storm.

"Night, Monster."  (Yep, still call him Monster.)

Heavy winds and rain don't wake me.  I just wake up at the six o'clock hour (no alarm needed as I just wake up).  Head to the computer to check, one more time, just in case, for weather predictions for the day.

What?  Really?  Chance of rain plummets to 5% for the morning with partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the low 70's.

What sorcery is this? little old lady wake Greg.  Convenience him I am telling the truth.  Offer to make French Toast if he wakes up.

Can't say there was any type of divine intervention.  Our weather forecast has been horribly unreliable this spring.

The chance of Frankie attending this year's Funky Fun Run: 100%.

The unpredictable weather caused some vendors to cancel and quite a few people got word that the event was off....but many showed up.

Frankie was there.  The abundance of clover on the grounds meant Frankie feasted.  More grazing than walking but more shell rubs for him.

Frankie loved it.
Me grazing at Mobile Funky Fun Run for Autism. Mom surrenders that she will never pick me up ever, ever again. Ever. Get help, ma. I'm not getting back in the car by myself.

March 15, 2018

Noise, Bucket, Monster

I've been working on this Frankie Tortoise Tail for a while but just couldn't get it "framed" right.  Just didn't seem to have a start or a finish so it's been left undone. Surrendering to pressure to post "anything" about what Frankie is up to I thus present this:

Over last year's holidays I shared a Frankie Tail over dinner with some friends. One friend laughed so hard I thought she was going to fall off her chair.  Another stared in confused-disbelief.  Guessing the "Tail" is tell-able here it goes told just the way I told it over a dinner party.

Frankie got his first noise complaint.  Really.  I brag that neighbors can't complain about noise because sulcata tortoises don't bark. It's a perk point for tortoises.

Apparently I am very, very wrong.

During one of the last year's warm Fall weekends, I headed out to check the mailbox. My next-door neighbor spotted me and waved to have a word.

My neighbor, an avid lawn and garden caretaker, asked me if everything was okay as he grew concerned about the loud "moaning" and "groaning" noises coming from our backyard.....all morning.  

Immediately I face the dilemma whether to explain in scienfic or slang terms exactly what my sulcata tortoise is doing to his favorite orange bucket.

I choose "humping".

My dear 14 year old, sexually mature, 108 pound sulcata tortoise, Frankie, is outside in his yard "loving" his orange bucket.....for four hours.  Four.  Hours.

This four hour love-fest is perfectly normal behavior for Frankie and most all healthy male sulcata.

This happens all the time.  Yes, humping for hours. All the time.

Although my neighbor didn't ask, I promised I'd take Frankie's bucket away on weekends so everyone could work peacefully in their yard.

Back to the Dinner Party.  The disbelieving-astonished guest inquired further as to what a 100+ pound tortoise humped as obviously we don't own a female sulcata tortoise and never will.  I went on to explain about "bucket love."

I explained about Frankie's obsession with buckets. Not just buckets. There's been other objects of Frankie's "Tough Love."  "Tough" in that object's of Frankie's Interests don't survive that long....intact.

In the past there was Umbrella Stand.
Umbrella stand is an all-time favorite but getting too small to really please Frankie.

Julie of Long Island Turtle Rescue's gifted Frankie this turtle umbrella stand. 

Grey bucket's gave five year of service.

Frankie's current  bucket is it's third year of Tough Love.  
Orange Bucket needs the weekend off.  Orange bucket is beginning to split so it needed some recovery time anyway.

Frankie was pretty grumpy about loosing orange bucket.  I thought I would make it up to him by buying a big pumpkin.  I thought he would be amused chasing down the big round pumpkin trying to eat it.

I watched him chase the pumpkin trying to chomp into it before it would roll away again.  He seemed quite engaged in the activity so I went back inside the house.  An hour or so later I went back to see what was left of the pumpkin.

To my horror I found Frankie upside down next to the uneaten pumpkin. Humping trumped eating and obviously Frankie slid off the round pumpkin and onto his back.

This is real horror to any sulcata owner.  Sulcata tortoises cannot right themselves.  Left on their back, they can die of heat stroke if under a hot sun or suffocate if left there.

I ran to Frankie and turned him back over.  He seemed to be stunned and I didn't want to leave until he recovered.  I sat with him for what seemed an eternity before he started walking around again.

This is where it gets strange.  This is also how Frankie got a new name:  Monster.

Once Frankie was feeling more like himself he started stomping around the yard. Not the usually Frankie-walking-around-enjoying-yard but with a madder-than-hell look.

The aftermath was total destruction of the greenhouse's door cover.  Door cover I built (picture below) BEFORE Mad-As-Hell Monster took revenge for bucket loss.

It wasn't an accident.  After ramming one side he sorta swayed back and forth to make sure it came all the way down.  I ran inside to get the camera!

I cleaned up the mess once I pulled everything off the top of I mean Monster.  He seemed satisfied that he had made his point.

I don't know what the point was. The door didn't do anything.  He's gonna get a new bucket.  He'll get five days of tough love with weekends off.  He got to eat the pumpkin!

So ends the Dinner Party Frankie Tortoise Tail.  The story of how a sulcata tortoise can bother the neighbors.  The story of Bucket Love.  The story how Frankie got his new name, Monster.