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Do All Turtles Have Hard Shells? By Elaine A. Powers, Author

Do all turtles have hard shells?  No, they don’t. Some have “soft” shells.

A Florida softshell turtle (Apalone ferox) swimming near the surface of a body of freshwaterPictured here is a Florida softshell turtle (Apalone ferox), native to the southeastern United States. This large turtle has a flat, pancake-like body, webbed feet, and a long neck which ends in a long head with a long nose. I looked across the lagoon to see several heads, but just the eyes and snouts above water.

In my book, Don’t Call Me Turtle, I describe turtles and tortoises having scutes, the individual panels of their hard shells. However, the softshell turtle’s carapace (the top shell) is cartilaginous, covered with a leathery skin. This the largest softshell turtle found in Florida, but more interestingly is that the females are often three-to-five times larger than the males!

Softshells spend most of their time in the water and can be found in freshwater and brackish environments, but they don’t like fast-moving water. They also enjoy burying themselves in the muddy substrate. There’s nothing quite as enjoyable as sinking one’s self into mud.

Even though they are omnivores, these turtles are significant predators in their ecosystems, feeding primarily on meat. The lagoon where I enjoy viewing the softshell turtles also has alligators. So, when ducklings were being eaten, the gators were blamed, of course. Usually softshell turtles eat small aquatic animals and insects, but now and then, ducks are on their menu. It’s not always the gators!

A children's book cover, green with a tortoise standing, coming out of a circle, finger pointed, saying Don't Call Me Turtle

Don’t Call Me Turtle is a fun children’s book written in rhyme that tells the differences between turtles and tortoises–and there are LOTS of differences!

For those parents, teachers and tutors using educational supplements, Lyric Power Publishing offers high quality workbooks on turtles and tortoises, for lower and upper grades.

A light blue book cover with images of freshwater turtle and green sea turtlea green book cover with an image of freshwater turtlesa white and blue book cover with an image of a desert tortoise

a yellow and green book cover with an image of a desert tortoise

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I Grew Up with Snakes! I Can’t Help It! By Elaine A. Powers, Author

You might have noticed that most of my books involve reptiles. I am a biologist by profession, and I particularly like reptiles. My brother was allergic to fur, so growing up we had snakes. This was back in the days when television sets were always warm, so the snake’s tank sat on top.  The snakes were part of the family, being cuddled as we watched TV shows at night. I consider my current reptiles to be family members. They provide an endless source of inspiration for my writing.

image of a gray Sonoran Desert Tortoise on grass
Zoe, a Sonoran Desert Tortoise

When I was looking for a house in Tucson, the disclosure sheet listed an abundance of lizards. I don’t think they intended for this statement to be a selling point, but it was. All reptiles are welcome. In this post, I’d like to tell you about the Sonoran Desert Tortoise.

Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai) The scientific name honors Joseph Morafka for his work with tortoises.

This tortoise has adapted to the extreme environment of the Sonoran Desert. The tortoise has powerful limbs covered with thick scaly skin for digging underground burrows, where it spends much of its time. It eats a wide variety of plants, including many that are indigestible to other animals. It feeds most actively during the monsoon season, and is dormant much of the rest of the year. The tortoise stores water in its bladder, allowing it to go up to a year without drinking.

Like other reptiles, as a defense mechanism, the tortoise will empty its bladder to discourage a predator. Unfortunately, this can deplete its water supply and result in death during a drought. For this reason, it is important to never pick up or interfere with a Desert Tortoise. The gravest danger to Desert Tortoises is human-caused mortality.

I have one of these awesome tortoises, Zoe, pictured here, who joined my home through the Tortoise Adoption Program, sanctioned by the Arizona Game and Fish Department. This program assists in the proper care of captive Desert Tortoises by qualified custodians, and since they have been in captivity, they can never be released.  Their behavior has been altered and they might expose other tortoises to diseases not known in the wild.

I had to have my yard approved to participate in this program. Did I have sufficient food, a proper hibernation den, any dogs that could be predators, enough vegetation to provide shade, as well as basking places in full sun, and would the tortoise be kept away from the pool?

I am honored to be allowed to foster Zoe.

Note: Elaine a. Powers became an author after contact with Curtis, the Curly-tail lizard in the Bahamas. Her first book was inspired by Curtis and is an adventure called, Curtis Curly-tail and the Ship of Sneakers.  And though Myrtle, a Redfoot tortoise is neither a turtle nor a desert tortoise, Myrtle asked Elaine to write about the differences between turtles and tortoises. So, Elaine did, in a fun book written in rhyme, beloved by young children. It is called Don’t Call Me Turtle!

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My Interior Decorator is a Tortoise! by Elaine A Powers Author

Because tortoises are free-roamers, they help with designing interior décor. Their specialty seems to be rearranging.

My desk chair is on wheels, a very practical design for me.  However, sometimes I’m typing on my laptop when I feel the chair moving away from the table.  Myrtle Red-foot Tortoise has put her head underneath the wheel frame and is pushing. She’s strong enough to move the chair with me on it! If I’m not sitting on the chair, I see it moving across the room.

A Red-foot tortoise pushing a desk chair on wheels away from table
Myrtle Red-foot tortoise can push my wheeled chair even when I’m in it!

And it’s not just my chair that moves. The iguana enclosure in the front room is also on wheels. I find Calliope rolled across the room.  She probably enjoys the change of scenery.

The red-foots are reasonably sized tortoises. Sulcata or African spur-thighed tortoises (Geochelone sulcate) like Duke tend to fall on the large side of the scale.  He’s currently 120+ lbs. The impressive spurs on Duke’s forearms are used for protection, but also for digging through hard ground to create underground dens. Those spurs are also very effective in digging through dry wall, doors, and pretty much anything he wants to get through. Sulcatas can dig dens that are 30 feet long and 20 feet deep.

Looking down at a 120 lb Sulcata Tortoise that takes up the whole bathtub
Duke is so big (over 120 lbs), he takes up the whole tub!

Duke lives in the reptile room along with iguanas housed in wire enclosures.  I have put the enclosures on wheels so Duke can roll them around as opposed to knocking them over. People wonder why the stuff in the room is arranged as it is – because that’s the way Duke wants it.  He has created his own den areas and even cleared a basking spot.

A silver-colored metal plate is installed across the bottom of a red-brown wooden door (to keep a Sulcata tortoise from digging through the door)
Metal panel placed across bottom of door. So far, Duke hasn’t dug through it.

I love the adventures (and the occasional mystery or two!) and wouldn’t have it any other way.

LPP NOTE: Because Myrtle’s name rhymes with turtle, she was often called Myrtle the Turtle. One day, she asked Elaine to write a book about the difference between turtles and tortoises. The result is a favorite rhyming book of little ones, Don’t Call Me Turtle! Did you know there are at least ten differences between them?

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Trevor, the Amazing, Climbing Box Turtle! by Elaine A. Powers, Author

A box turtle, climbing onto a box, stuffed between a glass door and a screen door
Trevor, between the doors. The box was supposed to stop him from doing this…

When we think about turtles, like box turtles, we think about an animal that spends his days roaming around on the ground, stumbling over low rocks and debris. However, I have found male box turtles, at least my box turtle, Trevor, to be a daredevil. Trevor had been moved from family to family to family—until someone decided that Trevor should have a forever home and he came to live with me.  I contacted the State and was told he should never be released into the wild because, having been in captivity so long, he could introduce new diseases.

Trevor became an interesting family member. Back East, he loved going out on the lawn. He would wait until I wasn’t watching, then make a break for it. Fortunately, he has short little legs and I could outrun him, but he could be quite quick. He liked leaping off stairs and in one case, a balcony. Soft landings and maybe a guardian angel allowed him to survive. He wasn’t injured, not even a chipped shell. Trevor must tour, even if it means stepping off an edge!

Then there was the day I looked for Trevor all around the house and couldn’t find him. I looked under and behind every piece of furniture and in every corner, and checked that all doors were closed, but no Trevor. Where could he be? I went into my sunroom again, where I often find Trevor. I heard a scraping sound, coming from the ceiling. There he was! Trevor had climbed up the screen door, bracing his back against the sliding glass door, until he reached the top.

A door is opened, to a screen door, with a Box Turtle climbing up the screen
Here the Amazing Trevor is attempting to climb the screen without the glass door as a support.

Trevor continues this behavior in my Arizona house. Here are some photos of Trevor climbing up the screen door. The mixer box was supposed to keep him out of there. Didn’t work.

Below, Rose wanted to join in the fun, but she didn’t fit.

So, when looking for your box turtle, be sure to look up!

a turtle on abox inside a narrow space between two doors, with a tortoise that is too big, trying to squeeze into the space
Rose, a red-foot tortoise, wants to play but can’t quite fit in the space!

Elaine A. Powers is the author of the fun, rhyming, science-based books about critters called the “Don’t Series.” In Don’t Call Me Turtle, she explains how to tell the difference between tortoises and turtles.

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“Leave Me Alone or I’ll Pee on You,” says Tortoise! By Elaine A. Powers, Author

Why do tortoises pee, you may ask? Besides the usual elimination of body wastes, tortoises use urination as a method of defense.  When a predator grabs hold of a tortoise, she has two defenses. 

Background is the desert, browns, tans, yellows. The face and front legs of a Desert Tortoise, with its shell.
A Desert Tortoise stores the water it needs in its bladder through the dry seasons.

First, she can pull her limbs and tail up against her hard shell so there’s nothing to grab. The outer skin of the limbs is thick and tough, resistant to bites.

The second defensive action is peeing.  The tortoise stores water in her bladder. When she is picked up, she will empty her bladder, leaving the foul liquid on the predator.  The intent is for the predator to release the tortoise so she can make her escape.

This defensive urination is common throughout the tortoise family and it works well for those that live in areas with access to water.  However, for the Desert Tortoise, losing the water in their bladders can be a death sentence. Tortoises need water to survive like the rest of us.  During the rainy seasons, they drink and fill up the bladders enough to last them during the dry times. 

Unfortunately, if a Desert Tortoise uses its stored water when threatened, it may die of dehydration before the rains return. So, please, never harass or pick up a desert tortoise unless absolutely necessary to save its life. Then release it as fast as you can.

Remember the danger for the Desert Tortoise: Save a life. Don’t cause strife.

Elaine A. Powers is the author of Don’t Call Me Turtle! It is a fun-facts book about the differences between tortoises and turtles. The book is written in rhyme so kids–young and old alike–have a lot of fun reading it.
Don’t Call Me Turtle is part of the “Don’t” Series, which includes Don’t Make Me Fly and Don’t Make Me Rattle, all three wonderfully illustrated.

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Elaine A. Powers and Myrtle–NOT a Turtle!

Myrtle, a TORTOISE, lives with Elaine and when Myrtle grew tired of everyone calling her Myrtle the Turtle, one day she asked Elaine to write a book about the differences between tortoises and turtles. Of course, Elaine said yes. (She and Myrtle are best buds.) Here Elaine is pictured reading Myrtle’s book TO Myrtle.

It turned out it’s not just tortoises who love the book–kids do, too. Don’t Call Me Turtle! has fans across America, with little ones telling grownups, “DON’T call him turtle! He’s a TORTOISE!”

A woman reading a book about tortoises to a tortoise.
Elaine A. Powers and Myrtle–NOT a turtle, but a tortoise.