I have been called Turtle Lady for at least 25 years now. I have had sick ones I had to take to the vet...now that was a costly adventure. I have had to give them injections, lance all manner of ugly things, de worm them, undo other peoples mistakes, try to heal the stupidity of humans on these lovely creatures and struck up some long lived friendships with others who are turtle freaks too.
I worked for a professor of biology at UNM over a three year period as he did a study of the migration patterns of common western box turtles in the Socorro, Pie Town and Magdalena area of New Mexico. He was a very nice man but a crazy person. We would go all over hell's desert trailing after turtles. He was most interested in finding out if the population was dwindling and the reasons why. Lofty thoughts and hopes.
A typical morning started with high boots being worn so the rattlers didn't get ya, a snake wand, which is the funny crooked metal stick used to move snakes without getting bit, long sleeves, bandana (just in case you screw up and the hole you go into has a surprise and you need to tie your arm off), large brimmed hat and heavy jeans. Now this was not a suggestion but the way it was if you were gonna work on his team. Many a grad student showed up wearing the wrong attire and had to spend the day alone at the van. Keep in mind that this is the middle of summer in the high desert.
We had a portable x-ray machine and my job was to wear a 12 lb lead apron and to put the turtles on their backs while someone else x rayed them to see if the females had any eggs. Turtles flip so fast and sometimes it was more than one at a time. It was like juggling water. It was really cool though to see which females were gravid.....oh now you have a new word for pregnant turtle. And the weirdest part is that a. turtles can wait to lay eggs for up to 2 years, just in case the climate is bad and b. does not need to be inseminated but just once in order to lay eggs for up to 5 years. So much for the need for a male. Besides, when you see the habitat, you realize the Mother Nature knew what she was doing. A female could wander the desert for years and not bump into another turtle. We're talking smart planning here.
I saw so many wonderous things during my time with the prof. Learned things that I will never in my daily life ever need to know but then I have a Trivial Pursuit kinda brain anyway so what the hell. All of my work with prof gave me some wonderful practical application knowledge as well. Like how to treat a snake bite, how to drink enough water so you don't get the desert fever, how to pack lite and move quick and let me view all manner of bugs, and birds and critters, and plants and gorgeous rainstorms with scarier than hell lightening and thunder and fabulous rainbows that stretch foreva. Dust devil do pack a whollup. Rattlesnakes really don't want to mess with humans. Skunks are mean and vindictive. Prarie Dogs chat up anyone who will listen and unfortunately the turtle population is in a decrease because of man's encroachment on habitat, cross species disease (strep of all things) and climate change.
If you ever get a back yard turtle. Make sure your fence doesn't have any breaks either horizontal or vertical. Those craftly little beasts can turn themselves 90 degrees and go that way too. Don't leave dogs, cats or chickens alone with a turtle, somebody is gonna lose an eye or a toe. No really. Wear shoes while watching them or just relaxing on your porch with a barefooted neighbor or you could have to extricate a turtle from someone's toe. Don't feed them cheese, it can kill them (enzymes in the cheese can kill the good bacteria in their guts). Cat and Dog food is for furry animals. Eggs, meat, fruit, veggies and bugs are great for them. Don't give them something to swim in.....they can't. Don't expect that they will leave any strawberries or tomatoes or pumpkins or squash if you plant them. Don't expect that they will not eat all the flowers from bulbs, cuz they will. Nothing cuter than a turtle with a tulip sticking out of it's mouth, cromping the good stuff.
Turtles live to be 40 to 50 years old, so put them in your will. This last year, a sweet lady neighbor died suddenly and no one in her family remembered she had turtles in the back yard. Months later, we were finding them everywhere in the neighborhood because no one shut the gate. The new owners were quite surprised at what they got in the spring. A new yard and baby turtles. The neighbor kids told them to call me, I'd know what to do. Yeah the Turtle Lady strikes again.
This time of year, I get a little antsy, wanting to see who made it through the winter, who is new and tiny and who is missing and won't be joining us for this years round of turtle watching.