Beware the Turtles

Whoever came up with those mutant adolescent turtles may have been from Florida. We have quite the interesting selection of shelled friends down here. Not only do turtles make awesome pets, they make terrible pets. Let me explain.

**Fine print: I should disclose that I am no zoologist. I only know turtle breeds by the names we call them around here, which I can promise are probably nothing like what the experts call them. So take my common Floridian knowledge with a grain of salt.

Growing up in Florida on a lake, we had a few breeds hangin’ around. My favorite were the painted turtles.

My husband, whose family bred tortoises and turtles, would tell you these are Red Eared Sliders. He’s wrong. First, you can’t see a turtle’s ears, so don’t lie to me. Second, the breeds look similar, but painteds don’t have two red streaks on their heads.

Anyway, these turtles were everywhere.

Many days, I would hang out with my dad and try to catch minnows off the shore.  If I was REALLY lucky, I would find a baby painted turtle wandering around in the backyard. If the turtle was really UNlucky, I would try to keep him.

Running into the house looking for an empty water or milk jug to make my new friend a home. My parents, being the awesome parents they were, would cut the milk jug in half and let me keep him on the back porch for a day or two. I would give him a water area to swim in, shove lettuce in his face to “feed” him, and call him Speedy. (They were always Speedy). But eventually they would convince me he had to go out to the lake to join his turtle brethren. Truth is, turtles STINK. So that’s why he had to go.

But the lake isn’t home to only the sweet, friendly Speedys. Oh no, there is a whole other breed of monsters living in Florida lakes we call soft shells. And yes, their shells are soft. I don’t know this for sure because I would never DREAM of picking one up, but they look soft, so we don’t ask.

Soft shells have a pointy hog-nose like snout and long, I mean ridiculously long, necks.  My early experiences with soft shells were not pleasant. Every time I tried to catch sunfish off the dock, these jerks would show up and take my bait. But my first real encounter with a soft shell taught me very quickly that these turtles were not to be messed with.

One day, here came ol’ snappy strolling into the driveway as they did on occasion. I called for my dad and he handed me a broom, “Go get him out of the yard.” Brave, naive, little me thought, “Yeah! Dad trusts me with this job. I can do it!” So I go running up to the soft shell and push him from behind with the broom. This jackwagon spins around, streches out that neck, and HISSES at me. Then starts chasing ME!

But even soft shells have a meaner, nastier big brother. I’m sure many of you have seen the ALLIGATOR snapping turtles. They show them on Everglades shows and videos of crazy rednecks trying to catch them with their bare hands in murky swamp waters. Those people are idiots and DO NOT try it if you visit. These things grow to be huge and quite possibly could take your arm off with one, solid bite.

I tell you this as a warning. If you visit Florida…Stay. Away. From turtles that snap.

See, in Florida, it is common to find turtle road kill. It is, also, common to find people stopping rush hour traffic to get out and help a turtle cross the street. And MOST times, if the turtle is going from the right side of the street, to the left, these good Samaritans will help by bringing the turtle to…the right side of the street. I’m not kidding you, and my dad swears by it, it happens. Every. Single. Time. He worked hard to get where he is at, don’t make him back track!

Anyway, one day, I get a text from my dad while I’m at work, that makes NO sense. I call him and he is laughing. I mean belly laughing. He proceeds to tell me that while he was eating his lunch outside, he sees a turtle crossing the street and a man stops to help this turtle live another day. I can only imagine that this man is not a Floridian because he would have known to just let this particular turtle do his thing. Because! It was an alligator snapping turtle. My dad knew this before the man stopped so he waited for the show. This gentleman walks up to the turtle, bends over to pick him up, and the turtle jumps, I mean launches, feet off the ground towards him and hisses. Dad said the guy screamed, bolted for his car, and left.

Guess good deeds really do never go unpunished.

Point is, your momma taught you to do not pet strange dogs, right? While in Florida, use this logic for turtles, too. Until you know which ones are friendly and which ones are evil, just let them be. You may not die, but you might just lose a finger.

 

 

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