- Pets and Animals
Our Texas Tortoises, Over 60 Years Old!
Desert Tortoises Have Grown Along With Us
My mother loves animals, and let my sister and I have many pets when we were young. We had a guinea pig, hamster, rabbits, water turtles, dogs, numerous fish, a frog (Freddie the frog started as a pollywog, grew up, and then was released back into the wild,) and we fed the wild birds and hummingbirds. The pets that have remained with me (they live as long as people) are our two desert tortoises. We picked them out in a pet store and gave them original names (not): Pokey and Slow Poke! It turns out that Pokey and Slow Poke are not as slow as we thought they would be. All we knew about tortoises was the story about the Tortoise and the Hare, and we assumed they would be very slow. But as reptiles, they can move pretty fast when they are warmed up!
Two Texas Desert Tortoises
The two tortoises are easy for us to tell apart. Pokey is round in shape and light brown. Slow Poke is more of a rectangular shape, and dark gray. The little squares on their shells are called “scutes” and tortoises can be identified by the color, shape, and number of scutes, too. After buying a book on tortoises, we found out that Pokey was a female since the plastron (bottom part of the shell) was flat. Slow Poke turned out to be a male because the plastron curved inward. We also found out years later that they were Texas tortoises and their scientific name is Gopherus berlandieri.
Today, Texas tortoises are protected because they are a threatened species. It is illegal to take them from the wild. We have permits through the fish and game to keep them; and, it is also illegal to return them to the wild since they might give the other tortoises diseases. So we have been lucky to have them in our family, and they have been well taken care of as they have moved with us from home to home.
Caring for Tortoises
We did have our share of close calls with these tortoises over the years since they can be escape artists! One time someone left the gate open and Pokey got out. We found her at a neighbor’s house! From then on, we had to put a board across the side yards as an extra barrier. Another time, we had made a new habitat for them at another home, and Slow Poke bull-dozed the barrier forward, got past it, and went under the gate. Everyone on the street knew we had tortoises, and a neighbor saw him walking down the street. She picked him up and brought him to us, while his legs moved in the air as fast as they could go! Another time he escaped, and luckily someone found him and turned him into the animal shelter. Because he had a Fish & Game tag on him, we were able to get him back.
Tortoises are vegetarian, and every day (in the warmer months) I give them a giant salad of different veggies and occasionally fruits. Iceberg lettuce has little nutrition, so we avoid that, but they love kale, broccoli, turnip greens, mustard greens, romaine lettuce, cabbage, canteloupe, tomatoes, and bean sprouts. We also grow grape vines so that they can have the grape leaves, hibiscus (they love the flowers), roses (flowers again) dandelions (leaves and flowers), and Bermuda grass.
Pokey is shy but can be quick. She loves bananas as a special treat. Slow Poke is even faster and prowls around his whole territory every day. They still look the same as they did years ago, and act the same!
Over 60 Years Old
Pokey and Slow Poke never grew any larger, so they must have been full grown when we bought them at the pet store. We figure they must have been at least 15 years old then, and we’ve had them in the family for 47 years, so they are at least 60 years old! We never saw Pokey lay any eggs, so unfortunately they never had any offspring. But because we already had two tortoises, a neighbor gave us some California desert tortoises that were “born in captivity” and sickly. My mother nursed them back to health and then we had four tortoises!
Now We Have Four Tortoises!
See my next page on Bo and Bella, our California desert tortoises, at: