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Never Say Scoot to a Scute! By Elaine A. Powers, Author

Some words are just fun.  One of my favorites is SCUTE. It’s pronounced like scoot.  Try saying is slow: scoooooot or fast: scutescutescute! Fun, right? I have turtles and tortoises to thank for introducing me to the word scute.

The word scute is from the Latin word scutum, which means “shield.”

The segments of the carapace, or hard-shell, of a tortoise are called scutes. Scutes are made of keratin, like your fingernails. They cover the bone of the turtle or tortoise, like our skin. I confess, I didn’t look closely at the scutes until I wrote my book, Don’t Call Me Turtle. I had discovered how turtles shed their scutes from my painted turtle, Tommy. But tortoises add material between the scutes, creating the appearance of tree rings.

I was surprised to find out that they all have the same number of scutes. Look at the photos below and you’ll see what I mean. A turtle is on the right and a tortoise is on the left.

looking down on the shell of a turtle
See the separate pieces, or scutes, of the shell of the turtle?
looking down at the shell of a tortoise
These are the scutes of the tortoise’s hardshell

 

How many scutes are there? The five scutes in the center are called vertebral scutes. Next to them are 8 costal scutes. Creating a fringe around the carapace are the 24 marginal scutes.

Okay, now that I’ve said all hard-shells have the same number of scutes, I have to mention the exceptions. Loggerhead and Ridley Sea Turtles have 10-12 costal scutes. They make room for the additional scutes by having an elongated carapace.

I hope you now appreciate scutes, not only as a fun-sounding word, but for the important purpose they play in the lives of turtles and tortoises.

To learn more about tortoises and turtles, please click on the books below. They are an economical, fun and interesting way to keep children happily occupied, while learning, during the hot days of summer.

a 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

A seafoam green book cover about seaturtles, with an image of a Green Sea Turtle

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

There are MANY differences between tortoises and turtles! That’s why Myrtle the Red-foot Tortoise asked me to write this book. It’s educational but written in rhyme and a lot of fun for both parents and kids.

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Why Does the Tortoise Go Out in the Rain? By Elaine A. Powers, Author

a tortoise on wet patio
Heading out to catch some rain drops!

It’s the start of monsoon season here in the Sonoran Desert. When the rain begins to fall, the tortoise comes out of her den. Why? Is it because she’s afraid the water will rush into her underground den and fill it up?

No, she comes out because it’s time to drink. The desert tortoise finds a depression in the ground where the water collects. Then she drinks and drinks and drinks until her bladder is full.

I’ve tried putting out dishes of water for my tortoise, but she won’t drink from a source where the water is still.  Sometimes, I pretend to be a storm and rain down water from my hose.

It’s a truly wonderful thing when it rains in the desert. We should all be more like the tortoise and go out and drink it in!

Here I am reading Don’t Call Me Turtle! to Myrtle.

If you’d like to know more about tortoises, check out my rhyming book, Don’t Call Me Turtle! My tortoise, Myrtle, asked me to write about the differences between turtles and tortoises because everyone kept calling her Myrtle the Turtle. She’d finally had enough! She likes her book a lot, perhaps just a smidge more than my young readers!

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

And check our our workbooks on tortoises and turtles at our Lyric Power Publishing Workbooks page. They are full of information, and have lots of fun activity sheets for kids (and adults like them, too, I’m told!) that help to pass the long summer days.

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

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That’s One Hot–I Mean, Cool–Den, Cantata! by Elaine A. Powers, Author

As I write this post, my Sulcata tortoise, Cantata, is digging herself a den in my yard. She’s quite an impressive digger. This got me thinking about reptiles and the digging of dens. Why did she work so hard today?

I live in Southern Arizona, where the temperatures can be quite hot and the humidity quite low.  It’s a dry heat! One reason she dug the den was to find a cooler area. As a reptile, an ectotherm, she depends on the environment to maintain her ideal body temperature. I have lots of vegetation, but their shade may not be enough to keep her cool. So she must dig into the ground.

Just as we build houses upwards for protection, reptiles also create domiciles. They, of course, can’t construct a dwelling, so they utilize what their environment offers. Instead of a roof for shade, they dig a hole.

Bushy backyard plant; can barely see a large sulcata tortoise under the bush, digging a hole in the groundHere Cantata is digging away underneath a bush.

She did pick a good place to dig.  The ground in the Sonoran Desert is like cement, but the area by the bush is a bit softer because I water those plants, so the digging might have been easier for her.  I know the ground squirrels like to dig in that area.

Large Sulcata tortoise in Southern Arizona den she has just dugThe finished product. One day’s work ends with a comfy den for a large tortoise. 

However, this is rather shallow den.  These tortoises can dig 10 feet down.  I don’t mind her using the bush, as long as she doesn’t dig under the patio, foundation or wall. Being a summer den, this den will barely cover Cantata.  For winter brumation, she would need a much deeper den.

Along with protection from excessive heat or lack of water, this den could provide protection from predators.  However, I don’t think Cantata has to worry too much about other animals. She a big, well armored tortoise.

A few days after Cantata established her new home, my Sonoran Desert Tortoise, Zoe, discovered Cantata’s lovely den.  She wanted it for her herself, but Cantata wouldn’t leave.  I suggested Cantata go dig herself another den, but she won’t. She likes this one. She had dug it a bit deeper with time.  Now every night, they both cram themselves into the same den. Fortunately, it’s big enough for both.  A smaller tortoise, Flipper, hangs around the opening. I think she wants to join in, but she is too small to compete.

A hole in the ground under a bush is a tortoise denA well-dug den is, apparently, in high demand.

To learn more about these wonderful creatures, please see the Lyric Power Publishing workbooks all about tortoises. All of our comprehensive workbooks are displayed here.

a 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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Are Tortoises Cats with Shells? by Elaine A. Powers, Author

Red-foot tortoise crawling into paper bag in kitchen
If only traversing this bag wasn’t so noisy, I could hide in here!

 

I often see photos of cats playing with paper bags and cardboard boxes. Domestic cats, and even tigers, playing with bags and boxes. These objects make great hiding places and objects for pouncing upon, perfect for solitary play. Feline aficionados claim that playing with paper stimulates cat brains.

So, do the attraction and benefits of bags and boxes prove true for tortoises, as well?  I keep a bag of paper bags beside my refrigerator.  This proves irresistible to my free-roaming tortoises.

They knock it over, crawl inside, pull the other bags out and slide them around the kitchen, having a great time for hours. However, their enjoyment of paper products is not limited to bags.  Boxes are also great fun.

Crawling into boxes can be a solo or a group activity. I have them placed in corners around my house so they don’t get bored with limited locations.  This also helps in preventing wall damage when they feel like digging a den.

Two red-foot tortoises trying to fit into a box on the kitchen floor
Hey, that’s my box!

 

I’d never thought my tortoises played before I put cardboard boxes on the floor. Now they spend their days romping in bags and boxes just like cats!

Publisher’s Note: Following are comprehensive supplemental workbooks for children , Pre-K thru 1st and 2nd-4th grade, all about tortoises. Keep summer boredom at bay with the many fun and interesting pages and projects inside our workbooks. Today is a good day to learn all about tortoises and help keep your children’s reading, vocabulary and math skills fresh.a yellow and green book cover with an image of a desert tortoise

 

a white and blue book cover with an image of a desert tortoise

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World Turtle Day is May 23, 2019 by Elaine A. Powers, Author

A red-foot tortoise, showing top of shell and head looking back at photographer
Myrtle, the red-foot tortoise, doesn’t actually mind World Turtle Day.  After all, she is officially a member of the turtle family–well, as long as we all remember her book, Don’t Call Me Turtle! If we call her a turtle, there may be a wee bit of a problem…

 

World Turtle Day was started in 2000 by the American Tortoise Rescue. You see, all hard-shelled reptiles, even if they are soft-shelled, are called turtles. Even if they are tortoises.  I don’t think that is fair personally. Neither does my red-foot tortoise, Myrtle, who insisted I write the book, Don’t Call Me Turtle after she got tired of being called a turtle–especially because her name is Myrtle!

The purpose of World Turtle Day is to educate people about their role in protecting the habitats of turtles and tortoises. Their shell protects them from the hazards of their natural world, but turtles and tortoises fare badly in interactions with people. From loss of habitat, being crushed crossing roads, caught in fishing nets and drowning, and being eaten, it’s a dangerous world for these gentle creatures.  Okay, maybe snapping turtles can fight back, but the others are pretty helpless. They need our assistance.

Help celebrate the joy that turtles and tortoises bring to people every day. Enrich your life with one of these amazing animals.

A children's book cover, green with a tortoise standing, coming out of a circle, finger pointed, saying Don't Call Me Turtle
Yup, that’s Myrtle posing on the cover of Don’t Call Me Turtle! Every once in a while, Myrtle asks the author to read the story to her. Again.

 

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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.