On the day before Thanksgiving I found one of my beloved box turtles lifeless in the middle of the aquarium. In 2008, I adopted three eastern box turtles from a friend at the zoo, whose children had “outgrown” them. My friend had hatched these three turtles eight years earlier as a way of teaching her children about reproduction, life and death. The turtles had been well cared for, but now the children were leaving home, and my friend wanted to find a home for the turtles where they would get a lot of attention. She thought of me. I have loved box turtles since I was a little kid playing in the woods near our home in southern Indiana.
I happily accepted the three turtles from my friend, and have been caring for them ever since. My friend had not named them, so I chose the names Raquel, Dionne and Jonny. For the past nine years, they have been a joy to care for, and none of them had ever had any health problems, so when I found Dionne in the middle of the aquarium, her head and legs hanging limply outside her shell, I was shocked. I was also confused and full of self-doubt and remorse. Two months earlier I had changed them to their winter aquarium, which is warmer. I’d added their heat lamp, and some sphagnum moss to help hold moisture and give them more to bury themselves in. Except for the moss, this was what I have done every year at this time for nine years.
They seemed to love the new moss, and immediately buried themselves. It gave them more to hide in than the Zoo Med Repti Bark chips they were accustomed to. I did a lot of research on the moss before adding it, to make sure it was the right thing for them. When they showed signs of liking it, I figured it was okay. Now I wonder if Dionne didn’t like it, or if she ate some and got sick from it. None of the turtle experts online say anything about the moss presenting any danger, so it’s probably not the cause of her demise. So, what killed her?
Box turtles can live for decades, so at 16, Dionne died young. When I scoured the internet for causes of death in box turtles, nothing rang any bells. Dionne didn’t have any symptoms, The only explanation that made any sense was stress. Evidently, stress can cause death in box turtles. Maybe the change of aquariums freaked her out, even though I do it every year. Blaming myself won’t bring her back, but I can’t make sense of it. I’m happy that Dionne’s siblings, Jonny and Raquel are not showing any signs of illness or distress. In fact, Jonny is his same randy self, constantly forcing himself on his sister Raquel. She’s bigger than he is, and basically goes into her shell and closes up with the hinge on her plastron, one of the cool features of the eastern box turtle, and can completely shut him out.
I’ve tried for years to reason with Jonny, telling him his sexual advances are not acceptable under any circumstances, and that he should really be fired, but since he’s not a celebrity or a politician, he thinks his behavior will be overlooked. I keep encouraging Raquel to file a complaint, but she’d rather hide in her shell.
Jonny made the same advances with Dionne. She had the same reaction as her sister, hinged her shell closed and waited for him to go away. Like Raquel, she was bigger than Jonny, and was never physically harmed by him, but maybe over the years his persistence stressed her out.
Am I anthropomorphizing because of all the recent news of women being harassed? I’m glad these women are finally being heard, but worry about all the scenarios in smaller businesses and domestic settings, where the perpetrator won’t lose his job or position if someone complains. Dionne never complained. She seemed more annoyed than traumatized by Jonny’s advances, but it makes me wonder about long term affects of his behavior.
I feel sad when I look at the aquarium and don’t see Dionne. I really miss her. On a brighter note, Raquel and Jonny have been huddling peacefully together more since Dionne’s departure. Maybe he’s learned his lesson.