Wood you believe it!

Last winter, our much loved male Ornate Box turtle died from pneuomonia. We decided upon a direct replacement, and began searching high and low, up and down the country. A friend,Jackie, living in Wolverhampton, espied a useful sounding advert in her local paper. A Reptile shop was offering "Forest tortoises" for sale. On phoning, the description was too unclear to identify the species, but, almost as an afterthought, the proprietor felt that their latin name was "Terrapene ornata". BINGO!

Off we went to Wolverhampton. In the shop, a large vivarium was pointed out to us. It was four inches deep in wood shavings, but vague humped shapes could be seen moving about. Swiftly, I slid back the glass door, and extracted one of the creatures. It was a ......., well, it was a ......well, it was not Terrapene ornata, no Ornate Box was ever decorated with thin orange stripes on its head. The shell was dark, without a hinge, and patterned with rings of brown and orange. Intelligent eyes peered out from a delicately narrow face. My wits returned in a rush. "Wood Turtle", I exclaimed. "Rhinoclemys species- tropical wood turtles from Central America." Recourse to their import documents, and to 'Pritchards' identified the exact species- Rhinoclemys pulcherrima manni - from the jungles of Nicaragua. "That's that then," declared my wife, losing interest. "They are very good specimens," I replied, "full sized adults". "No new species, that's the rule" was her hard hearted reply. It was then that I evoked an obscure clause in this agreement- you know, the one about rare species, breeding groups and our (my) interest in this species since our friend Rachel acquired three similar creatures. Unsure of her ground, and, losing the rearguard action about vivarium space and diet, Maggie gave in. We would buy a pair.

Choosing the specimens began. There was plenty of choice, making this task even harder. The shop's proprietor attempted to encourage us: "They are very healthy, they have been dropping eggs all week." "What have you done with the eggs?" came our chorused reply. "Oh, we''ve been feeding them to our monitor lizards." I then struck a deal with the shop. We would buy three, and spread the word around as to the existence of the others if we could keep all the eggs laid in the next few weeks. It was agreed, and we came away with a pair (plus one- I never could count) of turtles, and an egg in my pocket. It was elongate, about 5cm by 3cm, weighing 50g. Over the next fortnight, Jackie collected, I think, seven eggs. She passed three on to us, and determined to incubate the others herself. One of my females had, in the meantime, laid two eggs of her own. Jackie's incubator (a standard tortoise affair) was set to 32 degrees centigrade, and 85% humidity. Mine, smaller, and used for hard shelled water turtles, was set for 30-31 degees centigrade, and 85-90% humidity. Four eggs, two each, showed signs of fertility (a white patch gradually spreading over the entire surface of the grey/cream eggs). We settled down to wait. No book or authority could give any accurate indication as to incubation time. 103 days later (or there abouts), one of the eggs suddenly hatched, spilling an enormous and active little character straight into life.

 It began demolishing mealworms, catmeat and two veg. the following night. Meanwhile, the other egg was clearly kicking. We began watching closely.

37 days later, the egg was still kicking, but less strongly. I felt that we were losing it, and whatever the consequences, the egg should be opened. Inside, the little fellow was still very much alive, giving a threat display towards my finger. Its shell was wrapped completely over its back legs, inhibiting movement. There was a vestigial yolk sac, and the plastron had a very deep fold in it, so crushed in was the little fellow. Thin and weak, this turle had obviously tried and failed to hatch. Within days its shell had unrolled enough to let the back legs out, and, much to our relief, it began eating after a week or two.

Meanwhile, my adults are thriving. They enjoy the provision of a large water bowl, in which to bathe and from which to regularly drink, a stout box in which they hide away almost all of the time, and a heated bark laid vivarium which they have to traverse (what a nuisance!) to reach the food. This consists of catmeat, cooked carrot, beans, peas and parsnip, all laced with Limestone Flour and Nutrobal. Their narrow faces, and beady eyes, peering around the doorway of their shed, eagerly awaiting the next nutritional offering is a source of constant joy to me. Even my wife's heart has melted towards them!