Reader Diane G., an avid birder and animal lover, incubated and raised a baby tortoise, documenting it with this cool story (her words are indented). Enjoy it on this holiday weekend!
The recent article about nine new babies of an 80-year-old Galapagos Tortoise at the Zurich Zoo reminded me of our own little tortoises’ blessed event, and I thought I’d send some pictures of the youngster.
In 2000, out of the blue, my 9-year-old daughter Liz decided she wanted a tortoise for her birthday. Being a family that’s gaga for animals, we did some research and concluded that the only common tortoise in the pet trade that we could possibly provide enough room and environmental richness for was the so-called Russian Tortoise, Agrionemys horsfieldii, one of the smallest available. That August we welcomed Vladimir to the family. He was absolutely captivating and so two years later we adopted a female, Anastasia.
(Despite its common name this is a tortoise of the ‘stans”—“eastern Iran, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, southern Kazakhstan, the westernmost part of Xinjiang (China), and part of northwestern Pakistan… Its range has been reported to cover 3,362,935 km2, with the Central Asian deserts containing 73% of the species range…” )
Two years later I found two eggs on the shavings in Anya’s indoor tub. Wow—cool, right? Once more we read up, found the right incubator settings, and began the first of several long slogs of trying to hatch tortoise eggs. Two years and ten eggs later, we were astounded when egg # 11 hatched! Here’s the youngster right after hatching–with a piece of eggshell covering his head, naturally.
The second, third, and fourth photos show some of his first meals, after his yolk sac was completely absorbed. The last one was taken through the side of his plastic enclosure, so it’s a bit clouded, but I just love the way he had to stand on his tippy-toes to reach the repast in his yogurt-carton lid dish!
For the next shot, we placed the hatchling in a tub with Dad (center) and Mom (right) for a size comparison.
Liz wanted to continue the Russian-name theme but it’s nearly impossible to sex these baby tortoises; thus she decided that the offspring would be either Natasha or Boris, and for the time-being we’d call it NB. A few years later we determined it was male, but after calling him NB for so long, it’s been difficult to remember to say Boris–90% of the time he’s still NB.
Anya continued to lay eggs through 2007, for a total of 21 overall, but NB was the only one ever to hatch. I dissected most of the unhatched eggs after incubating, but found only one nearly fully developed embryo, another one that died at a much younger stage, a few with barely visible evidence of fertilization, and many clear eggs.
Sadly, we lost Anya to a bad infection a few years ago; but Vladi and NB are still going strong. The little guy is nearly 12 years old now, and bigger than his father.
Jerry asked about how we keep them. Happily we had an unused chicken run at the time, which I divided in two lengthwise for them (because males and females can’t be kept together except for short periods in order to mate, nor can two males be kept together because they fight). Here’s a shot of the habitat with NB visible in the front of the left side run.
When these shots were taken he was about half grown, I’d say.
When they have to be inside, they each had a separate tub:
Now, with Anya gone and NB grown, the latter uses the former’s tub. We’ve had Vladi now for nearly 16 years, and hope he & NB stick around for many more.