Death of a Turtle


Saturday evening, the girls and I went outside to explore around the pond. We were going to see if we could get a good look at the otters–we now have seen 3 or 4 of them from our back porch. My rude neighbor insists that they are large rats (how dare I oppose his infallible opinion).

Off we went, down to the edge of the water to find several areas along the edge of the pond where the otters have made large burrows into the mud, but there was no sign of any of them.

We continued over to the walkway that goes out to the gazebo, walking very quietly… as if every single bit of wildlife didn’t already know we were there. After just a few steps onto the wooden bridge, something caught my eye on the left edge of the pond. I looked and saw something move– it was poking out of the surface of the water.

We all stopped to get a closer look, and after much cogitation, realized that it was a turtle’s tail and clawed foot. Most of the turtle was under the mud, all you could see was his leg, some of his belly, and his tail that had ridges across the top like a dragon or an alligator. His claws were at least an inch long, and M’s voice kept ringing in my head that in our pond he had seen the biggest snapping turtle he had ever seen in his life.

I was afraid and curious at the same time, and I’m sure the girls were too. Curious ruled the day, so I took some little pebbles and started dropping them on the turtle (not to hurt him) to see if he would come out of the mud. We kept our distance and continued to drop pebbles on him. He would just kind of twitch his tail around some, so I went and got a long stick. I gently poked his foot, and he would pull it back a little, but that was about all we could get him to do.

I imagined again how big this turtle must be, and concluded that he must be so old and big because he is very wise and is not tempted by people like me who just want him to come out of the mud. So, we tried the silent approach. We stood there very still and quiet for a long time hoping that he would think we left, and finally show himself.


It was getting late and we went inside. When E was saying her prayers that night, she asked God to please make the turtle stay where he was so that we could show him to Papa the next day.

On Sunday, after we all got home from church, we all went immediately from the car down to the pond to see if the turtle was still there. He was. And he was in the exact same position as he was when we left him the night before. I threw a pebble. Nothing. I poked him with a stick. Nothing. My heart sank.

I walked over to the edge of the pond and wedged the stick under his shell and flipped him over. Nothing. He was dead.


I felt horrible. Here I was torturing this poor turtle is his last hours of life. His little head stuck in the mud, wondering why he is being poked– and wanting to be helped. It makes me want to just cry thinking about it. I could have flipped him over and maybe he would have survived. Why didn’t I determine that a turtle is not capable of flipping himself over on his own? Stupid me. I was afraid of getting bit by a turtle, and my fear got in the way of saving his life. This is my fallen state exposed.

So there he is, memorialized in the picture above, dead. Probably because of me… either that, or it’s E’s fault for her prayer.

I guess it was just his time.



10 thoughts on “Death of a Turtle

  1. When we were at the zoo in Washington D.C. about a year and a half ago we saw several (big!) turtles that were tipped over in a flat concrete floored cage and the zookeepers told us that they got alot of questions from people about whether the turtles needed help being turned over or not. It looked absolutely impossible that they would be able to do so themselves, but they insisted that they could, but it was a slow process.
    It’s quite possible that that turtle was sick and wouldn’t have made it even if you had flipped it over. It’s so hard to know about these things. When we were in Panama we met some Flemish speaking women from Belgium who had come across a dead sea turtle washed up on a beach. It was longer from head to toe than they were tall. They were deeply moved by that encounter, too. They are such beautiful creatures.
    It looks like you live in a gorgeous place!

  2. Now you have me worried. Ours are still hibernating and we have had a 100 degree day already!!

  3. Siri– thanks, that makes me feel a little better about the whole thing. After getting a closer look at him the other day, it did look like he had a crack in his shell. By the way, I got the idea for that last picture from the one you took of your little boy on your very tired day. (o:

    Jolly– are you talking about the turtle that you had as a pet back in Georgia?

  4. This is the funniest and sadest post in one! I send my condolences for that sweet tortoise. Don’t despair. It was the Lord’s will.

  5. I found your blog today, because I have been distressed over a snapping turtle. To make a long story short , she visited our yard every other year for 10 years, laying her eggs in our yard. Saturday night I watched her lay a clutch in our yard and I watched her walk off into the night. I knew where she was going because turtles have a telemtry they follow year after year. I wanted to bring her there but I figured she had other clutches to lay and I didn’t want to disturb her destiny. I was worried that she had to cross a road, but the road is not a busy one and she has done it for 10 years. Well the next day I checked her path and there she was dead. Hit by a car. My heart sanked and I have been devasted since. The fact that man disturbs nature each and every day (the car) and there is nothing we can do about it or there was and I didn’t.

  6. Hi Gina– Sorry about your turtle. I think I know how you feel. We really enjoy the turtles in the pond, and now we are suspecting some “foul play” with this turtle. We noticed a crack in his shell, and then we found another dead turtle in the same pond a few days later. The whole thing just makes me sick. I don’t feel so responsible for him now though. Even if I had flipped him over he probably wouldn’t have survived. Try not to feel responsible for your turtle. It’s really not your fault. God sees everything and will make all things right one day.

  7. I share a concern for the creatures God has made, and I think we’re generally doing a lousy job of caring for them right now. However, I can’t share the idea that man is a disturber of nature.

    Man is a steward of God’s creation, and has as his proper place a position of dominion, which means he has responsibility. If you hold that man is somehow separate from the rest of God’s creation, and is an outsider or disturber of it, then you have no ground to assert that he has any responsibility to it, whatsoever.

    I am convinced that only through the recovery of a biblical ethic, which places the nurture and responsibility of the creation squarely on man’s shoulders, as an authorized agent from God, so to speak, will we recover and even advance in our ability to live in such a way that man’s life is enhanced directly proportional to the degree he properly stewards the rest of God’s creatures and land.

    Until then, turtles will continue to die needlessly.

  8. I feel so sad as I sit here and read these turtle deaths. I too had a red slider baby turtle for about 5 months and I loved him very much. His name was Tuga and he died today. Flipped over with his head suspended since the time I had checked on him last nite between the time I woke up and found him. He was still alive but barely. Opened his mouth deeply as if taking his ultimate breaths. I was horrified and overwhelmed with sadness. I tried to keep the faith as I went to work to see if he’d make it but he didn’t. He tried to live. I don’t think I will get another turtle b/c I am afraid the same thing will happen. Tuga’s feeding dish was too high as he got bigger and couldn’t lift out. Well he did but he fell ackwardly. I am still sadened as I think about it but what can I do. I wanted to see if there were any other turtle lovers or pet lovers in general who recently lost a turtle who is also feeling sad. Reading this site atleast gave me some comfort that others care as much as I did.

  9. The turtle in the pond wasn’t really a pet, but we did enjoy watching them routinely. God’s creation is astounding and beautiful, even in its fallen state.

    When God’s creatures die or suffer needlessly, it reminds me that He has commanded us to steward all His creatures, and we have a long way to go in learning how to obey that command.

    I confess I have a very difficult time feeling this reality towards the insects…If they would just stay away from me, I would have an easier time appreciating them!


  10. I had to have my 10 year old Russian tortoise “Oprah” put to sleep today. A dog got a hold of her and bit through her shell, puncturing her lung. I can’t believe the overwhelming grief I am feeling. My sweetheart is having her cremated & her ashes will go in a beautiful cedar box, marked Oprah & Julie.
    The death of any living creature is tragic, especially if the innocent being incurred pain. I hope know one else experiences this morose loss.

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