The Life and Adventure of Mortimer T. Turtle Byrne

Isn't Mortimer T. Turtle Byrne handsome? He's a perfectly painted slider who's social and not camera shy. M.T.T.B. joined our family 26 years ago. And, he wasn't a baby then, when I bought him from a pet store on Kensington Avenue in Philadelphia.

I had wanted a pet that didn't take up much space in our small row home; something low maintenance that wouldn't die anytime soon. Mortimer started off in a 3 gallon sized tank on our kitchen table near a window. This put him at eye level for our 4-year-old daughter to see him.

Mortimer, even though not a baby turtle, continued to grow. Now he lives in a 40 gallon sized tank that, along with its stand, is larger than most pieces of our furniture. So much for low maintenance and not taking up much space.

We learned that if Mortimer is scared, he hisses and snaps. That was during the salmonella outbreak in New Jersey, so I had no worries about my little girls handling our pet turtle; he freaked them.

At that time, our family had moved from Philly to New Jersey. Mortimer had enjoyed swishing around his tiny tank in the U-haul next to my brother-in-law. As he drove the massive truck over the Tacony/Palmyra Bridge, my brother-in-law unknowingly smuggled a turtle which was illegal to own as a pet, while wondering, “What the hell?” was splashing at his elbow.

Mortimer's favorite pastime is climbing out of his tank. I worried he'd crack his shell falling from the rim of the tank. People have suggested I get a lid or covering for the tank. However, Mortimer is now so big and strong, that this would cause him more injury when he puts his shell's weight behind his clawed paws to remove anything sitting on top of his tank that can allow in oxygen. Remember, turtles don't breath under water and must surface for air about every three minutes.

During M. Byrne's longest excursion, I panicked, trepidatiously sniffing around the house. Surely after 3 weeks he'd died, being out of his watery habitat for that long and not being fed his daily ReptoMin floating food sticks. Our girls were optimistic that Morty didn't haunt the house as a passed away pet. I could tell by the way they continued to walk carefully around the house and kept their feet off the floor when watching TV or eating dinner.

Instead of a new smell, a new noise joined the usual sounds an old house makes. The girls mentioned hearing a thumping sound while doing their homework, but were afraid to investigate on their own. They were familiar with the sound Morty's shell made hitting the bottom of the bathtub as he tried climbing out while I cleaned his tank. As a busy mom of four, I wasn't in one place in the house long enough to hear the muted thumping.

I almost cried with joy when I found Mortimer while cleaning behind our entertainment unit. The bottom of the thing sat solid and flush with the floor and wall, but the back side of it was exposed above the surbase. The noise must have been him trying to scale the wall over the surbase to slip sideways through the narrow opening again to freedom. If Mortimer was a land turtle, with a higher shell, he couldn't have slid himself sideways between the unit and the wall above the surbase in the first place. Now that his body had dried, he had no more gription to hoist himself above the surbase.

Heaving the entertainment system away from the wall, I grabbed hold of him. I prayed as I checked his shell. No cracks, no seepage from cat nails or signs of dehydration. Morty was smart to hide where the cats couldn't get to him. And he was as perky as ever. Well, as perky as a turtle going into semi-hibernation can be. That's probably how he survived.

His lovely green and off-white striped body slows its metabolism in the cold months. He stops eating and is not as feisty as in the warmer months. He did snap at me with his sharp beak-like mouth when I removed the dust bunnies stuck to his face, taking off a layer of skin from my index finger as I pulled the fuzz away. This time he'd really gotten himself into a situation, and was a nervous wreck. I set him back in his tank to chill out, so glad he was safe.

We've tried several types of filters for his tank, trying to find one powerful enough to filter turtle water sufficiently; one that Morty can't climb on top of and tip himself over the side of the tank. The current filter seems the best because it can lay flat at the bottom of the tank. We've also limited the water level so Morty can't swim high enough to grab hold of the lip of the tank and flip out. The only piece of the new filter that is near the top of the tank is the cord running from the element at the bottom, out of the tank and down its outside wall to the electrical outlet.

Recently I've seen Mortimer with his gorgeous long claws on the cord. Could he be trying to use it as a rope? On another occasion, I saw his arm wrapped behind the cord. Now this may sound cartoonish, but Morty has had this filter for years. Maybe watching the TV series “Cosmos” has me thinking that, given enough time, Morty could evolve to once again climb out of his tank. And he has plenty of time. I'm thinking he'll outlive me. My granddaughter may be shopping for a cordless filter to keep him from jumping his tank in the future.



  1. I love Mortimer!!! I wonder when he climbs out if he isn't looking for a Mrs. Mortimer to keep him company. I laughed my head off reading this. He may well outlive you, because turtles have been known to live over 150 in the wild and longer in captivity

  2. I remember you telling me that, Marie. I hope he does live long. And a Mrs. Mortimer? I have no room for her and other little Mortimers. LOL. I thought of you when I wrote this.

  3. I knew you had cats, but I didn't know your interest in the animal kingdom extended to turtles. Thanks for the interesting story. Mortimer certainly leads a neat life.


  4. Kevin, I love snapper soup. Please don't tell Mortimer. I had some last week.

  5. Aww, so cute! My first blog post called Love Lost was about our turtle. We think he was a slider and he lived to 32.

    1. Wow, Loretta! We're hoping Mortimer lives really long. I didn't know you were a turtle lover too. I gotta read that post.


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