THE LIFE OF A TEENAGE TUR­TLE

Animal Scene - - SCALY SPECIAL -

Kaiju, as I had named her -- her, be­cause there was not much bulge on the cloa­cal vent -- grew steadily and on the sub­se­quent years was large enough to be fed larger food items. Rhi­noc­eros bee­tle lar­vae (Oryctes rhi­noc­eros), African land snails (Achatina fulica), and chicken heads were sta­ple food items, as well as the oc­ca­sional wa­ter let­tuce or quiapo (Pis­tia stra­tiotes).

The bite force was strong enough to eas­ily break snail shells and one af­ter­noon, a group of Mor­mon mis­sion­ar­ies passed by the house and asked to see the al­li­ga­tor snap­per, ob­vi­ously from a tip given by the neigh­bors. So, I fished Kaiju out and as I was ma­neu­ver­ing the tur­tle so the guests could get good pho­tos, the in­dig­nant tur­tle snapped side­ways and caught the base of my left thumb, which bled pro­fusely. That was the first and last ac­ci­dent I ever got from the tur­tle.

When I moved to my present lo­ca­tion I had her placed in a pond stocked with tilapia to keep mos­quito lar­vae and al­gae at bay, al­though as would be ex­pected, Kaiju sees the pest con­trol as her din­ner source. Nev­er­the­less, two tilapias born on the pond by one of the pre­vi­ous res­i­dents have man­aged to steer clear out of those mur­der­ous jaws.

Now on her 18th year, Kaiju has a 14-inch cara­pace and a length of roughly 25 inches from snout to tail in a rest­ing po­si­tion. The last time I lifted her out of the wa­ter was about two years ago, and I reckon she would be around 10 ki­los as of this writ­ing.

She has be­come an at­trac­tion to vis­i­tors, par­tic­u­larly to the first-timers who get kicks see­ing her be­ing fed with chicken heads -- and an even greater thrill when they get asked to feed the leviathan them­selves, us­ing ei­ther a pair of 12-inch tongs or for­ceps. She eats wa­ter let­tuce and Hy­drilla, too, but where’s the fun in feed­ing a mas­sive beast such plant matter from a pair of tongs?

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