The Turtle Who Came to Swim

An adult member of the Slowsky family.

The recent Comcast Xfinity ad campaign featuring the animatronic tortoises Bill and Karolyn Slowsky reinforces the attitude that turtles, or tortoises to be exact, are slow moving.

Occasionally a surprisingly large turtle lumbers through our yard. Sometimes we spy a baby, or perhaps an adolescent. And true to expectations, they are all painfully slow. Well, let’s face it, they’re carrying a lot of baggage.

Turtle Upright snapshot
A presumed Suwanee River Cooter Turtle after its swim in our pool.

But one day this past summer I saw a black, turtle-shaped object on the bottom of our pool. It was probably an adolescent, clearly not a full grown adult. At first I thought it had drowned, but that notion was quickly dispelled. It was moving, or more correctly, it was walking, as if it was entirely normal to be walking on the bottom of a pool.

From a distance it looked  like a Box Turtle, and I suspected it had fallen into the unkempt pool while taking a stroll through our yard, just like the baby turtle being held in a 6-year old’s hands.

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Baby turtle pulled from our pool skimmer.

After observing this creature for awhile, I noticed it seemed to be in no distress whatsoever. He would occasionally walk up the sides of the pool, float at the surface taking a breather, and then at the first hint of something new in its environment, would quickly dive to the bottom, stubby arms and legs pumping mightily, seemingly in a near-panic.

What impressed me the most, was the speed with which he could move underwater. You think turtles are slow? Well, think again. The accompanying video will show you otherwise.

A Boy Scout Troop leader and amateur naturist helped me with a partial identification. It was not a Box Turtle at all, but a variety of aquatic turtle curiously named Cooter.  Cooter turtles are aquatic turtles, but are known to travel considerable distances over land when it suits them, to relocate to another body of water. As they lumber over land, like their other turtle kin, they give no indication of their underwater agility.  However, as the video shows, they can be very agile, and comically clumsy in their rush to avoid a potential predator.

After I’d netted the seemingly woe-begotten turtle and moved it to the lawn, I watched it  just long enough to make sure it was alright, and then let it return to its wanderings. It never occurred to me that his visit to our pool may have been deliberate.

If I had detained it longer, and photographed it more carefully, I might have firmly identified it. But it really didn’t matter;  whatever it was, it was soon on its way. 

Webbed foot of an aquatic turtle.

My original thought that he was not an aquatic turtle but a terrestrial turtle accidentally fallen into the pool came from the observation that he walked on the bottom, like Navy salvage divers, and did not swim. I would have guessed that if he could swim, he would have. But apparently that assumption was wrong. Also, I was expecting an aquatic turtle to have webbed-feet, and this turtle’s feet were only half-webbed, as shown in the photos below. Maybe that’s why it could swim, but preferred to walk. 



Foot 2



Foot 1

Although the turtle moved slowly and deliberately both on land and on the pool bottom, when spooked it moved very quickly. They are capable of a speedy get away when they feel threatened near the surface.

I don’t get the feeling that the Slowsky tortoises have that capability. But then, I could be wrong. Maybe I should ask Xfinity.





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