Info and guidance needed

Bowser_2020

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Joined
Mar 11, 2020
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2
Location (City and/or State)
Westminster Ca
Hi, my husband and I just purchased a home in Southern California. While we were in escrow the previous home owner informed us (through his realtor) that the house possibly came with a tortoise he hadn’t seen in a bit. The tortoise has finally made an appearance and he/she is the cutest little thing! I was hoping some of you could help me figure out what kind of tortoise this is and tips for appropriate care? The tortoise shell looks a little dry and too smooth so I’m not sure if that’s normal or if there’s anything I can do to help the little guy? Wondering how big it’ll get and if it should be kept indoors or out. Here are a few pics.

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Yvonne G

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That's a full grown ornate box turtle (Terrapene ornata ornata). They like fruit and veg plus live wiggly things, and live in a semi moist and shady environment.

Poor little turtle having had to live with people for how long who didn't know what it is and how to treat it. Thank goodness he now has someone like you who was interested enough to find out about him and join the Forum!!!
 

Bowser_2020

New Member
Joined
Mar 11, 2020
Messages
2
Location (City and/or State)
Westminster Ca
Thank you for the reply! :) it’s so good to know a little bit more about our new family member. I believe it came from a hole that was on the side of our Gazebo my kids were hopeful and anxious to someday see this little creature so they would periodically but out some grape tomatoes, grapes and spinach Incase it was hungry. We also put a little fence around our pool. He randomly appeared behind our gazebo and likes to hang out under some bushes in the corner. I wasn’t sure what to do. Should we leave it be or build an outdoor inclosure? Maybe being him indoors? I just want what’s best for him and don’t even know if it would appreciate us disturbing him at all!? 😭 Ghere are some pics of the back of our property.
That's a full grown ornate box turtle (Terrapene ornata ornata). They like fruit and veg plus live wiggly things, and live in a semi moist and shady environment.

Poor little turtle having had to live with people for how long who didn't know what it is and how to treat it. Thank goodness he now has someone like you who was interested enough to find out about him and join the Forum!!!
91683301-38D9-4514-BC9A-D8A243425546.jpeg 857DF5DA-F96F-4625-9923-F7CB51565563.jpeg
 

ZenHerper

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Feb 27, 2020
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411
Location (City and/or State)
New Jersey
... The tortoise shell looks a little dry and too smooth so I’m not sure if that’s normal or if there’s anything I can do to help the little guy? Wondering how big it’ll get and if it should be kept indoors or out. ...

View attachment 287793 View attachment 287794 View attachment 287795
That smooth shell is actually a pretty good indicator that conditions in the yard have been optimal. lol Color varies and fades with age, but s/he may look more vivid when wet.

Keeping a free-range turtle is risky...lawn mowers, animals, kids, toxins in lawn/pool treatments...outdoor enclosures should be placed in carefully considered locations (boxies like a lot of shade and moist earth); indoor enclosures should be at least 4x4 feet to allow natural foraging exercise. Ornates have been known to bite defensively, so always be respectful when handling or enjoying s/him with children.

As far as I know they are not a restricted species in CA, but laws update frequently. Check with your local wildlife office for current status and whether you need a permit.

The subforum care stickie for boxies is a good basic primer:

 

Madame Terrapene

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Joined
May 31, 2019
Messages
18
Location (City and/or State)
Houston, TX
Welcome to the forum OP! The turtle looks to be in good condition. Making an outdoor pen will probably be best, as the critter is likely used to roaming large spaces and would be happier outside eating bugs and digging in the dirt. I build in-ground pens with a mesh lid to keep turtles in and predators out. Predators range from rats to raccoons to dogs. I then add hides and plant them with bushy plants, berries, and hibiscus, and let the weeds grow wild. In-ground pens easy with the right tools (shovel, electric saw, cordless power drill with screwdriver bits, willing laborers) and can be done in a day. I recommend petsafe pressure treated wood to extend the life of the pen. Here's a pic of one of my basic design.
20180809_142557.jpg

For indoor housing (which should be a temporary situation, like for when the weather is super bad or you have a sick turt etc), a quick and cheap set up is to use a large rubbermaid bin set up with 2 inches + of play sand layer topped with an inch of Reptibark. I put live plants in there for humidity, but use caution to use non-toxic plants if your turt is prone to munch their surrounding vegetation. The bin in my pic below was for a gravid female who needed a quiet area to lay eggs, so it has a sandy area free of Reptibark.

You'll want to fashion a mesh lid if you have pets or small children that can take the turtle out while it's indoors. A quick way to do this is to buy some galvanized mesh or a 10 or 20 gal mesh tank lid from the petstore and cut desired size out of a rubbermaid bin lid --> poke holes and ziptie the mesh whatever to inside of the bin lid cutout --> ziptie your lights to the outside of the mesh (so it doesnt move when you open it). Viola mesh lid. Sorry, I don't have a pic handy of this indoor lid design, but I've done it before and it worked great to keep the cat in the house from using the bin as a litterbox. I can't stress protecting the turtle enough, they're tough but it's easy for small kids to pick them up and put them places they don't belong (like in a cardboard box in direct sun to overheat or in a bathtub full of water). Also, household pets that may ignore a turtle when around humans may get bored and mess with a turtle when human supervisors arent around (turtles are very tempting chew toys for dogs, the old timers on this forum will agree). Many of us have our share of horror stories, but hopefully you never encounter any turtle misadventures of your own!

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Ornates are fun, I'm sure your kids will love watching the turtle chomp worms.

Here's another good site with a collection of info. You can never read enough! I've had box turtles for 25 years now and I'm still learning. https://boxturtlesite.info/

Also, don't ever be worried about posting questions here. The turtle community is very goal-oriented when it comes to helping new turtle caregivers learn about their critter.

Good luck!
 

Yvonne G

Old Timer
TFO Admin
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jan 23, 2008
Messages
84,810
Location (City and/or State)
Clovis, CA
Thank you for the reply! :) it’s so good to know a little bit more about our new family member. I believe it came from a hole that was on the side of our Gazebo my kids were hopeful and anxious to someday see this little creature so they would periodically but out some grape tomatoes, grapes and spinach Incase it was hungry. We also put a little fence around our pool. He randomly appeared behind our gazebo and likes to hang out under some bushes in the corner. I wasn’t sure what to do. Should we leave it be or build an outdoor inclosure? Maybe being him indoors? I just want what’s best for him and don’t even know if it would appreciate us disturbing him at all!? 😭 Ghere are some pics of the back of our property.


View attachment 287799 View attachment 287800
Good job on the pool fence!! ;)

Who knows how long this turtle has lived in that back yard like that. I want to say just leave him be, but as stated above, it's sort of dangerous for the turtle to live that way. I think if it were me, I'd section off an area in the yard that would be dedicated just for the turtle . . . maybe up against one of the fences, the whole length of the fence. Since he's had the run of the whole yard, he would not be happy to be contained in a small box as shown above, even though those enclosures are very nice. It would be quite stressful for him and he'd always be trying to climb the walls to escape.
 
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