Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Parable of "Tusky"

About 17 years ago my oldest son and I acquired an ornate box turtle who we named "Tusky". It was a generally healthy specimen with some "crusty eye" problems which the former owner assured us were pretty endemic to the species when kept in captivity. As usual, I went into an "obsessive" research frenzy, reading all I could about the husbandry of this species.

As I began to research, I started to become a bit dismayed since every book and pamphlet I read seemed to tell me that this species of box turtle did not do very well in captivity. One author, for example, discussed the difficulties of getting them through their hibernation period. The species had a tendency to dehydrate when hibenated in a dry, woodchipped lined box in his basement. Instead of questioning the hibernation techniques he used, he blamed the "physical character" of the turtle itself. Afterall, he'd had success hiberating other species of turtles and tortoises with this method.

I'm not one to give up, even when the experts with years of experience are telling me otherwise. So, instead of reading more "turtle" books, I went back to some geology and meteorology books to discover just what the habitat of this box turtle was like in the "wild". First, I found that its habitat rarely stayed below freezing the whole winter. There were always periods of thawing and mild weather in its range. Secondly, during these thaws, the water around the hibernating turtle would melt, thus allowing the species to absorb moisture during certain periods. No, they weren't waterlogged but the turtle did find themselves occasionally in a muddy, winter environment.

With this in mind, I took a different approach to hibernating Tusky. First, we kept him in a cool room upstairs with us, so he never had to experience the freezing basement temperatures of a Minnesota winter. Secondly, we actually bathed him periodically in lukewarm water during those winter months watching him drink a surprising large amount of liquid. Seventeen years later, the "clear eyed Tusky" is an active, healthy ornate box turtle.

As I read, Chandler's The Barefoot Beekeeper, this story kept coming to mind because, to a great extent, it illustrates a point Chandler is constantly making about bees: "Let the bees tell you what they need." My approach to caring for Tusky involved finding out what he needed by examining his "natural" environment, instead, of forcing him to live according to my requirements and then wondering what went wrong when problems occurred. When I start beekeeping in the spring, I will be following this approach as well. Yes, I will seriously examine the recommendations of all the books I read on apiculture but, in the end, I must carefully listen to the bees and, I might add, their particular environment as well.

1 comment:

Gerry Gomez Pearlberg said...

Nice essay and a happy story. How bout a pic of Tusky? By the way, have you read Verlyn Klinkenborg's "Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile". I just got it at a used bookstore. It's about his tortoise. It certainly wins the pize for best book title as far as I'm concerned. It's been on my to-read pile and I may move it up a notch or two after reading your piece.