You Say Hibernate, I Say Brumate

During the summer, two of my desert tortoises are allowed to roam outside. Zoe is a Sonoran desert tortoise, Gopherus morafka, and part of Arizona’s desert tortoise foster program. Cantata is a Sulcata tortoise, Geochelone sulcata. Native to sub-Saharan Africa, sulcata tortoises can reach 200 lbs. They’re also known as spur-thighed tortoises due to the spurs on their forearms. The spurs are designed to dig through hard ground, but can also cut through drywall. Despite this, they’re popular in the pet trade. 

Cantata Tortoise, Den Digger Extraordinaire

When it comes to dens, Zoe is more than capable of digging her own. Still, she prefers to leave it to Cantata, who digs tunnels with amazing ease. I encourage her to dig in places that will cause minimal damage to irrigation systems or brickwork and such, but Cantata is stubborn and creates her den where she wants. Once she has a nice hole prepared, Zoe moves in to claim a spot. Consequently, Cantata then enlarges the tunnel so they both can live there comfortably, if not companionly. Having a tunnel big enough for them to pass each other keeps the tussles in check. 

A tortoise digging a den. Their back end is visible as they dig.

Hibernate or Brumate?

The lack of humidity that makes the hot desert summer days enjoyable is also responsible for the plunging nighttime temperatures in winter. During these cold months, some mammals hibernate, while reptiles may brumate. Hibernation and brumation both describe animals in a deep sleep. The term hibernation refers to warm-blooded animals, also known as endotherms, while brumation refers to cold-blooded animals, who are ectotherms

Strange Bedfellows

When the wintry chill arrives in the Sonoran Desert, some of my reptilian family members head for their brumation beds. These beds are better known as underground dens. Tortoises dig their own dens, while other reptiles, such as rattlesnakes, slither in to join them.

Prey animals will also spend the winter with predators. That’s right, animals that are mortal enemies in the summer will often share dens in the winter!

Let Me In!

I’ve gotten the impression that Zoe’s previous foster parents allowed her to brumate inside. Each fall, as the temperatures tell her it’s time to prepare for brumation, she heads for my back door and makes it clear that she wants in. She only does this when it’s time to brumate. 

In past years, I made her brumate outside, as wild tortoises do. She’d eventually give up trying to come indoors, dig out her den and close it up behind her. Last year, however, she made it clear that she was only coming indoors. To send a message, she went to a previous winter den, halfheartedly dug out the entrance, and then jammed herself in, making sure she stuck halfway out. Message received. I let her in and she brumated in my bedroom.

This year, I knew she’d pull the same trick, so when the nighttime temperatures began to drop I brought her inside. For a few weeks, she roamed around, continuing to eat, until finally, it was time for her to brumate. I always wonder how these animals know when it’s time since the indoors temperatures remain the same. I’m sure it has to do with circadian rhythms and sunlight length, etc. At the same time, both Cantata and Zoe found a place to brumate and have snuggled together for the winter…in a cardboard box, in my kitchen!

Elaine's two tortoises snuggled near each other in a box.

Since they settled in, they haven’t left their box. At least I can keep an eye on them this winter. It seems that summer’s reluctant tunnel mates are now winter’s willing bru-mates.

 

Iguanas and Tortoises are… Invasive Species?

 

Invasive species are a common topic in environmental discussions these days, and rightfully so. Often, these concepts seem to deal with invasive plants or animals that affect people and places far away. But if you’ve ever watched my Reptile-Side chats, or witnessed one of my school or community visits, you know my non-human housemates are reptiles, mostly iguanas and tortoises. What you may not realize is that some of them are invasive species.

It’s Raining Green Iguanas!

Take green iguanas, for instance. I have both green and rock iguanas, species involved in my conservation effort in the Caribbean area. However, green iguanas are well-known invasives. They can be entertaining, like when comatose green iguanas fall from the trees during cold snaps in Florida. “It’s raining reptiles!” people love to say. Knowing how fond I am of iguanas, folks assume I want to help these unfortunate frozen lizards. They’re surprised when I suggest that the local wildlife personnel and the public finish the job that nature began.

I am a fan of iguanas, but prefer them to be safe and protected in their natural environment. Green iguanas, who are unable to handle cold weather in south Florida, are native to much warmer Central America. These wonderful animals have been introduced around the world through the pet trade, as stowaways on ship containers, and from human negligence. As a result, they’ve become a very dangerous invasive species. They’re not aggressive or a danger to humans; rather, they’re dangerous because they destroy non-native environments.

Part of my volunteer work as a citizen scientist involves helping to identify invasive green iguanas throughout the world. Posters have been created and flyers produced to spread the word, but more needs to be done. My author skills came to the rescue, and I created identification booklets for the public. These little booklets enable the public to tell the difference between native and invasive iguanas. In addition, they educate folks on the importance of native lizards.

In Tucson, Arizona, where I live, green iguanas are not a problem. Iguanas need more humidity and better vegetation to survive in this harsh environment. It’s not a problem for their relatives, the chuckwalla, who do well here. An invasive species that also does well here and lives in my yard—the sulcata tortoise. Surely, you must be thinking ‘how dangerous can a tortoise be?’

Invasive Tortoises in the Desert

The reality is that sulcata tortoises can have devastating effects on native Sonoran desert tortoises. Sulcata tortoises are natives of southern Saharan Africa, not southern Arizona. Sulcatas are much larger than the desert tortoise, 100-200lbs versus 15lbs. Both species eat the same plants, which means competition for limited food sources and water supplies. They also compete for a territory that, thanks to humans, steadily decreases.

Why are sulcatas roaming the Sonoran desert in the first place? They’ve been dumped by humans. You see, sulcatas are a favorite pet choice. As hatchlings, they’re a nice size and are both friendly and calm. In contrast, desert tortoises are much smaller at hatching. They’re shy around humans (who are viewed as possible predators) and tend to explore.

People may enjoy having a pet tortoise when they’re small. However, as they grow (and grow and grow) their caretakers learn how just destructive sulcatas can be. Sulcatas can easily dig through doors and drywall. Furniture is moved and broken while gardens and plantings are destroyed. One of my sulcata tortoises digs outside quite a bit, and I wondered how close she’d gotten to my house foundation. Turns out she was undermining it.

Due to the harshness of desert life, both sulcata and desert tortoises dig tunnels to escape the intense heat. Obviously from their size, sulcatas dig much bigger holes than the smaller desert tortoises. Sulcata dens can easily be 30 feet long and 20 feet deep, while desert dens are far smaller. Either type of den can provide a habitat for other animals. When my female sulcata dug a burrow in my yard, the desert tortoise helped herself and moved right in. Consequently, the sulcata had to continue digging to make the burrow big enough for both of them. They are not happy den-mates.

The entrance to a large den is visible beneath the broken edge of a house foundation.
A large sulcata den.
The entrance to a small desert tortoise den is visible beneath a succulent plant.
A small Sonoran tortoise den.

In other households, many unwitting owners eventually decide their tortoise is too destructive and unmanageable. Instead of finding a new home or at least contacting a rescue group, they’re often just dumped in the desert. Once there, not only do they have to compete with desert tortoises, they can also introduce diseases.

At least dumped sulcatas can survive here in the Sonoran desert. When I lived in New Jersey, I read a report stating that a Sulcata tortoise was found in a Pennsylvania forest. Fortunately, the unlucky tortoise was found before winter set in. A long, slow death in cold weather is a fate no reptile deserves.

How Can You Help?

An inconvenient and abandoned pet can easily become invasive and have a devastating effect on native animals. When we bring animals into our homes, it’s our responsibility to ensure they have a good place to live for the rest of their lives—which is up to 150 years for a tortoise. Once they live with humans they can never be released or returned into the wild. And they should never, ever be left in someone else’s habitat. Before you decide to bring home a pet, like a tortoise or an iguana, it’s a good idea to learn everything you can about them and make sure they’re the right pet for you.

Scientists Love Their Scat! And I Am One!

Scientists have long been using scat as a valuable tool in figuring out what animals have eaten. The indigestible parts pass through and are excreted. Some items can be easily identified, but others require a bit of investigation.

photo of tortoise scat 2When the temperatures were warm enough, I let my sulcata, or spur-thigh, tortoise loose in my walled-in backyard. With the drought, my vegetation is rather sparse. I provide food for her, but she likes to forage on her own, too.  She’d eaten all the aloe, munched on the prickly pear cactus pads, and gobbled up Texas olives (many of which came through intact.).

However, she recently left this deposit for me which had me perplexed.

I searched my yard and I think I finally found what she had been eating that wasn’t digested fully.

image pricklypear cactusI suspect the fibrous material is from the main stem of this large prickly pear cactus! She really should stick with eating the soft, juicy young pads.

Book Note: My publisher, Lyric Power Publishing LLC, publishes workbooks and activity sheets to go with my rhyming stories and adventure tales. If your children love hands-on coloring pages and solving problems, cutting and pasting, labeling the animal parts, learning the life cycles, and so on, they would love LPP’s fun, 40+ pages, comprehensive, yet economical workbooks. Click on the tortoise covers below to see what is in these workbooks all about tortoises, at the different grade levels.

Check them all out here.

imagebook cover tortoises preK-1Book about tortoises gr 2-4

#elaineapowers

#lyricpower

#sulcatatortoise

#spurthightortoise

#pricklypearcactus

Prize-Winning Size Found in My Kitchen!

Have you eaten your leafy green vegetables today? You should! Vegetables are important for a healthy lifestyle.

My family members would agree – they are herbivores, and they enjoy their leafy greens. People may eat their greens cooked or raw.  My reptiles prefer their greens raw. These collard leaves are important sources of calcium, iron, vitamins A, C, K and folate, to build strong reptile bodies.

Every day I prepare a salad for each family member of leafy greens topped with various vegetables. The preferred greens are collard greens, turnip tops, dandelion greens and mustard greens. Every now and then, I include others, like spinach and kale. Never lettuce or cabbage.

Twice a week, I pick up a case of collard greens, the basis for my salads. They’re available year-round, but the sizes of the leaves and bunches changes with availability. Usually, the leaves around 10 inches long with six leaves to a bunch.

Recently, the farmers have outdone themselves, producing amazingly large leaves.

Pictured above is the meal-sized leaf!

6 tortoises of three species gathered around a heat lamp
Breakfast was good!

I hope you enjoy your leafy greens as much as my family does.

May all your leaves be big ones!

Book Note: Do you know the many differences between tortoises and turtles? They all enjoy collard greens, but there are ten differences noted in the illustrated, rhyming, fun science book, Don’t Call Me Turtle! This favorite among preschoolers (for its rhymes) is popular with Mom and Dad, too! Pick up a copy for your turtle- or tortoise-lover today!

a green book cover with an illustration of a tortoise standing on hind legs
There are many differences between tortoises and turtles, and the wise tortoise who narrates this book tells us about ten of those differences–in rhyme. She also says, “Don’t Call Me Turtle!” (Even if my name should be Myrtle.)
Voted 5-Stars by the Preschool Crowd

#elaineapowers  #lyricpowers  #iguanas  #tortoises  #collardgreens

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who’s the Prettiest Head of All?

Red-footed tortoises, Geochelone carbonaria, are popular pets. These natives of Central and South America are easy to care for and don’t get too big, growing up to 30 pounds. They are also known for the bright colors on their skin and shell, including their namesake red scales on their legs.

Recently, I noticed how vivid Rose’s head is.  Her yellow markings (above) are very different from the others in my household.

photo of red-footed tortoiseShe is just as lovely from the side and you can see the red scles on her legs. Rose is the only one who has the yellow head.

Some red-footed tortoises have more red coloring on their heads – these are called cherry heads. Myrtle is an example of a cherry head.

photo of cherry head of red-footed tortoise

Not all heads are colorful. Some are rather humdrum like this one. No bright yellow or red scales on this tortoise.  But Gladiola is still a delightful tortoise.

photo of plain head of red-footed tortoise

The varied color patterns are normal for this species of tortoise. The same clutch of tortoises can have different colored individuals.

No matter their head color, I enjoy all my red-footed tortoises.  They are good natured, personable and a lot of fun to have around.

However, when I asked Rose if she had the prettiest head of all the tortoises, she came as close to a tortoise shout as one could get. “YES!”

photo of red-footed tortoise with open mouth

Book Note: Check out my fun tortoise book, Don’t Call Me Turtle!, in which I write about the many differences between tortoises and turtles—in rhyme. It’s a favorite book of little ones and their parents! Rhymes are not just fun—they help us to remember what we’ve learned.

 

a green book cover with an illustration of a tortoise standing on hind legs
Don’t call me Myrtle the Turtle! I’m a tortoise! Learn the differences in fun rhymes inside!

And for keeping the science juices going in a fun way this summer, check out the workbooks full of interesting and fun activity sheets on a variety of science subjects at LyricPower.net. The books are comprehensive, educational, economical and fun. They range from PreK to 4th grade. Check them out today.

Collage of Science Education Workbooks
Click on Workbooks to see all 23 workbooks, making science education fun!

#elaineapowers   #lyricpower  #redfootedtortoise

That Shell Might Not Look Comfy to You and Me, But to Ezra?

I have a suspended heat lamp that the tortoises like to use.  They gather together underneath to share in the warmth. The tortoises chose their spot, then sit down and bask for a while.

photo of large green iguana on top of tortoiseRecently, Ezra Green Iguana was out for a stroll and happened across the non-creeping creep of tortoises. Ezra pulled himself up into the nice warm shells and laid down. He laid his head on Rose Red-footed Tortoise and took a nap.

Even though Rose Tortoise could feel Ezra on her shell, she didn’t move, allowing Ezra to use her as her comfy pillow.

Book Note: The reptiles I live with are an endless source of interesting stories about what they’re like with me and with each other. I enjoy their company tremendously and they inspire me to write and create science books about reptiles that are both educational and FUN. Here are some I’ve written about the Sonoran Desert. You can learn all about the Night-Blooming Cereus from my illustrated book written in rhyme by clicking here. Click on the image to see my ‘Don’t Series,’ which are also written in fun rhymes. Making science fun is my pleasure!

photo of Sonoran Desert Book Covers

#elaineapowers   #tortoises  #scienceisfun  #greeniguana  #funsciencebooks

A Creep or a Convergence?

With Spring, the tortoises wander about more actively. The brumating species, like the Sonoran Desert and Sulcata tortoises, emerge from my bedroom to join the now more ever-wandering red-footed tortoises. I have a heat lamp set up in the front room where the tortoises can sit and bask. Usually, one or two will be utilizing the basking spot at a time. However, one fine day, all the tortoises had a spring in their step and met at the warm spot. They were happy to share the food and the warmth, so they could digest properly.

Normally, the tortoises in the photo above would be called a creep of tortoises, but on this day, they were a convergence of tortoises.

P.S. There are three species of tortoises in the picture. Can you identify which is which?

screen shot from Reptile-Side Chat
April is Iguana Month!

Note: Please join me tomorrow, Thursday, April 8 at 3:00 p.m. MST on my Facebook page for my informative and fun chat about Rock Iguanas, Cyclura species. April is Iguana Month and I will be introducing you to some of my iguana roomies–tomorrow the very handsome big guy, Blue.

#AuthorElaineAPowers
#TortoiseID
#RockIguanas
#ReptileSideChat
#AprilisIguanaMonth
#ElaineAPowers.com
#LyricPower.net
#FunScienceBooks

Pandemic Life, Pandemic Dreams—and Tortoises!

I’ve always had vivid dreams, many that I can fully remember when I wake up. Most are filled with action (being chased or falling), which doesn’t really bother me. However, every now and then I have a bad dream that wakes me up with a start and a surge of adrenaline. I’ve forgotten to do something important! It might be something at work or forgetting to feed some of my scaled family members. Not exactly nightmares, but definitely bad dreams. These things of dreams had never happened, but I guess deep down in my psyche, I was concerned about my chores. My newest bad dream caught me by surprise, but it really shouldn’t have when I thought about it.

Like many people, I have a Zoom account that I use for my business talks and for a few organizations that I belong to. It’s part of keeping our monthly meetings going since we can’t get together due to the pandemic restrictions. For one of the Saturday meetings, I send out the link once I receive notification participants have paid the fee. One Friday night I woke up with a start and an intense feeling of dread. I had forgotten to send out the links for the meeting! Oh, no! A bunch of people and the speaker didn’t get the link for the meeting. I had to get up and send them out before it was too late.

Except that meeting had been held the weekend before! As I realized that I was okay, it struck me that my bad dreams had evolved with the pandemic along with my way of living!

Image above courtesy of Free-Photos from Pixabay

I’ve evolved in another way, too! I’m enjoying talking via video on Facebook, every Thursday at 3:00 Mountain Standard Time. I call them my Reptile-Side Chats because I live in a home where there is usually a reptile by my side. I’ve been told they are fun to listen to–I do like to make science education fun. What is seen on these videos is also how I write my children’s books.

Here are the links to the video talks on Facebook:

Feb 25th I spoke about the birthday celebration of my book Don’t Make Me Rattle!

On March 11, I showed my adoptive Sonoran Desert Tortoise.    

On March 18, I spoke about the three types of Tortoises I live with. 

On March 25, I spoke of the differences between Turtles and Tortoises. I wrote a book about that.   

illustration of curly-tail lizard, curtis

You can also view the Facebook videos on my YouTube page, Curtis Curly-tail Speaks.

a dark green book cover: Hickatees vs Sea Turtles
Do you know the differences between the land-dwelling Hickatee and the ocean-dwelling Sea Turtle? Learn about them inside.
Reading Level:
Ages 6+
Written in Rhyme, 45 Pages
Wonderful Illustrations of the Native Hickatee Turtle and Sea Turtles
by Anderson Atlas
Learn all about the endemic Hickatee turtle who has so many troubles–well-meaning humans who throw them to their deaths into the ocean, cars that run over them, loss of land to lay their eggs, and cousins pushing them out.
Shows physical traits and the differences between these land-dwelling turtles and the sea turtles that do reside in the ocean.
Make friends with the Hickatee today!

And my tortoise and turtle books are shown here. If you enjoy my videos, I believe you will enjoy my books, as well.

a green book cover with an illustration of a tortoise standing on hind legs

#Elaine A Powers
#Tortoise or Turtle
#Don’t Call Me Turtle
#Hickatee vs. Sea Turtle
#Reptile-Side Chats
#Facebook Live Thursdays

My Computer is Padded: Reptile-Side Chats Here I Come!

In previous posts, I mentioned the lessons learned from doing Facebook Live talks. I was able to continue them last week with my new laptop.  New, because my Sonoran Desert tortoise peed on my old laptop and killed it. I did hold her up for 12 minutes, and she showed great restraint, so it really wasn’t her fault.

Despite having purchased the protection plan with my new computer, I wasn’t taking any chances with last Thursday’s talk, which featured three tortoises! I remembered I had these absorbent pads tucked away in my bathroom closet.  This is what I was saving them for!

With my new laptop safely covered, the chat went on without a soaking! I will now continue my talks, knowing all will be well. (Reptiles are known to be a bit leaky.)

My Reptile-Side Chats are on Thursdays at 3:00 pm MST on Facebook on my personal page, Elaine Powers. Tomorrow, 3/25/21, I’ll be showing the differences between tortoises and turtles live, with the very cute Trevor the Turtle and one of my tortoises. I’ll also show the book I wrote about the differences, Don’t Call Me Turtle! The rhyming stanzas make learning science fun!

If you’d like to watch the recordings of my Reptile-Side Chats (teaching about reptiles, of course!), they are posted on my YouTube channel, Curtis Curly-tail Speaks.

#funscience #elaineapowers #Reptile-Side Chats #tortoiseorturtle

#reptileeducation

a green book cover with an illustration of a tortoise standing on hind legs
There are many differences between tortoises and turtles, and the wise tortoise who narrates this book tells us about ten of those differences–in rhyme. She also says, “Don’t Call Me Turtle!” (Even if my name should be Myrtle.)

The Facebook Live Learning Curve–Post Two: Pee on Set

In a previous blog post, I mentioned the surprises I had in my first Facebook Live talk. My second talk with my iguana went well and I thought I knew what I was doing.

Hah!

For my third talk, I showed my Sonoran Desert Tortoise and I mentioned how reptiles urinate when they are stressed. That’s why you should never pick up a desert tortoise. Its supply of water is stored in its bladder and using it to repel you, it is doomed to death by dehydration.

I had learned from my in-person talks that the tortoises often will void, so I put down a tarp.  Voiding is not an issue since I can provide them with as much water as they need to refill.  Consequently, I had a towel in place for my Facebook talk just in case. The tortoise did great. She stayed on camera and was relaxed as I held her in the air for over ten minutes. As I signed off, I felt water run down my shirt. I placed her in the box on the chair beside me and finished up my presentation. I then noticed some water on my laptop and wiped it off. Yes, she had peed her displeasure onto my computer.

As I went to move my laptop back to the table where I usually worked, the screen went black. I pushed the on button, nothing.  On no, had she doused my computer enough to kill it? Yes. Yes, she had. I rushed my trusty laptop, who had been with me for many years, off to the repairman. He wasn’t able to save my electronic companion, but he was able to save her memory.

graphic Facebook Live Reptile Side Chat

I intend to share three tortoises during my Facebook Live Talk tomorrow, Thursday, March 18th.  Look for me at 3:00 p.m. MST at my personal Facebook page, Elaine Powers, during which time I will be wrapping my new laptop in plastic! I can’t wait to get back to doing live talks. It is so much safer for my electronics.

I did give the manager a great story to tell of the woman whose laptop was destroyed by tortoise pee!

Book Note: To check out the fun children’s science books I’ve written about turtles and tortoises, please click on the books below or in the My Books section here. They’re fun, informative and are wonderfully illustrated by the talented artists I use.

Two fun science books on tortoises and turtles

 

January 28th is NATIONAL HAVE FUN AT WORK DAY

Working from Home with our Pets

January 28th is National Have Fun at Work Day and with the pandemic, many people who would go to work in an office or at least away from home, are now telecommuting or video conferencing. We find ourselves trying to convince our companion-animal family members to maintain professional boundaries. (Although, I’ll bet everyone enjoys watching other people’s pets photo-bomb their meetings.)

My household is no different. Meetings that I would attend in person are now virtual through my laptop. Even though my family members are reptiles, they feel the same need as mammals to participate. You’d think noise wouldn’t be an issue with animals that don’t bark, meow or squawk. But, my iguanas get creative. As soon as I log in, Chile Green Iguana (photo above) starts his gymnastics in his wire enclosure. He uses his full length to clank the sides and shelves as much as possible.

photo of Myrtle red foot tortoise pusing chair

Then I feel my chair start to move away from the table. Myrtle Redfoot Tortoise is underneath me, pushing as hard as she can, successfully rolling the chair and me away from the computer.

Calliope Green Iguana
Calliope Green Iguana checking to be sure Myrtle doesn’t roll me too far from the meeting.
Rose Red-foot Tortoise
Rose Red-foot Tortoise stops by so I’ll take a break from work and scratch hr shell.

Other family members merely stop by to see who I am speaking with or to ensure that I am working as I should be.

I hope you, too, are having fun at work, whether it is away from home or at home.  Co-workers can be very entertaining.

Book Note: My co-workers are my inspiration for many of my books. I hope you’ll check them out at My Books.

Don’t Call Me Turtle was inspired by my tortoise, Myrtle, pictured above.

photo of a children's book cover, entitled Don't Call Me Turtle
There are many differences between tortoises and turtles, and the wise tortoise who narrates this book tells us about ten of those differences–in rhyme.
She also says, “Don’t Call Me Turtle!” (Even if my name should be Myrtle.)

The Box-Tortoise

Photo Above is Amarillo the Redfoot Tortoise (Chelonoidis carbonaria)

In some of my books and videos, I mention box turtles, genus Terrapene. These are amazing turtles that, because of a hinge on their bottom plate–the plastron–can fold up to protect their heads and limbs. No predator can grab an arm if it’s tucked inside a hard shell. You can read about this ability in Don’t Call Me Turtle! When you read this book, you’ll discover the many differences between turtles and tortoises.

a green book cover with an illustration of a tortoise
Voted 5-Stars by the
Preschool Crowd

Even though only box turtles have the hinge to fold up, that doesn’t mean there aren’t box-tortoises. I have several in my house! Look at the photos below to see what I mean.
a redfoot tortoise

Rose the Redfoot Tortoise fits in her box

Cantata the Sulcata Tortoise  (Geochelone sulcata)
But Cantata the Sulcata Tortoise (Geochelone sulcata) does not! She is a big girl!

Unfortunately, not all the tortoises fit neatly in their box. Some can only get their heads in! Sorry, Cantata – you need a bigger box!

Check out the fun and educational turtle and tortoise workbooks on LyricPower.net.

Beauty in Unusual Places

With social distancing, I’ve been spending more time observing at my house. Maybe it’s the isolation, but I’m finding beauty in unusual places. Because of the drought this summer (no monsoon rains in 2020), my grass dried up and the outdoor-living tortoises ate more plants than usual since they had no grass to graze on. I discovered that they had eaten an entire aloe vera plant. It had been quite a large specimen. Now, all that was left was this stump.

I find the geometric organization of the leaves interesting and artistic. I don’t know if the root is still alive, but I’m hoping it is and new growth will come up when it rains again. Until it grows or dies away, I will enjoy this unusual offering of nature and my tortoises.

photo of an aloe vera plant
Now in a pot!

This is an intact aloe vera plant, protected by a clay pot, so the tortoises can’t eat it, too!

book covers turtle or tortoise
To learn about the differences between tortoises and turtles, with fun science books, check out these books by Elaine A. Powers.

 

The Mystery of the Cleaning-fiend Tortoises

Above image is of Cantata, an African Spurred or Spur-thighed Tortoises (Geochelone sulcata) and a member of my family

Is this a species thing?

I have several species of tortoises roaming about my house. Tortoises are not potty-trained, so every now and then I have to mop to clean the floor. After sweeping and spraying the spots, I mop the floor.  Most of the tortoises move out of the way, running away to find a safe place.  Not the sulcatas. No, they must not only be near the area that is being cleaned, they must be in it! Do they think there might be something tasty being collected? Do they feel the need to supervise?  Being mopped or swept with a broom has no effect on them.  They just won’t be moved aside.

I first noticed this annoying behavior with my large male sulcata, Duke.  At 150 pounds, he can really be an impediment to cleaning.  He usually ends up outside until the cleaning is completed. He paces in front of the door until he is allowed back in.  Then he inspects the cleaned area – why, I am not certain.

Recently, I discovered my newly rescued female tortoise, Cantata, enjoys the same activity. She’s never met Duke, so he didn’t train her. I was mopping the tortoises’ communal basking place, and sure enough, she had to be right there, in the midst of the soapy water.  The other tortoises had skedaddled, but Cantata would not move away. At least she’s physically easier to move, at only 40 lbs.

I would love to know why sulcata tortoises are cleaning fiends!

Sulcatas are native to sub-Saharan Africa and do well in deserts. Above, Cantata is enjoying a prickly pear (Opuntia sp.) pad.

Book Note: I have a redfoot tortoise, Myrtle, who was often called Myrtle the turtle. One day, fed up, she communicated to me that it was time to write a book about the differences between turtles and tortoises. That was it–the book came to me in rhyming stanzas, and it turned out that kids and their parents loved the science woven into a rhyming book! It’s a lot of fun to read, the rhymes make it easy to remember the differences, and the little scientists in your life will love it. You can read about Don’t Call Me Turtle! here and it is available for sale at Amazon.

infographic for children's book Don't Call Me Turtle!

 

Did You Know Reptiles Have Sleepovers?

Did you know reptiles have sleep-overs, too? While mammals hibernate in cold weather, reptiles brumate.

I’m not just talking about different species cohabitating, or sharing dens, during brumation. No, I’m talking about reptiles sleeping over when they are inside a dwelling–even those that have entire houses to roam and numerous corners to sleep in.

photo of tortoises sleeping together
Flipper, Gladiola and Zoe sleeping together.

Take this group, for example. Flipper, Gladiola and Zoe gather at a door to a room they’re not allowed in. Was this how they wanted to spend the night? No, Gladiola decided to find another bed, but Flipper and Zoe were content and wedged themselves into the corner.

But don’t worry, Flipper and Zoe weren’t alone very long. As you can see in the picture at the top of this post, Calliope Green Iguana had to join in the fun. She didn’t even need any ground space. She was content to use the tortoises for her bed. The tortoises don’t mind.

It’s extra nice when you can sleep with friends. Just ask us humans–many of us are very much looking forward to hanging out with family and friends again. Until then, we will dream of each other and a warmer future . . .

Book Note: Did you know rattlesnakes have sleepovers? And that mother rattlers babysit for each other? Or that the young aren’t born from eggs? You can learn all about these things and much, much more about rattlesnakes in my book Don’t Make Me Rattle! It is packed with information about rattlers for educating your children and to their delight, it is written in rhyme. Teach children to understand, and not fear, these snakes who want only to live in peace and play their role in the great circle of life (keeping vermin in check so they don’t overrun the planet).

*See The “Don’t” Series here.

book cover graphic of rattlesnake

There’s Much More to Me
Than You Know!
I Am Shy and My
Rattle is Only a Warning:
Please, Stay Away!

For All Ages
Reading Level 8+

Bold and Vibrant Illustrations
by Nicholas Thorpe

Written in Rhyme
40 pages

COMPLETE
BOOK DESCRIPTION HERE

 

Desert Dwellers Worshipping the Rain! by Curtis Curly-tail Lizard

colorful children's book cover with a curly-tail lizard riding on a hutia's back
Here I am catching a ride on my friend, Horace’s back! Available at Amazon.com.

Hello, everyone! I’m Curtis Curly-tail. You may know me as the perfect Curly-tail lizard from the Bahamas with an itch for adventure. OR, perhaps you’ve seen me starring at my very own YouTube page, Curtis Curly-tail Speaks. Well, of course, I do! I am perfect, as they say!

Every morning I start the day by basking in the sun to warm up my body. I am a Sun Worshipper, after all. It’s warm on my cay but nor overly hot. I love to pose for visitors, and I’ve heard them say that I look my best when the sun is glinting off my shiny scales. I turn this way and that so they get their best shots. When I’m not riding Horace the Hutia, that is! YEE-HAW!

Zoe is definitely the Boss Lady of the backyard!


However, some of my friends who live in the Sonoran Desert don’t worship the sun. I agree with them that there’s a bit too much sun when it gets to be 110 degrees, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that my tortoise friends all run out into the rain when a storm starts.

Flipper found a puddle, too!


Sonoran Desert Tortoises, like Zoe, pictured above, prefer to drink from the puddles that form when it rains. That ensures the water is fresh. Zoe carries all her water around in her bladder so it’s important to keep her reserve filled. The scarcity of water in the desert is why you should never pick up a desert tortoise. If she empties her bladder to scare you off, a popular defense mechanism for reptiles, she will lose the water that keeps her alive.

Cantata arrived at the party just a little late…

Ouch! Cactus Exposed By Curtis Curly-tail Lizard!

It’s me, Curtis Curly-tail lizard!

Perhaps you’ve read my stories about reptile meals in my blog posts and on my YouTube Channel, Curtis Curly-tail Speaks!

I like helping my human friends prepare the meals for my reptilian companions. This morning I was collecting pads from the prickly pear cactus for the desert tortoises. I only harvest the young pads due to my size. Locally the pad is called a nopal. People also eat them.

Prickly Pear Cactus

The problem is, prickly pear cactus have spines, really big spines. That’s why they’re called prickly. But my human friends are smart like me and many planted the “spineless” prickly pear, Opuntia stricta. Cactus spines are very sharp and difficult to remove because they have hooks to keep them in the skin. They also come in different sizes. You may avoid the obvious, big spines but then be impaled by smaller ones.

Since I was asked to collect young pads from the spineless prickly pear cactus, I wasn’t worried about injuries. Using my perfect hands, I snapped off a pad – and they do snap off easily. But, when I snapped off the second one, I realized I had pain in my perfect little fingers. I looked down to see tiny spines stuck between my scales.

What?!

Why did I have spines from a spineless prickly pear cactus in my fingers? Well, they have fewer spines than the regular prickly pears, but they aren’t really totally, perfectly spineless. I kept going, though, adding more spines to my collection until I had enough pads for their tortoise meals. 

The tortoises enjoyed their meal, while I spent the rest of the day picking out spineless prickly pear cactus spines and contemplating these not-totally-spineless cactus plants. So, here it is—Be careful out there among the cacti!

Stop by and say hi at my YouTube Page. And check out the fun books my good friend, Elaine, a human, has written about tortoises and turtles!

There are LOTS of differences between tortoises and turtles! Learn all about them here, in this fun, rhyming book loved by little ones and their parents alike!

See What Happens!

Red-foot tortoises (Chelonoidis carbonarius), like Gladiola, are omnivores, which means they eat meat, as well as vegetables and fruits. Being tortoises, they don’t run down prey like a wolf after a deer. No, they look for slow moving animal tidbits or carrion.  Any opportunity for some protein should be explored, as shown by Gladiola here.

Rango Rhinocerous Iguana showed great tolerance of Gladiola’s nibbling. Fortunately, Gladiola didn’t take too big a bite. Merely moving the tail out of the way was sufficient.

However, Gladiola thought Rango’s tail was worth another taste a few minutes later.

Despite Rango asking Gladiola nicely to cease and desist, she didn’t. She pursued that tail and chomped down on it one too many times. With a flick of the tail, the errant tortoise was sent flying, ending up on her side. 

With a flip of a nibbled tail . . .

That’s what you get when you bite the wrong tail!

Interested in learning more about tortoises or turtles? Check out our books by clicking on the link.

green book cover with turtle illustration
Do you know the differences between the land-dwelling Hickatee and the ocean-dwelling Sea Turtle? Learn about them inside. Reading Level: Ages 6. Written in Rhyme. 45 Pages. Wonderful Illustrations of the Native Hickatee Turtle and Sea Turtles by Anderson Atlas. Learn all about the endemic Hickatee turtle who has so many troubles–well-meaning humans who throw them to their deaths into the ocean, cars that run over them, loss of land to lay their eggs, and cousins pushing them out. Shows physical traits and the differences between these land-dwelling turtles and the sea turtles that do reside in the ocean. Make friends with the Hickatee today!

Hey, Fans! Here’s My Next Video: All About Cantata Sulcata

Hi, everyone! It’s me, Curtis Curly-tail Lizard and have I got a video for you!

I figured you fell asleep last night thinking about Sulcata tortoises and you wondered: Do they make good pets?

Click here on Curtis Curly-tail Introduces Cantata Sulcata to learn all about my friend, Cantata, and these special tortoises.

Thanks, and have a great day!

Who’s Your Favorite Footrest?

Do you have a favorite footrest in your home? Putting one’s feet up is so relaxing and relieving. The cushioniest footrest in my house is the one that came with a comfy chair. Simple, functional, the perfect height, very practical.

My favorite non-living footrest

My favorite footrest is covered with a needlepoint I stitched many decades ago. I was living in Michigan, so the Canada Goose theme was appropriate . . . as is the snow. Lots of snow in the lake-effect region of Southern Michigan. I could cross-country ski right out of my garage. I don’t miss the snow now that I’m here in the Sonoran Desert. Snow here is just wrong to me.

My most recent footrest comes to me while I am writing at the table. I don’t even have to pick my feet up – she walks right under me.  She stops, not minding that my feet are resting on her shell. In fact, I think it’s her way of making contact.

Myrtle says hello and rests under my feet as
I type away on the next story

If you want to learn more about tortoises, Myrtle, my footrest tortoise, has inspired a book Don’t Call Me Turtle and a number of workbooks at Lyric Power Publishing, LLC, where science education is fun!

a green book cover with an illustration of a tortoise standing on hind legs, pointing at the viewer
Learn the differences between tortoises and turtles today!
Collage of Science Education Workbooks
Click on Workbooks to see all 23 workbooks, making science education fun!

‘Zoe the Star’ Tortoise! by Curtis Curly-tail

Hello to all my friends out there! I hope you are taking care of yourselves and each other in these difficult times. I’m looking forward to the day when my human friends don’t have to worry anymore about the virus called Covid-19! (If I could, I would banish it right now!) Until this passes, please take good care out there.

I love having made so many friends through my sidekick, Elaine A. Powers, and today I’d like to introduce you to Zoe, a Sonoran Desert tortoise. She’s a female who knows her territory and stands her ground. (I just love that in a tortoise!)

I don’t want to tell Zoe she’ll never be the star I am, of course, but take a look at my You Tube channel on your small screen at this beauty in her habitat and learn about what it takes to be a tortoise in the Sonoran Desert.

And for the kids and kids-at-heart in your home, have some fun with science education using the activity sheets and workbooks from Lyric Power Publishing, LLC.

Here’s an example or two:

Twenty-three fun, engaging, and interactive pages on the Freshwater Turtle.
Ideal for your young learners.
Four ecology coloring and information pages; three spelling and tracing pages; what freshwater turtles eat coloring page; label the parts of a freshwater turtle coloring page; complete the life-cycle of the turtle (same for both freshwater and green sea turtle); three color by addition and subtraction pages; two learn to spell coloring pages; and several teacher information pages suitable for creating bulletin boards about freshwater turtles.

47 pages of captivating activities that kids from kindergarten through 3rd grade are certain to enjoy! Includes spelling pages, two Venn-Diagram activities: bats vs. parrots, and bats vs. rats; math pages, reading comprehension pages for both bats and rats; a teacher-driven felt board activity; rhyming words, less than-greater than coloring sheet; two word searches, and MORE! Students will gain a deeper understanding of the Caribbean Fruit Bat and the rats that live on Cayman Brac and how they affect the ecology.

It’s National Pet Parents Day!

When I became the owner and BFF of a horse, I was surprised and amused that the vet always refers to me as “Mom.” (Yes, she does know my name.) I do think of Button as a friend but as her mother—not so much.

The last Sunday in April is said to recognize pet parents who go the extra mile to care for their fur babies.  Wait! Only fur babies?  What about those of us who have scale babies? Or people who have feather babies? I think all pet parents should be recognized.

Even though they don’t have fur, my pets are members of my family.  A bunch of them, or more accurately a creep of them, roam my house and sleep in my bedroom at night. Not with me on the bed, but in the corners.

If you visit my house, you may wonder why I have cardboard boxes in many of the corners. Now you know why—well, if you know how “creep” is used as a collective animal-noun, you know. If you don’t know what “creep,” means, may I suggest my book, “Don’t Call Me Turtle!”? It’s full of fun, scientific and rhyming facts, beloved by little ones and their parents alike!

So, let’s celebrate our non-human family members. Give them an extra treat or cuddle or a few minutes of quality time. They bring so much affection and contentment into our lives.

a green book cover with an illustration of a tortoise standing on hind legs, pointing at the viewer
Learn the differences between tortoises and turtles today!

Why Can’t She Use a Tortoise As A Pillow? by Yours Truly, Curtis Curly-tail

One day, my friend Rango, a Rhino Iguana, and I, a perfect curly-tail lizard, were discussing over Zoom our favorite basking spots. I prefer a nice piece of karst, myself. I like a spot where I can put my front feet up a bit, angle my back to the sun and soak in the rays.

photo of curly-tail lizard Curtis
Here I am on karst near my home!

But Rango the Dragon, as I call all iguanas—can you blame me?— lives in a house, not on an island like I do. Oh, she has a lovely place to bask under a suspended heat lamp or in a sunbeam through the window or door. She even has a servant who brings her meals while she basks. I guess there are advantages to living in a house. I have to find my own food and make sure I don’t become a snack for a seagull where I live!

I learned Rango likes to bask at an upward angle, too. Her substrate is flat tile, though, not bumpy karst.  So, what does she do? She finds something else to perch on–a comfortable height and something hard that can hold her weight.

The other family members include tortoises of various sizes. Rango has selected the smaller tortoises as her desired perches. I don’t know how the tortoises feel about being used for this purpose, but they don’t wander off.

I admire Rango for her creativity, but I do hope she thanks the tortoises, especially Myrtle, who is a very famous tortoise. She has her own book, for Pete’s sake! That’s it below, a rhyming book favorite of the wee ones! (Human wee ones, that is.)

Thanks for stopping by at Elaine’s author website. Hope you’ll look around. See ya next time!

a green book cover with an illustration of a tortoise standing on hind legs
Don’t call me Myrtle the Turtle! I’m a tortoise! Learn the differences in fun rhymes inside!

The Tortoise and the Chair by Elaine A. Powers

Note: This post was inspired by my friend, Don Fialkowski. I had complained about my tortoise, Myrtle, pushing on my chair.
My apologies to Aesop and his fable, The Tortoise and the Hare.

A tortoise was recently pushing on my chair to move it away from the table, over to where she wanted it, by the door.

“I’ll take you away from there,” she said with a mocking tortoise laugh.

“No,” I replied to the tortoise, “I’m going to sit here and write science books on my laptop. But I will lift my feet, so that you can push away.”

The tortoise was so amused by my idea that my weight would hold the chair in place that she agreed to the challenge. The iguana in the room, who had consented to act as judge, took her position as observer and told the tortoise, “Push!”

The tortoise braced herself between the spokes of the rolling wheels. I couldn’t see her beneath my seat, but I felt her shell hit the metal. She pushed and pushed, and I felt very deeply how ridiculous it was for her to try to push my chair away from the table. Confident, I returned to my typing.

The tortoise, meanwhile, kept steadily moving, and, after a time, pushed the chair slightly away from the table. I quite peacefully continued to type until I had to stretch so the tips of my fingers could reach the keyboard. It was too late then. I realized I couldn’t stop her progress. The next push and I couldn’t reach keyboard anymore.

The tortoise had won the battle of the chair, proving the old adage that perseverance pays off.

Below is the book Myrtle asked me to write: Don’t Call Me Turtle! It tells about the differences between tortoises and turtles and there are many! A favorite of preschoolers and their grandparents!

a green book cover with an illustration of a tortoise standing on hind legs, pointing at the viewer
Learn the differences between tortoises and turtles today!