The box turtle: the perfect, everlasting pet |

The box turtle: the perfect, everlasting pet

Throughout my life, I have collected pets. I’ve had cats and dogs and hamsters and birds. I’ve had lizards and sea monkeys and goldfish and rabbits.

Our daughter has collected her share of pets, too, but we’re always on the lookout for one that fits her lifestyle. Something that needs very little care – preferably, no care at all. Our daughter, like many pre-teens, is – how do I put this delicately? – a bit on the spacey side.

That’s not to say that she didn’t take good care of her rabbit … that “disappeared and is living under the deck.” Or the kitten she keeps “leaving” at a friend’s house. Or the bird she allowed to “stretch its wings.”

We need something like a goldfish, but tougher. Something with bark. Something with the tenacity of Strom Thurmond. I have found the perfect pet: the box turtle.

I learned this at a presentation at the library, where some folks from the Colorado Alligator Farm brought a variety of reptiles to Summit County.

I’ve also been to the Colorado Alligator Farm. It’s located halfway between somewhere and nowhere in the southeast corner of the state, where warm water mysteriously seeps from the Earth to provide the perfect environment for tilapia.

Tilapia are pale fish, and they harvest them in big tanks and ditches at the Alligator Farm. “Harvesting” involves gutting, and gutting results in piles of, well, guts. The people didn’t have anywhere to toss the guts, so they bought of a couple of alligators. Why a couple of alley cats wouldn’t work is beyond me. Maybe tourists wouldn’t drive all day to the middle of nowhere and somewhere to visit an Alley Cat Farm.

“Good pet, bad pet” was the basic theme of this presentation.

Last week, the Alligator Farm people brought with them an American alligator, an albino Burmese python and a chameleon, all of which they described as “bad pets.” I’ll add to that list the gecko, which, while beautiful, has a hole in its head through which you can peer. Do I need to mention its nasty habit of licking its eyes?

The good pets include milk snakes, bearded lizards and desert tortoises.

These people spend too much time in the desert, if you ask me.

Then they brought out a box turtle, and I realized I’d found the perfect pet.

I wasn’t sold at first. I was once severely injured by a box turtle. I wish I could say it was when I was a young, innocent child of, say, 7, but it was just last summer. I inadvertently startled the beast by following its receding head into its shell with my finger. The whole contraption snapped shut. I could lift the turtle off the ground as it hung from the first joint of my index finger.

Box turtles are like rocks with an attitude. NASA should use their shells for those black boxes in airplanes or for the skin on space shuttles.

But they are easy to care for. They eat just about anything (including crickets – a top priority for any pet), don’t run away (not real fast, anyway), don’t need shots and don’t keep the neighbors up at night when they munch their way through the veggie garden.

Tell me that’s not the perfect pet for a kid who spaces out her homework, can’t remember how to take phone messages or how her school day went and where-oh-where-exactly she might have left a glass of milk – a week ago.

But best of all, box turtles hibernate. That’s why they’re called box turtles. Come winter, you put them in a shoebox and shove the box under the bed – preferably someone else’s bed. Just in case.

Come spring, our daughter will think she has a brand new pet to love. We’ll call him Strom.

Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or

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