Archive for the ‘Softshell turtles’ category

The turtle who went walkabout!

29 August 2009

This is a short story of a tortoise who went for a long walk. In fact, who went for a very long walk on the CME campus. If you do things like that, you may very soon find that you are back where you started from and on top of that named ‘Myrtle’.

One morning I got a call at office from a friend. His daughter Shreya had found a tortoise in the garden. What, he asked, should be done? Naturally, I felt, it had to be restored to its habitat.

Going home, I picked up my tortoise books –

  • “Indian Turtles – A Field Guide” by Indraneil Das
  • “the Book of Indian Reptiles and Amphibians” by J.C. Daniels.

and ventured forth. My daughter Aditi, an inveterate invertebrate inthusiast, accompanied me on this trip.

When we reached my friend’s house, I found the ‘exalted visitor’ on the pavement surrounded by all the kids from the neighbourhood.

Before you scratch your grey (or is it gray) cells wondering what kids were doing there and why they were not at school when I had been at the office, I have only three words for you –

“Swine Flu in Pune!”

Do I hear some one say, “Four not three…!”

I can’t count!  Never could.

Shreya holding the turtle she discovered.

Shreya holding the turtle she discovered.

Predictably, the turtle had withdrawn itself into its shell. The back was coloured “muddy-shoddy, grey, brown, black, ochre”. It had three black  stripes on its head.

Black streaks on the head

Black streaks on the head

I turned it over and said “Aha!”

( Aha = Its got flaps to hide its legs under! See the black-edged half crescents on the left half. It’s the Indian Flapshell Turtle (Lissemys punctata). Now I can appear learned and quite the expert! )

The downside of up! This flapshell turtle upended.

The downside of up! This flapshell turtle upended.

The kids were excited as I told them more about the turtles a la Messrs Das & Daniels.

It was an angry turtle – aware, wary, alert and fast. No sooner had I put it then a knobby, ridgy fore-leg with three claws emerged. To you and me they may look grotesque as compared to say cute kitties and puppies, but to a turtle – lover   I’m sure these are as fascinating to a turtle over as  female feet are to Quentin Tarantino!

The turtle emerges....

The turtle emerges....

The turtle scurried away along the lawn but was repeatedly recaptured while I pored over the DDs. I learnt from Daniels that –

“the adults and young make long journeys during the rainy season, which is probably the reason for the species being so widespread….”

Indian Flap-shell turtles are the “hoi polloi” of CME and occupy the four lakes, large acreage of reed-beds, ponds and marshes and the 2 km long rowing channel. The nearest water body or marsh as one can make out from the Google image is more than a kilometer away.

The turtle had crossed roads, houses, gardens, fences, ditches besides stray dogs and people to land up where it did! The turtle would surely have died if allowed to roam free as it was heading deeper and deeper into civilisation.

Red line surrounds lake/marsh/nalas. Brown spot - found. Black spot - released.

Red line surrounds lake/marsh/nalas. Brown spot - found. Black spot - released.

The next question I faced from the kids was ‘is it a boy or girl’ ? Met by a don’t know look on my face, they decided, mostly being girls (two girls both older vs two boys both younger), that it looked feminine and soon names for ‘her’ were being proposed.

It was decided that her name was actually “Myrtle” and that she would be a very good pet! Undying vows were made to look after the creature if only they could have it please, pleeassee..

Mindful of stricken looks on a loving parent’s face, I pointed out that Myrtle fed on shrimps, insects and worms from within the water (actually they eat that and vegetation too) and her family was probably missing her.

An expedition was launched and finally Myrtle was released upstream into the marshes near the CTW lake. The last photo that we have of Myrtle is of a grinning Shrey (not Shreya’s brother) who held the turtle last. And the reason for that is, as soon as we set it on the ground some good seven-eight feet from the water’s edge, Myrtle became greased lightning and vanished before we could photograph her!

Guess it was not a ‘snapping’ turtle!

Little Shreyas before he released the turtle.

Little Shrey before he released the turtle.

So Myrtle the turtle went back to tell tales to the grand-turtles with a new name to boot.