The Commerce Journal


May 13, 2014

Yard full of turtles

COMMERCE — Barbara Ellison of Cameron loves her backyard. It is full of flowers and birds. Occasionally a squirrel will drop in for a meal. “I could stay out here from morning ‘til night,” says Barbara. “It’s so pretty and we enjoy taking care of it.”

She and her husband Carroll have about 30 turtles in their backyard. “They’re a lot of fun to watch and feed,” says Carroll. “We’ve had them for over 20 years.”

They got interested in turtles and terrapins when one showed up in their yard. “We started picking them up on the highways to keep them from getting run over,” says Barbara. “Carroll fixed the interior of the yard with tin so they couldn’t get out.”

The turtles have a varied diet and are very punctual when it comes to meal times. Carroll says they show up around 6 a.m. for breakfast. “We feed them scrambled eggs, cantaloupe and corn kernels. They’ll eat anything. Barbara used to fix a squash casserole just for the turtles. Some come up in the evening.”

In addition to fruits and vegetables, the turtles love the harvest from the bug zapper. “We’ve found those turtles eating dead birds. Maybe a cat killed them or whatever. If something comes very close to them, they’ll snap ‘em. Like lizards. They bite the lizards’ tails off. We have about five species of lizards around here. The turtles eat little toad frogs, too.”

Most of what they know about turtles they learned on their own. “When I first started looking for information on the turtles,” says Barbara, “I went to the library but couldn’t find all that much.”

Carroll says the turtles hibernate like bears in the winter. “They go plumb under the ground. You can’t find them anywhere. They bury down about 4 or 5 inches.”

Not only has Carroll put tin around the edges of the yard to keep the turtles confined. He has turned his backyard into residential areas for the little creatures. He has made houses and condos that keep the turtles in shade. He built a ramp for them so they wouldn’t have to climb over a curb to get to their back porch dining room. It’s a veritable turtle paradise. A gated community for turtles.

He says the turtles have unusual characteristics. “Sometimes Barbara will be out in the yard and they’ll be looking for her. They run pretty fast. They’ll see her and run for about 6 or 8 feet, then stop with their heads straight up so they can look around and get their bearings, then here they come again.”

While we were visiting, Carroll looked down to see four turtles. “There’s a brown one there. We got that one in Rockdale. I remember him.” He takes pictures of the turtles, which are about 5 inches across and 7 inches long.

He says it just wouldn’t be the same without the turtles. “We love to get up and go to the back porch and see them out there. This morning there were about 10 of them just waiting to eat. One morning we had 26. They get to eat before we do.”

Contact Tumbleweed Smith at

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