Rock, the Footless

2020 November 8

I was driving home through Atlantic Mine (the town two miles down the road)[1] on July 13, 2019, when I spotted a suspicious-looking rock in the middle of the road. Of course, it wasn’t a rock at all, but a moderate-sized painted turtle (Chrysemys picta). So I rescued him from being run over in traffic, and brought him home. Here he is in Sam’s hand:


He was pretty mellow about the whole experience, all things considered.


The thing is, while we were taking the pictures, something seemed kind of off about him, and then we realized: he was missing most of his front feet!


Looking closer, we can see that instead of the big claws that a painted turtle usually has, this one just had a couple of stumps. Poor fellow.


It is not quite clear what happened to his feet. While it is possible that they might have either been cut off in some sort of accident, or maybe lost to frostbite over one of the winters he lived through, I don’t think that’s it, because it seems unlikely to happen to both front feet. I think this was most likely actually a birth defect, especially since the right foot appears to have a single deformed claw rather than just having the claws completely missing. And if it was an injury, it happened so long ago that everything is completely healed.

So, Sam named him “Rock, the Footless”. We were unsure what the best thing was to do with him for a while. On the one hand, not having front claws seems like kind of a serious problem for a turtle living in the wild. But on the other hand, keeping wild animals in captivity isn’t necessarily a kindness to them, either.

Eventually, we decided that whatever happened to his feet happened a long time ago, and he managed to get this big in spite of it. In fact, he seemed in pretty good health otherwise. This implies that he was capable of looking after himself, and appeared able to overcome his handicap. So, I drove him down to the wetlands off of Green Acres Road, which is good turtle habitat, and let him go there. He quickly swam off into the lily pad patch and disappeared, so I expect he was OK.


Incidentally, that white bird off in the distance looks like a swan. We don’t normally see swans around here, so that was a bit unusual. I haven’t seen one around since.

[1] Our normal route to and from home used to be driving north down to canal road, but ever since the big flood on Father’s Day of 2018, the normal route has been washed out and impassible. So for the last couple of years, we’ve been detouring through Atlantic Mine. They’ve been re-doing the washed out part of our road all summer and fall, and hopefully it will be finished soon so that we can skip the detour by the time the snow starts getting serious.

2 Responses
  1. Carole permalink
    November 8, 2020

    I’ve been taught not to relocate turtles. Many have a territory and when relocated, they will search out ways back or just stop eating. Gopher tortoises in a relocation program must be fenced in for a time until they accept the new territory.

  2. November 9, 2020

    Unfortunately, I didn’t really have a choice on relocating him, because when I found him crossing the road he was not anywhere near a suitable body of water and had probably been travelling a long way, probably most of a mile (and the direction he was heading was going to land him in the county waste transfer station). The wetland I took him to was my best guess at a suitable habitat that wasn’t right next to a busy road.

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