AMAZING Box Turtle Story!

20 Sep

This is an amazing story about an Eastern Box Turtle and the family that it has been a part of since 193o!

“Horace the 82 year old Turtle 

By Bill M.

 Date: 1930

Location: Astoria (Ravenswood) New York

My mom was 5 years old.  My great grandfather brought home two young box turtles.  I believe they were male and female.  I have no idea how an Italian immigrant and family came up with the name Horace for the male.  Unfortunately, I never asked.  However my daughter did some research on line and came up with two possibilities.

1)     There is a poet of Greek/Italian fame named Horace.  However his real name is Quintus Horatius Flaccus born in Rome.  My Great Grandparents came from Rome.

2)     There was a Disney character from 1929 to 1932 called Horace Horsecollar.  Horace was eventually replaced by Goofy.  Disney has brought back the character throughout the years in movies and for greeting visitors at Disney World.  However there wasn’t any TV in 1930.  Maybe the movies or comics but my grandparents didn’t speak or read English that well.

The turtles were allowed to roam free in the yard and seek cover and hibernation under the plants.   Around 1950 the female turtle either escaped or was assisted into a neighboring yard.  The neighbor claimed ownership and refused to return the turtle.  My grandmother didn’t speak to the neighbors for many years.  My grandfather put up a better fence.

 Horace, like most pets back then, ate what the family ate and anything else it enjoyed in the yard.

In 1990 with my great grandparents long deceased and my grandfather recently deceased, my grandmother decided to sell the house and move into an apartment in New Jersey near my aunt. Having no idea how fast the house would sell, my grandmother asked me to take Horace in June well before he would hibernate.  I picked up Horace and his goodbye lunch (chicken parmigiana) and drove home to his new home in Valley Stream Long Island N Y.  Not a great ride in 90 degrees without AC.

I built a PEN for Horace, initially it was a 1950’s-60’s 18” high corrugated metal pool frame (without liner).  He had plenty of shade from plants and an upside down parsons table for a pond.  He also had a Frisbee for a quick dip.  I contacted the Tortoise and Turtle Society for information on turtle care.  Their major concern was for Horace to be able to adapt to a new environment.  Horace seemed happy in his PEN.  I took him out at least twice a week and let him walk around the yard (under my watch).  After a few times he would follow me around the yard and into the garage.    I told friends and neighbors that my turtle was more obedient than their dogs.  They were in awe as I demonstrated Horace following me.

Horace went into hibernation that fall and to our joy returned above ground in April.  From that day on Horace became the weather prognosticator for my neighbors and colleagues at work.  We knew to take in the lawn furniture once Horace went underground.  The mild weather was over.  For the last 5 years I have assisted him initially in digging the hole and softening the dirt (for his over-wintering spot).  (Hey he is 82 years old!)

In 2002 with the assistance of my son-in-law we built a new 5’x 8’ PEN made of wood including the same plants and pool.  Horace’s diet has been snails, slugs, eggs, dry cat food, watermelon, cantaloupe and his favorite Corn on the cob.  It is amazing how he holds the cob with his front feet and nibbles it clean.

Unfortunately, in early July (2012) after returning from 5 days vacation, my wife noticed that Horace was spending an unusually long amount of time in his pool.   I took him out of the PEN for a walk and immediately noticed he did not put out his right rear leg.  Upon investigation, it was apparent that the leg was gone.    We can only assume that a raccoon attacked him and he used the water to prevent bugs from entering his wound.  We do have stray cats in the yard but never had a problem and they are fed well by my neighbor.

My wife went on-line and was able to contact Steve O’Neil who gave us some advice on treating Horace for that evening until we were able to take him to a VET.  Long story short, the foot was gone and the skin/tissue from the ankle to the knee was torn apart.  The Vet amputated the leg up to the knee and sutured the wound closed.  We had to bring Horace to the Vet every other day to complete 5 shots of antibiotics.  The first 2 weeks after the operation we kept Horace in the rabbit cage (in the garage at night and outside during the day).  We had a few obstacles since the operation (maggots in the wound) but as of now Horace is living in our house in a transparent file box (half the time filled with water up to the shell opening) to flush out or notice any foreign bugs (flies) that may enter the wound.   We have now completed 2 weeks of Horace living in the house and he is now spending about 8 hours a day in the water.  We put him in a rabbit cage for exercise and feeding and hope that he discharges his waste when he is in water.

We must bring Horace back to the Vet in a week to determine if he can be put back in the PEN.  My son in law and younger daughter built a top for the pen using wood and 19-gauge wire screen.  I hope the VET allows Horace to go back in the PEN soon.  This time of year the days are still very warm and the evenings are cool.  It is perfect weather to see if he starts to dig.  (Naturally I will start the hole and make the soil extra soft)  If all goes well and he hibernates I will add multiple layers of leafs and mulch over his hole.

If Horace is not able to hibernate, I will have a problem.  Per Steve and others, a non-hibernating turtle needs a certain temperature range and daily care.  I do not have the ability to provide the temp nor the daily care.  We neither have a basement nor an attached garage.  Also there isn’t any guarantee that he can take the stress of non-hibernation.

We love our turtle and want to give Horace the best chance of survival.  No one can give any guarantees.

If we are allowed to put Horace back in the PEN, I will feel some comfort if he starts to dig.  Then it is up to God.  If he is not able to go in the PEN, I will sadly look for someone to adopt and care for him.

God willing we will write a happy follow-up in the spring of 2013.”


What a great story!  Further proof that the Eastern Box Turtle is a very hearty and long lived creature that, if given the correct environment and life requirements, can thrive and outlive we Humans.  Horace is a lucky turtle to have lived with such a caring family for over 80 years.  I would like to point out that Horace is probably closer to 90 years old because when they brought him home he was already a few years old.  Amazing! He doesn’t look a day over 25.

If you have a pet box turtle then you need to be aware that it may be with you for decades and you may even need to arrange care for it in your will.

The next time you find a box turtle in the forest or fields just think about Horace and how good he looks.  The turtle you find may be 25 or 125!  Remember that that turtle has been following the same movement patterns for all of his life and if you move him or take him home he will have a very hard time adjusting to the change.  Please leave turtles where you find them–they will thank you for it.  If you find a turtle crossing a road it is not lost or in need of rescue or re-location.  It knows where it is going and when it needs to get there.  It has an agenda.  All you need to do is gently pick it up and move it to the side of the road that it is moving toward then place it a few yards off of the road in some cover and leave it alone.


Watch this short video of Horace!




One Response to “AMAZING Box Turtle Story!”

  1. Jeannine 04/10/2013 at 7:53 pm #

    Bill’s daughter here. Just wanted to let you know that Horace is out of hibernation! He poked his head out on Monday and today he ate some cantaloupe and took a lap around his cage. We are all so relieved and excited because we were worried about his first hibernation after his injury.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: