Creature Care: The Day we Found the Baby Turtle

I came outside to find Alec and Evan excited about a baby painted turtle they found.   We often find creatures all around our backyard but this was by far the cutest!

Next thing I knew they were building him a home.

  • They took the dam they had built a few days ago (and where they found the turtle) and filled it a bit more with water, added a large rock for him to sun himself, added some moss and greenery for him to hide in and hopefully eat.  
  • They ended up adding a few small sticks that they put half in the water and half out so he could crawl out when he wanted and also use them for sunning himself.  
  • They filled a smaller hole with water next to the larger hole so they'd have a place to put him out of harms way when working on improving his home.  
They wanted me to go in the house and find books on caring for painted turtles so I did one better and brought my laptop outside.

We looked up:

  •  "what do baby painted turtles eat?"  and found this great resource.   
  • "how long can a baby painted turtle hold its breath?"  and found another great website run by the Warner Nature Center.  
  • When learning how to care for baby painted turtles we learned that turtles aren't just plant eaters like we thought; they're carnivores when they're young and omnivores as adults.  
So the boys went on a bug/worm hunt and were thrilled when they found an ant.  They then tried to feed the ant to the turtle; telling me they were helping him by giving him an easy dinner tonight.

They finally decided to leave the bug on the rock and then he could eat it when he wanted.

Evan kept telling me he loved Turtley and asking me "isn't he cute mom?"  He was really worried that the turtle was lost and wouldn't be able to find his way home.  I explained that hatchlings are on their own from birth.

I was a bit worried about  the poor baby turtle.  The boys were being very gentle and I knew they were learning a lot so I hated to stop them, but I knew if they ended up hurting the turtle they'd feel really bad.  My general rule about nature is to leave it alone and just observe.

I'm always afraid we'll do more damage than good, but I also know people have painted turtles as pets and I just took a deep breath, made myself step back and try to look at the big picture.
Most turtle eggs and hatchlings are eaten by rodents, canines and snakes so on the bright side I figured the boys were preventing him from being eaten.

I also figured the boys only had an hour or so to make a home and care for the turtle until we went in for dinner and then the baby would most likely crawl away.  I remember playing with worms and other small creatures I found when I was a kid and I think sometimes I have to let them try.

It's a huge learning experience for them to care for another creature and I just didn't have the heart to tell them no.  I searched the Internet for 30 minutes trying to read up about turtles in order to help the boys care for him properly telling them all about everything I was reading.   

Putting a home together for the turtle

But, I figured wrong.  

The boys brought out Alec's animal habitat and set that up as a temporary home for the turtle; promising to set him free after dinner.  

They filled the basin with muddy pond water and put the turtle in.  I told Alec to keep an eye on the turtle and to make sure he still looked happy and healthy for the duration.  While painted turtles are very cold hardy I wasn't sure how much warmth a plastic terrarium filled with cold water could be; it's not like he could burrow down into the mud.  

Alec wanted to add mud to the terrarium but was afraid it would never wash back out and ruin it so they decided to just use the water, some leaves and tiny twigs. 

 They walked that turtle all around and even through my house until I calmly explained that if it tipped at all I would have muddy pond water on the rug.  

They kept him outside after that but worried that he didn't have mud to bury himself in for sleeping and keeping warm.  They were sad to say good- bye and while I don't mind the thought of them having a painted turtle as a pet, we're not ready for one just yet.


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