Turtle wipes her face as she eats

One of the painted turtle’s enclosures was very low on water. This turtle has been there a while and has a half-moon chunk of bone missing from the back of her carapace. She is usually the most active of all the turtles in care, often climbing the incline of her large bin. And making noticeable thumping sounds as she does.

I checked the chart and “normal setup” was indicated, which meant there should be more water than there currently was in her enclosure. And upon checking her chart, I realized that she was also due for a full cleaning and feeding. So I got to it.

I moved her to a smaller plastic critter carrier and covered it with a pillowcase to reduce her stress. Drained the last of the water from her bin, moved all of the rocks and washed them and the gravel, washed the inside walls and bottom of the bin. Replaced everything, and as the bin was filling I went and got her meal for the day: 4 mealworms, 2 earthworms cut in half (I always feel badly and apologize to the earthworms), 3 commercially-made turtle pellets, and a large pinch of very fine tiny lettuce pieces.

So once the bin was refilled with temperature-correct water, and the food was added, and floating or swimming in her water, I returned the turtle to her hospital home.

She was hungry! First thing she did was go after the earthworms. As I watched, she used each of her front feet to wipe her mouth.

It took me a minute to realize that as she was taking a mouthful of earthworm, she was swiping the remaining worm – the part wiggling outside of her mouth – off! In effect, cutting off the parts outside her mouth so she could swallow what she had more easily. She would then eat the pieces she had swiped off a moment earlier.

She used feet on both sides – sometimes swiping with her left, the next bite it might be her right. Very effective of course. Like wiping her mouth after each big bite!  

Image: ©Joel Sartore/National Geographic Photo Ark