An average day in the life of a very cold African Spurred Tortoise. A Darwin update!

I have just enough time to give you a little Darwin update. Last week when it was so cold here in Southern California a few of you kindly asked about him. Thank you.

African Spurred Tortoises do not hibernate. It is important that they stay warm, so he has a year-round indoor home with lots of space in one corner of our greenhouse.  We make sure he has plenty of fresh timothy hay for burrowing and a basking spot lamp providing added heat.

Darwin can come and go as he pleases.

Typically he walks out of his overnight sleeping area just as soon as the sun begins to warm the greenhouse.

Then he’ll slowly meander around the yard, spending the entire day doing whatever  pleases him most.

Munching on plants…

Darwin eating succulents

Climbing and exercising…

Darwin climbing

and visiting with his garden friends.

Darwin visits a friend

Occasionally he gets a bit too adventurous and escapes! He’s disappeared in the past, although he eventually turns up. He’s a big guy and the neighbors are getting to know him, too.

Darwin on the lam

But when the temperature plummets, our adventurous tortoise barely moves. In fact, I get a little concerned. When I knock on his shell coaxing, “Darwin, are you okay? Can you just give me a little sign that you aren’t in distress?” and he doesn’t answer me, I do get worried.

In years past we’ve brought him into the house, but he’s now so big and heavy it’s not practical and our best inclination is to maximize the warmth and comforts found in his little housing area and assume he’ll be fine.

But good news this past weekend.

After one solid week of very cold weather and noting that Darwin barely moved, it was a relief when the weather significantly warmed us up. All of us!

And as I looked out the kitchen window I was surprised to see two of our little buddies deep in conversation.

Darwin and ZenaI think Darwin must have been hungry. He did seem to be eyeing Zena’s food, so he was given his own head of romaine. It didn’t take him long to devour it.

Darwin eating romaineNotice the little bits of timothy hay stuck to his shell? He has been buried underneath the warmth of that protection for several days.

Mid-afternoon, when the sun is setting, Darwin heads home. His instincts are strong, and as soon as he senses the day’s end, he puts himself to bed.

Back to bed

It’s a good thing, because on the rare occasion he chooses to sleep under bushes instead of the greenhouse, I do try to “dig him out” and put him under cover, but it isn’t easy! He must weigh about 50 pounds at this point.

I admit that I worry about him this time of year.

I’m not crazy about the cold either, but for him, it can affect his overall health. Reptiles can contract pneumonia. He’s healthy and strong; however, and he is definitely provided regular warmth if he’ll just follow his instincts to stay indoors near the heat lamp.

However, if he doesn’t behave himself and adventures out on a cold and blustery day, I could provide him some added protection. Click HERE to see what I could consider!

Maybe in 2014 I could take up another hobby?

Just imagine Darwin with even MORE style and panache!

65 thoughts on “An average day in the life of a very cold African Spurred Tortoise. A Darwin update!

  1. Hay looks good on Darwin! It is amazing how creatures have the basic know-how and instincts to survive… Perhaps you should stop worrying about him so much, Mama. :-) And at 50 pounds, it sure seems like he’s one happy fellow!

    • Darwin does have good instincts, Koji. I do worry about the cold, though. If he stays in the greenhouse I think he’s okay, but when he goes wandering and decides to stay out under the bushes (where he camouflages) I can’t find him and then I do worry. I probably do hover a bit too much, though. I can admit that! LOL!

  2. good to see the buddies together, and Darwin visiting the other ‘tortoise’! glad he has a warm shelter in the greenhouse for winter weather … it is quite a responsibility caring for a big tortoise isn’t it?

    • I’m glad you enjoyed seeing Darwin and Zena, Christine. They’re a lot of fun. On one hand Darwin is quite self-sufficient, yet you’re correct, it is a bit of responsibility. We need to make sure he has all the necessary components so that he can at least be safe! I think maybe I miss his company this time of year when he’s inactive, and perhaps that is what creates the concern. I definitely notice when he’s not wandering around the garden. :-)

  3. LOL! Get knitting Debra – those cosies are so cute! Glad to hear Darwin is keeping warm though, even without a woolly jacket. I had no idea that a tortoise could weigh that much. Is he very old?

    • Darwin is only six years old, but is expected to live up to 100, and weigh up to 200 pounds! Really! And he grows steadily, so although I may not see him reach 100–ahem!–I could still see him quite a bit larger. Then I won’t need to knit him a thing…I’ll just give him one of my sweaters. LOL!

  4. Correct me if I’m wrong, but does this tortoise not come from the desert areas in North Africa?? round the Sahara desert? I would think it never gets cold there… however I have seen them in our desert areas specially in the Kalahari, where it does get cold in the evenings during winter… wonder what they do in nature..???

    • As far as I have learned, Rob, I do believe the Sulcatas did originally come from Northern Africa. So it’s interesting to me to hear that you have seen them in the Kalahari. I would love to know what they do in the wild. He can dig! So perhaps they dig themselves into the sand and under brush. I think it’s possible that we “over do it” when it comes to his creature comforts, but we were told the heat lamp was a necessity, and that’s the least we can do for him. :-)

      • I talked to some one down here and am told that it is found in the Kalahari and it actually digs a hollow where it over nights… daily temps even in the height of winter are still high only the nights cool off… so it burrows is what I’m told…

      • Thank you for the added info, Rob. I can easily picture the tortoises burrowing. When Darwin was younger and we kept him more confined, he’d dig such deep burrows we were afraid we couldn’t get him out. So I know that now his size would give him a lot of power to dig. Animals and their instinct to survive just fascinates me. :-) Thank you!

  5. Sounds like a pretty cool life to me – sunbathing under my own lamp, sleeping in the hay, stolling in the park and being fed on demand. Replace the lettuce with chocolate cake, knit me a onesie and I’ll take over from Darwin the next time he escapes down the road!

    • Hahaha! Yes, indeed! Darwin does have a good life. I haven’t seen him stressing about how to get all the Christmas gifts wrapped in time–or how to pay for them. LOL! Now that I think of it, I probably do obsess a little too much about his comforts. He’s a VERY fortunate reptile. Thank you for reminding me. :-)

  6. Crocheting’s really not that hard; just one hook and one stitch and one basic beanie pattern will get you a turtle coat. It’s the imagination the entrepreneur put into her designs, though, that makes them special. Won’t the neighbours delight in seeing your Land Shark waddle by next time Darwin decides to take a stroll! Thanks for the smile.

  7. Darwin is one very cool guy! And I totally understand your fears for respiratory disease. Reptiles who get respiratory infections are hard to treat and often it is difficult to find a vet who has knowledge sufficient to help. I got a great kick out of the tortoise cozies! My favorites are the shark and the crab. Darwin just might like traveling around “incognito” and stray farther away.

    • I can just imagine what my neighbors would say if I dressed Darwin in one of those outfits! LOL! Yet it’s tempting, if for nothing more than the photo opportunities! :-) He is a fascinating fellow! On the occasions when we can sit and really watch him throughout the day we realize how self sufficient he is, and how he does seem to know how to care for himself. There is a local chapter of a Tortoise Society I have been thinking of joining just to make contacts and learn a bit more. I’ll have to see if I can fit that in this coming year. Thank you for stopping by and giving Darwin a little attention. :-)

    • Yes, Kate! Darwin is really heavy. I haven’t actually weighed him, so it’s an estimate. He isn’t unusually large, but his shell is very heavy. And he’s growing all the time. :-) And no…I won’t get graphic, but you REALLY don’t want him walking around your house either. LOL!

  8. OMP (oh my pig!) A tortoise suit would be ultra cool for Darwin. I often think about my friend. It would be cool if we were closer. I would definitely keep him occupied. We could snuggle together so you wouldn’t have to worry about him in the winter my friend. XOXO – Bacon

  9. Good news is that you don’t get cold very often or for very long. Cheers to his hearty instincts …. and his caregiving mom.

    Hey … Holiday bash on Saturday … and I invite your readers to come along with you!

    • You’re right about the cold, Frank. Weeks like we just “endured” are rare…it’s a good thing! I would need a whole new wardrobe myself–let alone the pets! :-) I’m hoping I can come by your party early in the day before we take off for a long day away from home. You are ambitious to host an event so close to Christmas! Wasn’t it last year at this time that you were Freshly Pressed and suddenly had hundreds of comments to moderate? hahaha! Talk about timing! I’ll look forward to seeing you then. :-)

  10. I wondered about Darwin when I heard about the cold snap you’d been having. Very glad to know he’s okay, though with you in his life, he would have to be. You take such good care of your animals (and your people, for that matter.) I love the picture of Darwin and Zena together.

    • Thank you, Andra, for acknowledging our caregiving! Fortunately, except for the recent cold spell I haven’t had to worry much about Darwin’s habitat. I do constantly monitor his escape attempts! That’s a certain challenge. The weather has returned to more moderate, which helps. In fact, yesterday our city was listed as the warmest temp in the nation. Darwin was happy (and so was I! ) As long as we don’t dip below 30 I think he’s okay, but I will always fret about him just a little. I have to watch him carefully since his language skills aren’t very well developed. :-)

  11. I love it when you write about Darwin. I didn’t realise he’s so big. I love how he knows to return to his house at the end of the day. Funny how in the cold weather he just disappears inside his shell until it passes – how handy! xx

    • Thank you, Charlie. You have always indicated that he interests you, and I appreciate that. Can you imagine how much fun it would be to take photos of him wearing a sweater coat? LOL! I am a little tempted. If the weather is constant, especially in the warmer months, he is like clockwork. He’ll come out around 10 and go back in by 4. He has a whole routine of where he likes to walk and then before it gets too cool, he heads home. I think that instinct is just an amazing thing to witness! :-)

  12. I’m glad to hear Darwin is handling the cold snap well, with a lot of help from his loved ones. Those shell suits are hysterical! I wonder if he needs to have some food buried underneath the hay with him so he won’t get overly hungry? It’s great that you can read his signals! :)

    • I think we probably worry over Darwin more than we really need to, but truthfully, I don’t know that we would have a clear signal if he was too cold or having any difficulties. He goes “deep” into his shell, and I imagine that’s one way he’s keeping warm, but when he doesn’t come out for a couple of days I fret a bit! He will eat the timothy hay if he gets too hungry, and in fact, he shouldn’t eat so much produce. We keep being reminded that in the wild he’d eat only grasses. I haven’t rule out knitting him something at some point, but not for warmth! The photos I could take are tempting me in that direction! :-)

  13. Darwin would look oh so handsome in a cozie, Just think how easy he would be able to spot when he goes visiting the neighbors. :) All kidding aside, I know you must worry about him when your weather turns cold.

    • I can’t imagine trying to dress, Darwin, although it’s quite tempting to try. Oh the photo opportunities! LOL! Our temperatures last week were unusually low, and that’s when I worried a bit. I am sure he’s hardier than I understand, but I operate under the very unscientific notion that “If I’m cold, he must be cold!” I did want to bring him in the house and my husband was not thrilled with that idea. So we added more hay instead. :-)

    • Thank you so much for sharing my interest in Darwin. He’s quite remarkable! I don’t really know how he experiences the cold! That’s part of my concern, simply because I know he needs to be warm, but how warm? He seems to know how to burrow if he gets too uncomfortable, so we are good about giving him the hay and the heat lamp doesn’t go off at all this time of year. His skin is very thick so I don’t think his feet get cold…but again, how do we know? I think he’s probably hardier than we know! :-)

    • Aren’t those outfits just the funniest things? I had to laugh! This is not his best time of year, but he seems to know how to take care of his own needs as long as we give him a few necessary supplies! He’s a funny guy, that’s for sure. :-)

  14. What a sigh of relief to find Darwin out and about. Love the sprigs of Timothy hay on him, Debra, and he looks quite determined there with Zena. I love that first picture. I can see Darwin just getting ready to munch. Not so sure about that knitted tea, or turtle, cozy. tee hee

    • My cousin sent me the link to the costuming, Penny, and I really had to laugh. I can’t imagine trying to dress him, quite frankly! I wasn’t exaggerating my concern for him. I think we probably fuss more than we need to, but truthfully I’m unclear about how much cold he can tolerate and for how long. I’m sure it isn’t dangerously cold for him, but he occasionally gets “lost” in the yard and I can’t find him, and it’s then I grow concerned–away from his heat lamp! And it’s really nice that Zena is interested, but not at all aggressive. They do well together! :-)

    • We are simply fascinated watching Darwin head for home when the afternoon sun begins to lower! The first time he returned to his “nest” after a day of wandering about we were so surprised. We had no idea he would be that independent, but his instinct for home (and survival) is very strong. It’s a wonder to me!

  15. Gosh, Debra! I’d no idea that Darwin tipped the scales at 50#. That’s a lot of turtle! ANy idea how large he could grow? To put it another way, have you seen the tortoises of the Galapagos Islands? :)
    I think Darwin, like Zena, adopted the right family. Both lead charmed lives because of it.

    • I haven’t actually weighed him, John, but that’s my estimate. If all goes “well” for him, he could reach up to 200 pounds. That’s right…of course, he is destined to outlive me, which becomes quite the topic around the old dinner table with the kids. LOL! He doesn’t appear as large as he is simply heavy. The shell itself must weigh quite a bit. I never miss an opportunity, though, to visit places where these African Spurred Tortoises are exhibited, not just to see what I’m “in for” but also to see how it is other’s care for them. As we talk about possible downsizing, we have our own version of the elephant in the room! Thanks for the nice comment about the animals being well cared for. We’ve been lucky with fairly easy animals. :-)

  16. Darwin visiting his garden friend cracked me up. It took me a half second to figure out which was real. In my defense, I’m overly tired though. :-)
    The cozies are awesome Debra. Please take up knitting ASAP. :-)

  17. Reading this warmed my heart. Darwin is in good hands with you, but, at the same time I too would be concerned if a pet’s health can be compromised because of cold weather. We also have had freezing weather which is rare in our side of the fence. Thank God, both Phil and I have heavy jackets from our East Coast days so were better prepared for the freezing cold. I don’t like the cold, can’t wait for spring and summer.

  18. Absolutely loved the post. While living in Midland Texas we became the turtle people…..we managed to become caretakers to a bunch of Box Turtles – (The western box turtle (Terrapene ornata)) – they seem to have individual personalities….Our favorite was one we nicknamed speedy. He was about the size of a quarter when we found him. At maturity they aren’t much longer than 5 inches. Speedy turned out to be a male. When the back door opened he would come flying across the yard to greet us and crane his neck to see what treat we had for him. He loved BBQ chicken! When he became sexually mature he would chase the several females we had all over the yard. It was hilarious. My wife took an amazing photo of him, post coitus, standing almost vertical with his head lolling off to one side, eyes closed. Then he fell over sideways like he was asleep. Keep the Darwin stories coming…..love them

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