Sunday, November 19, 2006

Turtle Tragedy

First, some background: about a month or so ago, Caroline and I were out and about on one of our Saturday loafing-trips; we'd gone to Chinatown for lunch at King-Wah, and on the way back to the car we encountered this little old Chinese lady with a face like an apple-doll and a little red wagon, from which she was selling an assortment of wares. Among these wares were fresh figs and live turtles. Caroline bought some figs, and on a complete impulse I forked out $15 for a little plastic box with two tiny turtles in it and two bags of turtle-food. And I mean tiny, their shells weren't even an inch long.

When we got to the car, I stared at them, one brighter turtle who was trying desperately to get out of the box, and a slightly duller turtle who was just sitting there very calmy; after a few moments, names occurred to me (that's how I name objects, I stare at them until a name floats up out of my subconscious), Claudius and Agrippa. Though both are technically male names, and I had no way of knowing what sex either turtle was, but I decided that the duller turtle Agrippa was a female and the brighter turtle Claudius a male, in accordance with natural law.

I tried to find something for them to live in when I got home, assuming (correctly) that the little plastic box was much too little to accomodate them. I came across an old serenity fountain that looked big enough, so I set them up in the dining room (the only place with sufficient space) and put some rocks and stuff in there with them. Unfortunately, the fountain was too shallow, they kept getting out... and one time Claudius got all the way out of the fountain and it took me an hour to find him tucked behind one of the pictures on the table.

So the next weekend, Caroline and I stopped at PetCo, and on the advice of the clerk there I bought some proper turtle food, some water conditioner, a couple of water plants, a rock, a basking lamp, and a ten-gallon tank. I also found out, after describing the turtles to the clerk, that they are called Red-Eared Sliders, it's illegal to sell them when they're as small as these two were, and that aquatic turtles often carry salmonella and so I should always carefully wash my hands after touching them, and wash any surface they happen to crawl on.

Turtles aren't very cuddly pets, but I soon got very attached to these two tiny creatures. I noticed after a couple of days, though, that Agrippa was blind, her eyes were filmed over with some opaque material that didn't look very healthy. I probably should have taken her to a vet, but I'd already spent nearly seventy dollars on the habitat, I wasn't going to plunk down another hundred to have her eyes checked.

So fast forward three or four weeks: I was cleaning out Claudius's and Agrippa's tank as I do every week... though I was supposed to do it on Saturday, not Sunday... and all sorts of terrible things happened. For example, when I was washing the tank, I cracked one of the sides! Ack! Now I have to go buy a new tank, and I've only had this one for a few weeks.

So I went on cleaning the rocks and the bathtub and getting everything neatened up, then went to look for something in which to house the turtles until I get a new tank. After a fairly thorough search through my basement and garage and kitchen, I ended up with an old glass mixing bowl. So I put a couple of rocks and a plant in it, figured out a way to rig the basking lamp so they wouldn't freeze, and set it back up in my room.

But when I started to move the turtles back, I discovered that Agrippa had died.

She was always kind of lethargic, not a go-getter of a turtle by any means, but she would always at least move a paw or shake her head when I was moving her from one body of water to another. But I got no response this time. I stroked her shell, prodded her limbs, held her in my hand to warm her blood, tempted her with krill turtle-treats... all to no avail.

It's possible that she's just sleeping rather than dead, so I put her in the travelling-tank (the little plastic box in which they came when I bought them) with some food and placed her under the basking lamp next to Claudius's bowl. But I am not optimistic. She just looks dead.

She also hasn't grown at all, which makes me think maybe she just starved. I thought since the food was disappearing, that they were both eating... but I never saw them doing it (they're very private, all I have to do is look at them for them to freeze up completely or scurry under the rock), I was just assuming. But once I had both of them out of the tank and sitting side-by-side in the sink, I could see that Claudius had grown quite a bit in the last two weeks, while Agrippa doesn't appear to have grown at all.

Actually, right now I'm watching Claudius eat... because of the curve of the bowl, he can't see me looking at him while he's underwater, and he just ate four pellets all by himself. So he'll probably survive.

If Agrippa doesn't wake up by tomorrow, I'm going to call Caroline over (she's become quite attached to the little critters, too) and we'll give her a decent burial in a jewelry box among the calla lilies under the birdbath in the back yard.

Poor little doomed thing.

That's Agrippa on the right, doing what she always does: lying perfectly still.

UPDATE 11/21/07: Yup, she's definitely dead. She started floating during the night, and they're not supposed to float. Caroline and I buried her last night. Much to my surprise, I actually cried a little.

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