Tuesday, July 5, 2016

This Tortoise is Full of Surprises!

The other afternoon, I went outside to see if Pistachio was in or out of his burrow - if he's out, I don't run the sprinkler, but if he's in - I feel free to do so.  (Blueberry opted to stay inside because she's lazy I had treats on the counter and she needed to guard them.)  I saw Pistachio inside his burrow, looking out.  To my surprise, when I looked down, there was a cat on the other side of the gate, lying there in the shade (like she owned the place) and staring right at Pistachio!  I let out a small gasp and the cat looked at me.  I calmly stated, "You need to think about leaving now.", and it took off.  I'm not sure if this cat is friend or foe to Pistachio.  It didn't seem to be hunting him, just kind of hanging out with him.  

I then turned on the sprinkler to the side of the enclosure and went back inside.

I was a little paranoid about the cat coming back and possibly harassing Pistachio - so about an hour later, I looked out the window and I didn't see a cat, but I did see the thermometer that is normally inside the burrow had relocated underneath the tree. Seemed odd.  So I went outside to check things out more fully and what should I see?  Pistachio emerging from the side of his enclosure that was being watered - he was soaked!  He had purposely walked into the sprinkler to cool off!  

It was so funny - I can't even get Blueberry to go into the sprinkler in the summer unless I throw treats in it.  I have since googled this phenomenon and learned that a lot of captive desert tortoises enjoy the sprinkler in the summer - mostly when there is cloud cover.  In the wild, they will wait for the monsoon rains - so the sprinkler is the captive desert tortoise's monsoon until the real monsoon arrives.  

Some people may be of the opinion that tortoises are boring - but I disagree.  They have personalities and likes and dislikes like any other critter and I am always learning new things about Pistachio. His going into the sprinkler definitely showed me his fun side.  

Maybe one of these days I will be able to get some video footage of him actually in the sprinkler.  I wonder if he dances around or just calmly stands there and lets the water rain down on him...

"That water was so refreshing."

He had a little dirt on his back from digging in his burrow that turned to mud.  I was able to wipe some of it off.

I think Pistachio was in the middle of the Hokey Pokey when I took this picture.

"What is with you taking my picture every time I am out of my burrow?  You have a sickness, human."

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Blueberry's Bird Injury Update

Blueberry's wound is infected.  The vet cleaned it up and gave her some oral and topical antibiotics for the next 10 days.  The vet seemed somewhat amused and surprised that Blueberry caught a wild bird and it managed to get a peck in - she said that would have been interesting to witness.  (It's really too bad I don't have a video camera going outside for situations like this.)

I really love that vet and vet office.  They were great with Blueberry, as always.  She doesn't love being there, but she is pretty calm about everything she has to endure and she loves it when they shower her with treats.  

One of the things I was concerned about was the drive to and from the vet office.  It's about a 20-30 minute drive each way and it takes the a/c a while to cool down the vehicle and it is HOT out there.  To keep B comfortable, I brought along her cooling mat as well as a towel I soaked in water. Both worked really well!

I also discussed anti-anxiety medication for B for the upcoming 4th of July holiday fireworks.  We are going to try her out on Trazadone and see if that helps take the edge off.  Despite trying some non-med things in the past, B's anxiety has actually increased. So, we'll see if it works.  I will keep everyone posted.  

"Can we go yet?"

"I still think steak would be better to put on my wound than ointment."

"While the vet was examining my wound, a piece of scab fell off .  So... I ate it.  If you can't get steak, sometimes "beef jerky" is the next best thing."

"Hahahaha - beef jerky!"


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

It's All Fun and Games, Til Someone Gets Pecked

I came home from my first day back at work in 2 and a half weeks. Blueberry seemed a little put off with my having left her for so long (she got used to having me home).  She went outside for longer than was usual for her.  When she came back in, I saw what I thought was a pretty big eye booger.  (In retrospect, I may need to update my eyeglass prescription.)

I used my hand to try and clean it off and my fingers came away smeared with blood.  Yikes!  I cleaned off the blood and wondered what had happened.  It was a small wound near her eye and I thought maybe she ran into a loose nail on the wall and I would go outside later to try and locate the offending nail.  (Even though B doesn't make a habit of running into walls, nor do I make a habit of letting nails hang out where she can catch herself on them, at the time, this made sense to me.)

As I walked through the yard, my investigation turned up not a nail, but a bird.  A dead bird.  Sharp beak pointed at the sky.  I made the connection.  It was a great tailed grackle - brown - which means it was a she.  She must have had enough fight in her to poke Blueberry right under her eye.  I am thankful it wasn't Blueberry's eyeball.

I didn't think much more of the wound - I figured it would heal on its own and since it had stopped bleeding, a trip to the vet didn't seem necessary.

A week later, the wound seems more swollen and doesn't look great.  So, off to the vet we will go.  I may be overreacting - but I don't really want to be responsible for Blueberry losing an eye and having to wear an eyepatch or glass eye for the rest of her life.  

I did google eye injuries caused by birds to dogs - but disturbingly, I could only find pictures of people that had had birds peck them in their eyes and also a couple of sites that contained disturbing stories of birds pecking dogs to death.  Most of the other things that popped up were dogs that injured birds.  

Image from https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Great-tailed_Grackle/id
This is the type of bird that B tangled with.  Check out that pointy beak!  

"Poor me.  I think you should place a steak on my eye to help with the swelling.  Then later, I can eat it."

"I'm not getting a steak, am I?"

"That birdy hurt me.  But I deaded him, so we are even."

Monday, June 27, 2016

Pistachio: Heat Warning Edition

For those of you that attended the BlogPaws event that took place in Arizona this year (what were they thinking?), you are probably aware of how hot it can get here.  We had several heat warning days over the past couple of weeks.  For humans and usually their dogs, there is always the luxury of air conditioned buildings to ride out the heat waves.  For desert tortoises, though, it is a different story - they live outside.  For wild tortoises, they spend most of their time in underground burrows they dig.  For captive tortoises, they have to rely on puny humans to do the best they can in creating a burrow for them that is habitable for summer and winter.  Keeping a desert tortoise indoors is not a viable option.  They need to be outside.  

Out of all the online articles (from vets as well as Arizona Game and Fish) - they all agree that a desert tortoise burrow's temperature should not exceed 90 degrees lest the tortoise suffer brain damage. This is not "haha- brain damage".  This is serious and can cause odd behavior in a tortoise.  I keep a gauge inside the burrow to monitor the temperature.  It is typically under 90 degrees - mostly around the 85 degree mark.

However, when our temps hit 118+, his burrow came dangerously close to going over 90 - at least in the middle portion of it. Pistachio has been working on his "basement" for more than a few weeks and it is entirely possible that the sublevel he created was markedly cooler.  As I wasn't 100% sure, I thought it best to take some action to lower the temperature of the rest of the burrow.  I hadn't seen Pistachio for a few days and while I know they can go into estivation (like hibernation, only it occurs in the summer) - I was still concerned enough to know I had to do something.

I was praying about it and thankfully, a solution presented itself.  I would place bottles of frozen water inside the enclosure and partially close off one side with styrofoam to allow the coolness of the bottled ice to lower the burrow temperature.  The styrofoam was tied down, but Pistachio would still be able to bump it out of the way if he wanted.  

Since I was out of work during this time for my medical recovery, I was able to determine that the bottled ice water and styrofoam were working very well.  The temperature dropped down to around 82 degrees.  I had to change the bottles out every 4-5 hours, but around the second time I changed them out - who should pop his head up from the basement but Pistachio himself!  

So, bottom line is - Operation Frozen Water has been successful so far.  I don't want to have to do this next summer, so when the fall hits, I will be planting some ornamental grasses and shrubs close to the burrow to keep the temperatures down.  The burrow faces north, but the sun beats on one corner of late in the afternoon which is what causes the inside temperature to rise.  

"Nomnomnom, grass..."

"Hello, human, please rub my head.  I know Blueberry is watching from the other side of that gate and it will drive her crazy.  Hehehehe."

I put a bottle to the left and right on the inside of the burrow so Pistachio is still able to come out if he chooses.  Sometimes his shell will bump one or both bottles out of the burrow.  This doesn't bother me as I can track whether or not he's been outside for the day or not.  

The string coming out of the burrow is attached to the temp gauge.  I had to add the string because Pistachio has a tendency to drag the gauge down into his basement with him and it is quite the chore to try and get it out.  I do the same thing with the bottles.

"Thank you for the ice bottles."

"Must eat fast before sun comes out again."

"Stop taking my picture so I can eat in peace."

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

When a Cactus Attacks

It's been a while since I have taken Blueberry into the desert for a walk.  Last night was our first sunset hike in a loooong time.  It was really nice out.  It would have been nicer if B hadn't of finished pooping and then stepped right onto a cholla.  I dropped poo bags, foolishly tried to grab the cholla chunk with my hand and ended up with spines in my fingers.  I tossed my backpack to the ground, all the while telling B to relax and not try to grab the cholla out of her paw with her mouth.  The fact that she listened is a miracle (thank you, Jesus!).  I finally located my pliers, yanked my spines out real quick (I needed two good hands to help B with hers) and then proceeded to remove the spines from B's back paw.  
Pain free, I was able to then pick up the poop and quickly step off to the side of the trail to let some other hikers pass.  I am fairly certain they didn't notice our little drama playing out.  Needless to say, I am a little rusty with desert hiking protocol, but hopefully after my surgery, I will pick it back up again in no time!  

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Did you know...

First off, I apologize for a repeat photo - Pistachio is difficult to get on film.  Not because he is fast...that's just silly.  It is because he takes a lot of naps in his burrow and I usually only see him on weekends, and there's no guarantee of that either. 

Did you know?

  • Tortoises frequently eliminate in their burrows.  Yes, that means that Pistachio's bedtime buddies are his own turds. I have to peek out my window to see if he is out of his burrow and if he is, I race outside to clean up his burrow before he takes yet another nap.  (It should be noted that Blueberry knows when I am scraping his poop up and she waits expectantly outside the gate.  Is it wrong that I usually throw at least one turd her way?  Would it help if I told you it is the one treat she savors?  She settles herself slowly into the grass, holds the turd between her paws, gives it a good sniff and then chews it oh-so-slowly.  Technically, it is a vegetable.)  
  • A wasp or bee tried to build a nest inside Pistachio's burrow. Thankfully, I have a thermometer inside the burrow that I check each afternoon to make sure the temp inside the burrow doesn't go over 90 (it's been holding steady at around 78-82 degrees).  It was just one honeycomb thing with a few eggs inside.  I crushed it and the eggs.  Take that.  
  • I have read that sometimes mice, black widows, and other critters will often take up residence in tortoise burrows too.  I didn't sign up for that!  
  • I had a break through with Pistachio.  For the first time since I've had him, he willingly approached me AND ate some plant leaves out of my hand!  In the past, I had to gently lob plants his way and then step back a minimum of 10 feet, after which he would wait a few minutes before approaching the food and eating it.  Progress!  There's something super neat about getting a tortoise to eat from your hand.  
  • Some tortoises have been known to eat dog poop.  This is not an experiment I am willing to conduct.  Although, I have to admit it would be pretty convenient to have Blueberry and Pistachio together in the same yard, cleaning up after each other.  I'd never have to pick up my yard again!  

"So...what I'm hearing is, it's okay to sleep in one's own waste...interesting...very interesting..." 

Monday, May 9, 2016

Fun Facts About Pistachio

 I have quite a bit of knowledge of captive desert tortoise care from reading up on it prior to adopting Pistachio (definitely not an expert though).  I even had to do a little research to find a vet specializing in tortoises should he have any ailments that creep up - they are susceptible to upper respitoratory issues if kept in conditions that are too damp.  

There's a LOT of stuff about them I didn't know and while they aren't high maintenance, they still require a good bit of work to care for properly.  It took me about 5 weekends just to build his burrow; another 3 weekends to fix up his fence enclosure so a certain dog can't get to him.  I did consider letting him be in the same yard with Blueberry, but apparently, there are one to many cases where people have allowed their dogs to co-exist in the same yard with a tortoise and the dog never  bothers the tortoise "until one day...".  I don't want to risk that so they are separated and Blueberry can smell him and hear him and is VERY interested in what is on the other side of the fence, but I see no reason to let her meet him.  

He smells his food before he eats it.  He's pretty particular about what plants he will eat.  His shell is a little cracked due to a predator encounter he must have had before he was rescued and the shape of his shell indicates he wasn't being fed properly. Desert tortoises require desert plants - not lettuce, dog food, "special tortoise food" you may find in a pet supply store, not fruit - there's actually a long list of foods they can't have.  The list of desert plants they enjoy is even longer and is a much better diet for them.

Desert tortoises are solitary creatures.  Pistachio has taken a while to warm up to me, but I think he is coming around.  As long as I don't make any sudden movements - which means as long as I move as slowly as he does, he's cool with me hanging out with him.  

"I wish I could meet Pistachio.  I really need to let the other dogs out there know once and for all if he tastes like a pistachio nut or not.  It's a matter of public interest."

Pistachio, and all desert tortoises, often hold their urine for up to a year.  If you find one in the wild and pick it up, it will frighten it enough that it will urinate, thus making you a tortoise murderer making it really important the tortoise find another water source soon, lest it should die from dehydration.  So the moral of this story is - don't pick up a wild desert tortoise unless absolutely necessary (for example, if it is in the middle of the road).

"There's no way I could hold my urine in for a year.  That's crazy."

Friday, April 22, 2016

Blueberry vs Pistachio

First, let me say how annoying Blogger is that I can't upload a video larger than 100mb.  LAME.  Okay, mini-rant over.  Now on to the fun stuff.

This is a very, very short video of Pistachio eating some plants I planted in an area outside of his enclosure for him.  I started them from seed outside of the enclosure to keep him from eating it all down to the roots once it sprouted (it was recommended I do this by the company I bought the seeds from).  Clearly, I didn't take into consideration Blueberry's love of newly sprouted things...


Not to be outdone, Blueberry demonstrates that she can not only eat desert plants meant for a tortoise, but she can do it 10 times faster.    


Also, she can roll onto her back with no problem.  Unlike Pistachio who requires assistance should he find himself on his back.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016


Pistachio's first day in his new home.

"I have yet to meet Pistachio.  But I have sampled his waste.  Delectable."

"I enjoy sunbathing, eating, and not being harassed by spotted dogs."

"These teeth were made for chewing, and that's just what they'll do.  And one of these days, Pistachio, I'm going to chew on you."