Help me give my temporary visitor a good place to stay.
October 16, 2009 6:48 PM   Subscribe

Help me house a box turtle temporarily!

Two days ago I spotted what turns out to be a box turtle strolling down the sidewalk near my house. I picked it up, put it in a cardboard box, and started asking neighbors if they had lost a turtle. No luck.

I am putting up "found" posters tomorrow, but until the turtle's family claims it, I'd like to keep it happy and well. At the moment it's living in a cardboard box, which seems like a terrible place to keep an animal.

I'm getting conflicting advice from the sources I've contacted. The guy at the reptile shop suggested building a temporary pen out of chicken wire in the backyard. The guy from the turtle rescue group says that the turtle will try to escape from a pen. For whatever reason, Mr. Rescue Group is unable or unwilling to answer my question of what to do in the meantime.

Have you kept a turtle in a pen? Did it try to dig its way out? I'd hate for someone to come to claim the turtle only to find that it had gotten out. At the same time, a pen sounds like a much nicer place for it to stay than some kind of half-assed cage. I'm trying not to spend a lot of money.
posted by corey flood to Pets & Animals (16 answers total)
do you have an old aquarium to use? how about a giant plastic storage bin?

Put a dish of water in there for it to swim in, give it a heat lamp if you've got one. don't stress too much though, I don't think turtles are too sensitive - (this from my experiences of owning one when I was younger, not as a current owner/expert)
posted by Think_Long at 6:53 PM on October 16, 2009

oh, also, did the reptile shop guy really tell you to put it in the back yard? how big is this turtle? I think turtles would look awfully tasty to passing racoons in the night if your not careful
posted by Think_Long at 6:55 PM on October 16, 2009

I'm really, utterly confused. Why do you think that the turtle belongs to somebody?

I met, caught, shortly kept, and released dozens of box turtles in my youth in Oklahoma City and Springfield, Missouri. They all belonged to themselves.

If you found a raccoon or a squirrel walking down the sidewalk, you wouldn't assume that somebody lost it. No, you'd assume it was a wild animal.

(And yes, a turtle will absolutely dig or climb out of a simple pen. You'll need to bury the mesh about a foot or two down to really contain them. But, this isn't temporary, because nobody's coming to claim it, because it's a wild animal.)
posted by Netzapper at 7:01 PM on October 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

here ya go... google is your friend...
posted by HuronBob at 7:01 PM on October 16, 2009

Response by poster: Think_Long, the raccoons are exactly what I'm afraid of! The box he's in is on my porch, but I bring it in at night to keep hungry critters away. Reptile Store Guy didn't seem concerned.

The turtle is probably about 6 inches long, not counting his head.
posted by corey flood at 7:02 PM on October 16, 2009

Response by poster: Netzapper, I haven't found any sources that point to turtle species indigenous to urban Los Angeles. I picked it up because I was afraid a car would run over it. :)
posted by corey flood at 7:04 PM on October 16, 2009

Well, it does appear that their natural range doesn't extend west past Oklahoma, so you're right that it's probably not indigenous. However, that doesn't mean it's not wild. Due to their popularity as pets, I'm certain there are populations of box turtles everywhere in the country that has sufficient human population density.

Also, according to this list, there are box turtles found in CA. I'd imagine they'd fall under the "introduced species with well-established populations" category.

Anyway, here's a guide on keeping them from the California Turtle and Tortoise Club.
posted by Netzapper at 7:12 PM on October 16, 2009

I'd take it to a "turtle-friendly" environment like a large park or greenspace and let it go. I doubt it's a pet.
posted by Ochre,Hugh at 7:17 PM on October 16, 2009

I'd let it go, just to chime in with everyone else. Even wild box turtles can be friendly and curious. Another thing to think about is: what if someone comes and tries to claim it with malicious intent? I know around me there have been issues with people "rescuing" animals off of craigslist to feed to other animals, or to torture, or give to their dogs to kill. I would have more faith in the turtle's instincts to survive in the wild.
posted by d13t_p3ps1 at 7:40 PM on October 16, 2009

Response by poster: Hmm...for those suggesting that I let it go, do I need to be concerned about this being an invasive species?
posted by corey flood at 7:50 PM on October 16, 2009

Hmm...for those suggesting that I let it go, do I need to be concerned about this being an invasive species?

Kudos for your concern about releasing (or re-releasing?) a non-native species!
He was already out there, so your karma is clear.
posted by Ochre,Hugh at 8:06 PM on October 16, 2009

Don't let it go. It was probably a pet and you did a good job by catching it and keeping it out of harms way. (They really do NOT do well in the wild here in SoCal.)

Call your local (city/county) animal control they will probably come within the hour. If not, they are still the pros and will help you out.

In the mean time the turtle will be fine in a box. Veggies and water should keep it happy for a couple of days.

My best suggestion for your comfort would be to line the box with paper towels or something (so you can clean it)...their poop really stinks.
posted by snsranch at 8:15 PM on October 16, 2009

I had a "found" pet box turtle when I was young.

They can-and do-climb chicken wire. Seen it with my own eyes.

They also, believe it or not, can and do eat canned dog food.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:22 PM on October 16, 2009

Seconding aquarium if you can. Ours escaped the pan and box combo - to the laundry room.

Or a nice area, in an upside down, weighted laundry basket.
posted by tilde at 8:32 PM on October 16, 2009

A large rubbermaid bin (think 50 gallons) will do. For a long time I had mine in a 20 gallon aquarium, but upgraded (yes, to a 50+ rubbermaid bin) as the times and recommendations have changed. Your turtle is frankly probably happier in the box than an aquarium because the glass stresses them out, they try to go through it and they're sweet, curious, and inquisitive, but not so given to being on display.

Box turtles are not dessert dwelling critters & they prefer a humid environment. I have a glass pie plate with water in it (water enough, but not deep enough to drown, they can swim but aren't really built to do it without the webbed toes). Depending on how long you have it, you might consider putting some dirt (potting soil or "bed-a-beast") in the bin. Six inches is recommended -- they do like to dig. Pet stores also have half logs that they can use to hide away in. I have cats & just to keep the cats out, I have chickenwire netting across the top of the bin. If you end up keeping it, they require special light (UV A & B both, IIRC).

If you can get wild greens for it to eat, that's a nice mix. Romaine is ok. Apparently they like worms & crickets & the like as well.

In addition to NetZapper's excellent link, is also a resource that I've come to appreciate. Good luck finding its owner!
posted by susanbeeswax at 10:19 PM on October 16, 2009

They prefer meat to lettuce and find slugs and earthworms very tasty.
posted by mygothlaundry at 11:09 AM on October 17, 2009

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